TRAVEL

Talking Digital Italy with Tamu TV and All The Pretty Birds

There are a few things in life I can't say "no" to: gazpacho, a quick trip to Milan and a great conversation with a fabulous friend.   That's a trifecta rarely attained, if at all, until this past July when Tamu McPherson, the eye and voice behind All the Pretty Birds and Milan girl about town, invited me to her cafe to talk about Italy in the Digital Age.

Here's a little back story:  I've being following Tamu and All the Pretty Birds for years, from her beginning as a street style photographer and to her evolution into one of fashion's bestlifestyle blogs.  I've long loved Tamu's style- writing, behind the lense and her fresh look on fashion.  Most of all, I love how much she loves and lives Milan through art, culture and fasthion.  Tamu's Cafe is a food/lifestyle series that brings fashion, design and food luminaries to the table, so you can imagine how flattered I was when she invited to bring over a recipe.

Tune into Tamu TV for a little bit of gazpacho, Milan-with-a-view, a chat about Italy in the Digital Age with me!

Hot Pockets: Matthias Schmidberger, The Chef Who Warms the Alpine Chills

Hot Pocketsis my series of chef interviews for this blog and other publications.  My interview with Matthias Schmidberger of Ca' D'Oro originally appeared in Fathom in March 2015.

What drives a fair-weather-loving foodie to the snowy peaks of St. Moritz? A Michelin-star meal and a hunky, clever chef. Our Rome-based contributing editor Erica Firpo reports from the Swiss Alps.

ST. MORITZ, Switzerland – Schokoladenpretzel and vermicelles. Fladen and mailänderli and nusstorte. These are a few of my favorite things. Swiss pastries alone are the key to enduring our yearly settimana bianca, a ritual "white week" of early mornings, layered clothing, and snow.

I have to be honest: I don't believe in cold weather. I am not genetically nor environmentally inclined to head to a mountain at any time of the year. But I do so for love. Not because my husband Darius is an avid off-piste skier and we live in Rome, Italy (aka a train ride to anywhere!), but for love of a fork and knife.

Food, you say? Yes, I am an excellent eater, what Italians call the proverbial buona forchetta — a good fork. And I have come to the conclusion that I have no problem wearing extra layers if the gastronomical returns are, well, astronomical. For the past two years, I have been spending ski week in Switzerland — for pastry shops and Michelin stars.

Dining Room

The dining room at Cà d'Oro. Photo courtesy of Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains.

We head to St. Moritz, a bizarre gastro-Blade Runner with everything from fondue to fine dining (and apparently — or so they tell me — skiing). While Darius skis with his merry band of off-duty instructors, I eat. My favorite place is Cà d'Oro, the one-Michelin-star restaurant at Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains.

Kempinski is a super-modern renovation of a historic St. Moritz hotel. (Imagine the huge entrance hall. That's what it's like.) The design is simple, modern, muted, and high-quality, but not opulent or boutique-y. Everyone knows who you are, and they're all very friendly. I loved our room, which had a kitchen and a balcony. You can ski in and out and recover in the enormous spa. The pool has a two-story ceiling and the services are incredible. But let's get back to the food: I have never had a better hotel breakfast than the one I did here. It was the cornucopia of mornings.

I don't know if my real St. Moritz gastro-epiphany happened when I met 32-year-old Matthias Schmidberger, the Macklemore-loving Cà d'Oro kitchen rock star who (besides being typically chef-cute) has an incredible instinct for food pairing and creativity. Or if I saw the light while playing flatware chess with Matthias' waitstaff whose utensil and beverage knowledge was complete grandmaster level. It was probably both. I have never been so happily surprised as when I meditated on my fork and placed that first bite of astice marino in my mouth. And the rest is history.

Cà d'Oro is a seasonal restaurant, open for the winter season, usually from the end of November until March. Matthias is in St. Moritz from September to April. He spends the off-season sourcing products and fine-tuning his menu; I spend it trying to figure out when I can get back to St. Moritz. When the heat turns on and Matthias is back in the kitchen, he has a work hard/play hard mentality. I asked him to tell me more about it.

Creativity at Ca d'Oro

We have to be ready the moment the hotel opens. My experiences are extremely valuable to guarantee a great quality from the beginning until the closing period. I take the summer to come up with new inspirations, but they have to fit into our concept, which means there will only be small changes to our menu. I love to play with amouse bouches, with the small pre-dessert, and with sweet delicacies.

