Mauro Colagreco and his mountain cuisine: we stayed at The K in Sankt Moritz, in the legendary Kulm Hotel

In the famous tourist resort of the Upper Engadine in Switzerland, the Italian-Argentine chef offers himself with the same style but a different perspective. A gem that enriches a hotel that boasts a truly incredible history...

28-02-2023
by Carlo Passera
The Kulm Hotel in Sankt Moritz and chef Mauro Cola

The Kulm Hotel in Sankt Moritz and chef Mauro Colagreco

Wild boar consommé, ravioli with red cabbage, chestnuts, foie gras, red endive: no, this is certainly not a Mauro Colagreco dish. He’s a singer of Mediterranean biodiversity, fascinated by waves and vegetable gardens, the creator of a cuisine whose points of reference are in the tides, in the movement of the stars, inspired by the relationship between sky and earth following the biodynamic calendar, studying the secret rhythms of seeds, leaves, roots... (read here)

Instead, never mind: it is indeed a Mauro Colagreco dish.

To (re)find him, don't point your navigator to Menton, just a few metres from the border between Italy and France, and Mirazur; nor to any of the many restaurants that the Italo-Argentinian chef has opened on the Côte d'Azur. Instead, take State Road 36, which runs along the eastern branch of Lake Como, right on the edge of Valtellina, enter Valchiavenna, cross into Switzerland via the Dogana border, nomen omen, then tackle the steep hairpin bends that from Bregaglia - in the Canton of Grisons - eat up almost a thousand metres of elevation gain to reach the Upper Engadine, up the course of the Inn River, gradually leaving behind the lakes of Silvaplana and Champfèr, until you reach another body of water - these days frozen over – named after the town it bathes: San Maurizio, or rather Sankt Moritz.

Wild boar consommé, red cabbage ravioli, chestnuts, foie gras, red endive

Wild boar consommé, red cabbage ravioli, chestnuts, foie gras, red endive

Two short-circuits were happily resolved during our recent trip to the famous Swiss luxury resort. In order to defuse the first, we needed to understand what Mauro Colagreco was doing there with his restaurant The K, one Michelin star since February 2021, i.e. little more than a month after its debut, a reward perhaps for the chef’s well-deserved credibility but then in fact over-deserved in the field, as our palates can confirm. This short-circuit is answered in full by a dish such as Consommé of wild boar, ravioli with red cabbage, chestnuts, foie gras and red endive, conceived - mind you - well before his debut with The K, but which here finds its unexpected territory of choice. In other words, Colagreco's greatness is confirmed in our eyes by the full adherence of his style to a terroir that is completely different from his own; at The K, one tastes a cuisine that is fully Colagrechian - pardon the adventurous neologism - and yet completely immersed in the valley atmosphere, in the clear and icy air that pervades the southern slopes of the Albula Alps, right below Piz Nair, with its 3,056 metres.

Trout, its roe, crayfish, butter sudachi sauce

Trout, its roe, crayfish, butter sudachi sauce

Guinea fowl, white truffle, cardoncelli and Albufera sauce

Guinea fowl, white truffle, cardoncelli and Albufera sauce

After all, it only takes a few touches, by the looks of the menu: the Peter fish. butter sudachi sauce and trout roe, which we had enjoyed at Mirazur, is transformed into Trout, its roe, crayfish, butter sudachi sauce, so from a marine treat, it is immediately projected into a mountain setting; the same goes for Guinea fowl, saffron (guinea fowl breast seasoned with a saffron sauce from Sospel, a village in the Alpes-Maritimes, then mussels, lemon gel and chopped mussels and sun-dried tomatoes), which here changes nature and becomes Guinea fowl, white truffle, cardoncelli mushrooms and Albufera sauce; the surrounding woods recall the chestnuts which, in thin layers, cover the white truffle Churros with a trompe-l'oeil effect, the third appetiser after a leap between the Mediterranean and the East (Crispy tapioca, tuna tartare, seaweed, yuzu and ponzu gel) and the ode (Pumpkin pie, pumpkin cream and its seeds) to an ingredient that recalls an old anecdote, Mauro on a shopping trip to a Lombard fruit and vegetable wholesaler, sees a wonderful pumpkin and solves a problem, 'on ira à faire un plat avec ça!', we're going to make a dish with just this.