Mountain

Muottas Muragl. Photo courtesy of Romantik Hotel Muottas Muragl.

Best Way to Start My Day

I love Muottas Muragl, a gorgeous mountain with an astonishing view. I start with a good, strong black coffee and end with a fast sledge down.

Favorite Late-Night Bar

As a chef, it is a good idea to love the evening. My favorite spots are the Cà d'Oro kitchen (insert smile) and the usual places in St. Moritz: La Barraca, Stübli, Vivai, and, for special occasions, the King's Club.

Where to Ski

My favorite slope is Piz Nair, Corviglia.

Where to Go to Escape St. Moritz

There is a German saying: "the carrot which is hanging in front of you will be in your hands after every season." During the season, there is no need to escape. It is a wonderful place with a lot of opportunities for me to relax: biking, swimming, sitting in a piazza with ice cream, skiing in winter, hiking, and celebrating with my team.

FIND IT

Cà D'Oro Via Mezdi 27 St. Moritz, Switzerland 7500 +41-81-838-30-81 info.stmoritz@kempinski.com

Hot Pockets: Enrico Cerea, The Best Italian Meal You'll Ever Have is in Switzerland

Hot Pockets is my series of chef interviews for this blog and other publications.  My interview with Enrico Cerea of Da Vittorio originally appeared in Fathom in October 2014.

When we think of St. Moritz, we think of luxurious lodges, flashy furs, and snowy finery. We don't often think of Italian food. The Cerea family, owners of Michelin-starred restaurant Da Vittorio in Bergamo, Italy, is changing all that. Fathom contributing editor Erica Firpo fills us in on the restaurant's new Alpine satellite, which is helping turn an ostentatious ski town into a hidden food paradise.

ST. MORITZ – According to my husband, Darius Arya, there is only one reason to go to St. Moritz. Food. Don't get me wrong, he's an avid skier (off-piste, I might add), but lately his obsession with the tiny Engadin valley town is its restaurants, pastry shops, and pubs.

St. Moritz is home to some 90 restaurants, of which at least four are Michelin-starred, as well as an annual four-day Gourmet Food Festival where top chefs take a break from their own restaurants to show off some flare. Mark your calendar for January 26 - 31: The 2015 festival will star some of Britain's top chefs to celebrate their discovery of the Swiss winter getaway.

Bottom line, from fondue to foam, St. Moritz is a foodie enclave.

When Darius proposed a ski vacation, I laughed. I don't relax in less than 70-degree ambient temperature, and the kind of sports I like give an overall tan. But when he mentioned that St. Moritz is a snowballing supernova of ski and cuisine, I thought it was about time I dusted off my earmuffs, hopped that fabulous red train that runs through the Bernina Valley, and make my way to Da Vittorio.

If St. Moritz is an exploding galaxy of amazing food spots, Da Vittorio is its Red Giant star. The outpost of historic Da Vittorio in Bergamo, one of Italy's eight Michelin three-star restaurants, opened at the Carlton Hotel in December 2012 and captured a Michelin star in November 2013. Not too shabby for a seasonal restaurant.

But Da Vittorio isn't simply a restaurant — it's a family empire. The Cerea siblings — brothers Enrico, Francesco, and Roberto and sisters Barbara and Rosella — have taken their father's Bergamo restaurant and expanded into an all-encompassing philosophy, institution, and school, or, better yet, a cult where food is God and God is good.

I met up with Enrico and the St. Moritz team to talk about the Cerea food philosophy and what to expect in St. Moritz.

What is Da Vittorio?

Da Vittorio is a family restaurant started by my father, Vittorio Cerea, in 1966 in Bergamo. He was more than just a buona forchetta (literally a "good fork"). He was a self-taught chef who just wanted to share his passion. In 1970, he received his first Michelin star, in 1996 his second, and in 2010 his third. My siblings and I continue his legacy and love for cooking by overseeing a large, family-style team of approximately 140 people who work together at our restaurant, pastry shop, and catering company at the Dimora Boutique Hotel in Bergamo, and now at Da Vittorio's new location in St. Moritz.

So what is Da Vittorio St. Moritz?

Da Vittorio St. Moritz is slightly different from Bergamo. The clientele is more relaxed. They are on vacation, and that's reflected in the menu, style, and atmosphere. My brother Roberto and I alternate between Italy and St. Moritz, where we have a team of eleven people, including chef Luca Mancini. He's been working with the Cerea family for six years, and in 2012 he was voted Northern Italy's Number One Emerging Chef. Since 2012, he has spent the winter season in St. Moritz and the summer in Bergamo. We bring our more experienced chefs to St. Moritz and introduce and train new chefs in Bergamo.

cerea
cerea

What can we expect at Da Vittorio St. Moritz?