Pumpkin pie, pumpkin cream and its seeds

Pumpkin pie, pumpkin cream and its seeds

Crispy tapioca, tuna tartare, seaweed, yuzu and ponzu gel

Crispy tapioca, tuna tartare, seaweed, yuzu and ponzu gel

Then, of course, there are also some Mirazur classics at The K's, such as Hibiscus and beetroot (hibiscus powder, beetroot petals, hibiscus beetroot vinaigrette cooked in a salt crust), an excellent harmony turned into a dish, or the sweet long seller Naranjo en flor. And lobster, which is never missing and here takes on a different guise: Lobster with butter, rutabaga, Verjus sauce (Verjus sauce is similar to agresto, i.e. an acidic condiment obtained by cooking a must of unripe grapes. Rutabaga is a Nordic winter vegetable similar to turnip). In short: Colagreco has a mountain approach while being true to himself. Very interesting.

Hibiscus and beetroot

Hibiscus and beetroot

Buttered lobster, rutabaga, Verjus sauce

Buttered lobster, rutabaga, Verjus sauce

Naranjo en flor

Naranjo en flor

But let us pick up the threads of the initial discourse. "There are two happily resolved short-circuits..." etc., we wrote a few lines ago. One has therefore been solved. And the other?

The other is connected to the place where The K is housed: a hotel, but not just any hotel. It is both splendid and alienating because - here, in the Upper Engadine - practically everyone speaks Italian, or rather they are Italian: the staff seems to be equally divided between those from nearby Valtellina and Valchiavenna, and the others from the south of Italy. Thus the language of "yes" dominates among the dining room staff; it is also the dominant language in the exchange of orders that can be heard from the central kitchen, with its sixty or so members led by executive chef Mauro Taufer, from Feltre (Belluno) in the Veneto region. Born in 1975, his motto is: "Classic cuisine is the basis for creativity".

Colagreco with Mauro Taufer. Photo Thomas Buchwalder

Colagreco with Mauro Taufer. Photo Thomas Buchwalder

It is a sort of quid pro quo: the great art of Italian hospitality shines brightly, its empathy warming the climate of Sankt Moritz, which is actually not very cold these days, the lowest temperature being just below zero; and in turn it is honoured and dignified because it dominates unchallengedly an iconic structure: the Kulm Hotel. Not only an establishment of the finest hôtellerie, like others nearby, but the historical cradle of Sankt Moritz as we know it.

The Kulm Hotel, today

The Kulm Hotel, today

Overview from above the lake, the Kulm is on the right

Overview from above the lake, the Kulm is on the right

Step back 168 years. Twelve spartan rooms, made of wood: these were the rooms of the old Faller boarding house, whose management was taken over in 1855 by a viscous fellow, Herr Johannes Badrutt, then not yet 36 years old, the son of another Johannes, a master builder and hardware merchant in nearby Samedan. Three years later, they went on to buy the property for 28,500 francs and renamed Faller with the Engadiner name Kulm, 'Engadine hill', from the Latin culmen, to emphasise its strategic position at the highest point overlooking the lake. A minor event that would certainly change the history of Sankt Moritz and perhaps also that of winter tourism in general.