We focus on Italian dishes, such as our paccheri (Da Vittorio's signature dish, a simple pasta elevated to a meteoric level), and we are proud of regional and local traditions and products (like Bergamo's sciur, a very piquant aged blue cheese covered in red fruits). All of our produce, meat, and fish come from Italian suppliers who we have worked with for decades and know personally. We pick and choose what we want, and it is shipped the next day.

Enrico seems to spend most of his time traveling back and forth between St. Moritz and Bergamo to talk with family and a team of more than 100 chefs and local producers. Everything on the table comes from decades-old relationships with Italian-based farmers and fishermen. The St. Moritz team represents practically every region of Italy and is made up of top sous chefs and students from Bergamo. His sommelier is a walking encyclopedia of beverages and chocolate.

And the cuisine? It's almost ironic that I traveled out of Italy to experience what could be considered a basic pasta dish. But it blew me away, as did everything else that was on the table.

Trains: Dreaming of Bernina Express

I woke up again this morning with a vague feeling that I had forgotten something.

It happens every now and then, and I usually attribute it to pregnancy brain or just blame Los Angeles and my early 2000s style when rolling was just as much an accessory as stilettoes to the tank top and jeans uniform.

The more I think about it, I wasn’t forgetting anything. No, I was feeling bits and pieces of a dream that was fuzzy and out of shape. I push into my head and find myself on a train in the Swiss Alps and putting notebooks in a backpack.

And quickly the dream comes back to me, I am on this train trying to get myself to do work (homework?) and reminding myself of all the other classes (vector algebra, medieval history, philosophy?) that I had signed up for but never completed. Somewhere I insist that I completed everything and would have never signed up for an upper level Algebra class. But my dream is relentless and pushes my into another subconscious where I am in a large test room, confronted by professors, admissions officers and guidance counselors who show me lists of work I still have yet to complete.

I touch the edges of the folders they hand me and now I am feeling the dream.  I have deliberately ignored all of this work and maybe I have lied (to myself, to others.  I don't want to believe but it's in front of me.  But I am well aware of lucid dreaming so  I look down at my own hands for a reality check and am pushed back onto the train, shoving notebooks in a backpack, nervous because there is something I am forgetting…

Trains. I have always loved rail travel, especially long distance and over night trains. It’s no surprise that I should find myself on one but in this dream, why with a backpack full of notebooks for classes and programs I am not doing?  The train I am on is the Bernina Express, the beautiful red train with the large glass windows that takes you from Tirano, Italy to Chur, Switzerland. In real life, I coveted that train for years and finally had a chance to travel on it this year. Yes, it was everything I wanted- - gorgeous views, spirally tracks, amazing mountains, narrow ravines, turn of the century stations, and so dreamily warm inside, thanks to all of the light. In my dream, the train is still warm and well lit, and that is why I am not angry ...

Dream interpreters will tell you that being on a moving train signifies personality growth, a movement toward better life. Add my re-occurring unfinished mystery dream, and perhaps I am moving toward better acknowledgement of the things I avoid, things I don’t want to do, places I don’t want to be.

bernina
bernina

Spending Two Perfect Days In St. Moritz

This article first appeared in Forbes Travel in May 2014

Spending Two Perfect Days In St. Moritz - Forbes Travel Guide

St. Moritz

Two days in St. Moritz is never enough. Switzerland’s Engadin Valley is a constantly blossoming garden of sporting and cultural activities and gastronomical delights. Beginning as a healing destination for pilgrims, St. Moritz was a summer spot until hotel pioneer Johannes Badrutt invited his British guests there one winter in the mid-1800s. Since then, it has been developed and curated as a luxurious winter getaway. Whether you choose to go in the warm or cold season, here’s what to do:

Day One

Getting in and out of St. Moritz is perhaps the most charming part of your trip and should only be done by train. The Bernina Express is the 74.5-mile railway line that links Italy and Switzerland on a windy, single track, traversing rivers, tunnels and peaks of the Alps. The panoramic train, together with Albula Railway (Chur to St. Moritz), is the highest mountain railway in the Alps and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you’re flying into Zurich, take a train to Chur and hop on the Albula.

Upon arrival, drop your bags at Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains, which reopens for the summer season on June 20. Keep in mind, the Kempinski will be your home base over the next two days. The always-smiling staff members seem to know anything and everything you are thinking of doing without any prompting.

Spending Two Perfect Days In St. Moritz - Forbes Travel Guide

Hanselmann

Next, head up to town for a quick morning bite. Hanselmann is probably your best introduction to the city. This delicious pastry shop and coffee house holds court in St. Moritz’s main square. You’ll want to try the nusstorte (nut cake), hot chocolate and pretzels. Afterward, walk off the treats by exploring the entire town on foot — it doesn’t take too long. Traditional Engadin houses, with their sgraffiti design (curlicue etchings) and art nouveau architecture, alternate with high-end boutiques (Hermès, Cartier and Brunello Cucinelli, to name a few). Make sure to stroll over to the Lake St. Moritz lookout, where you can watch kite surfers skim across the glistening lake (though it’s usually frozen December to May) or just enjoy the sun setting behind the mountains.

For dinner, you have a couple options, as the town is known as a hub for high-end restaurants as well as tiny food nuggets. Located just across the street from the Kempinski is La Baracca, a laid-back food shack that’s an institution (it reopens for the season on July 25). Expect fancy-free fare such as polenta, carpaccio and salads. And the crowd is a mix, from ski divas and instructors to late-night top-chef partiers. A second favorite is Pichalain, at Nira Alpina on Corvatsch. Another après-ski hut, Pichalain is a cozy and rustic fondue eatery that doesn’t take reservations and is overwhelmingly charming.

Day Two

Skiing is the main winter attraction, but if you’re not ready to tackle peaks such as Corviglia and Corvatsch, help is available. St. Moritz has two great places to learn: Suvretta Snowsports School, you’ll see the instructors in their royal blue gear, and Switzerland’s oldest, Ski School St. Moritz, where teachers are clad in red jackets. In the summer, low-mountain hiking and/or snowshoeing is the way to go. We snowshoed the Muottas Muragl trail with Christina Salis, a veteran low-mountain guide who knows every inch of the Engadin.

Spending Two Perfect Days In St. Moritz - Forbes Travel Guide

La Terrazza

Lunch is best done from the top. And there is no better place to dine than at Corviglia, where chef Reto Mathis is king of the hill. Reto has a peak empire of six restaurants, cafés and food shops, all at 8,156 feet above sea level. His best-known spots are La Marmite, De Fät Moonk and La Terrazza — the latter is unparalleled in people-watching, whether on the slopes or off, as it sits outside in the snow. You are given wooly coverlets and sunhats, while served Mathis’ delicious creations made from regional produce and meats.

Unfortunately, these mountaintop eateries are only open during the ski season. If you happen to be in St. Moritz in the summer, we suggest trying Piz Nair, where you’ll score postcard-worthy views and classically simple fare, such as veal sausage with roasted potatoes and deer carpaccio (it opens for the summer on June 21).

In the afternoon, make your way to the Segantini Museum, which reopens on May 20. It’s a celebration of turn-of-the-century painter Giovanni Segantini. The last five years of his life, Segantini lived and worked in the Engadin, creating epic monumental paintings of summer and winter landscapes. If you hiked Muottas Muragl, you likely saw his point of view. After your museum visit, take advantage of Kempinski The Spa for its array of treatments and amenities such as the large sunlit indoor swimming pool, women-only area (with chromotherapy), saunas and gym.

Make a day of it and hibernate in the hotel, and have dinner at Restaurant Cà d’Oro. Of all of St. Moritz’s top eateries, Cà d’Oro is the most clever and fun. Hailing from Germany, chef Matthias Schmidberger leads an incredible team in creating and curating an unforgettable gastronomical experience. His menu is anything but run-of-the-mill Italian. On it, you’ll discover magical flairs of fish, meats and foams; a rich cookery background; an obsession with finding the very best in food; and the chef’s penchant for heavy metal. The maître d’ and the rest of the staff are on point with both style and knowledge. And a sommelier places local beers with caviar to start the evening. Cà d’Oro is yet another place that you’ll have to hit during the winter, as it’s closed for the summer.

If you aren’t tired after dinner, Badrutt’s King’s Club is the winter nightspot in St. Moritz. But if those outdoor activities drained you, opt for a quieter evening and get tickets for Cinema Scala, a 1930s movie theater. It’s a relaxing way to wind down your luxurious Swiss stay.

Photos Courtesy of Erica Firpo