The Kulm Hotel in its early days and its founder, Johannes Badrutt. The original structure, with its typical double entrance staircase, still exists, in the south-west wing of the hotel

The Kulm Hotel in its early days and its founder, Johannes Badrutt. The original structure, with its typical double entrance staircase, still exists, in the south-west wing of the hotel

The episode is well known: the hotel soon became popular for spa and art holidays during the summer, particularly among the British, who made up 75 per cent of the guests. For Badrutt, however, this was not enough. It was September 1864 when the last British guests were preparing to return home, this was the custom, they would not see each other again until late spring because no one seemed willing to spend a holiday in the snow. The boss then made a bet with four of them, with whom he was particularly familiar: 'Come in three months, in December. Here you can sit in your shirtsleeves on the terrace even in the winter sun,' he promised to reimburse all expenses if they were not satisfied at the end of their stay. They accepted the challenge, returned to the Kulm Hotel and stayed there until spring, before returning home enthusiastic and tanned to tell of their winter spent on skates, sledging or strolling, under blue skies full of light (the story is perhaps, a legend. For sure there was a young Englishman, Arthur Edward Vansittart Strettell, whose father was a regular summer guest in Sankt Moritz from 1860. Arthur Edward suffered from tuberculosis. Hoping that the mountain air of the Engadin would help him, he spent a whole year in the Engadin from July 1866 to June 1867. It was therefore probably the Strettells who then spread the idea of winter tourism among their friends and acquaintances).

View from the lobby

View from the lobby

The lobby

The lobby

The sumptuous entrance with concierge

The sumptuous entrance with concierge

A junior suite

A junior suite

The Kulm thus became the first hotel in the country to be open in winter, triggering the development of Sankt Moritz as a sports and holiday resort even (if not especially) in the cold months. It was also the first Swiss hotel, in 1878, to have electricity installed; from here, at the end of the century, the first expeditions to the glaciers of the Engadin began (for the ladies: sleigh rides on the frozen lake); from here, thanks to guests from England, sports such as curling, of Scottish origin, spread, with the first playing field on the continent. And some sports were even born at Kulm, such as bobsleigh and skeleton (this is how it went: English guests at Kulm's 'winter version' were always looking for new distractions. At the beginning of the 1870s, some of them, particularly intrepid, took to adapting the boys' sledges for recreational purposes. This created quite a few problems: they ended up colliding with pedestrians in icy alleys! They first solved the problem by fitting a steering system underneath the sleds, a sort of prototype for modern bobsleighs, in order to be able to steer their vehicles better. Badrutt found the solution by having the Cresta Run built in 1885, now the 'temple' of skeleton, a 1,214-metre-long natural ice rink, outside the town, in the Kulm Park that stretched from St. Moritz to Celerina. It is no coincidence that it later hosted delegations of participants in the 2nd and 5th Winter Olympics, in 1928 and 1948).

Argentinean Paloma Boitier is the chef de cuisine of Colagreco at The K

Argentinean Paloma Boitier is the chef de cuisine of Colagreco at The K

The dining room at The K

The dining room at The K

Today the Kulm Hotel - extended by the descendants of Johannes Badrutt and renovated by the current owners, the Niarchos family of Greek shipowners - is a charming jewel with 164 rooms and suites. And plenty of restaurants: in addition to the gourmet restaurant The K by Mauro Colagreco and Mauro Taufer's Grand Restaurant, of which we have already written, there is also an Italian trattoria-pizzeria, The Pizzeria (we tasted fine pizza, decent sarde in saor and baccalà mantecato), a Nikkei cuisine proposal (it's called Sunny Bar but no, it didn't convince us), the Kulm Country Club only a few dozen metres away and with good Italian-Mediterranean cuisine mixed with international influences with chef Daniel Müller, plus the Chesa al Parc at the entrance to the Kulm Park (Tuesdays: Venetian liver. Thursday: boiled meat) and the Bob Restaurant at the start of the St. Moritz-Celerina piste, with Sicilian chef Marco D'Agati. Because, round and round: luxury tourism, in Sankt Moritz, also wants to eat Italian.


The K by Mauro Colagreco at the Kulm Hotel
Via Veglia 18, Sankt Moritz (Switzerland)
tel. +41 81 8368203
website
open daily, only for dinner
tasting menu at 220 Swiss francs

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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