Zurich – Learn to Cook Haute Cuisine – Fall Travel 2009

DESTINATION: Zurich, Switzerland



Don’t tell my boss, but I secretly want to become a chef. Alas, I’ll never be able to, because my sense of smell is terrible (which is like being color-blind if you want to be an astronaut). That doesn’t stop me from fantasizing about dicing onions at the speed of light. Nor does it stop me from a one-day course in the art of fine cuisine with chef Claudio Schmitz at Zurich’s Dolder Grand hotel, home to a Michelin-starred restaurant. Our class starts early at the local vegetable market, where Schmitz shows us how to pick the best produce; he then whisks us back to the kitchen to prepare duck carpaccio with melon compote and lentils for the day’s menu. Patiently, he offers tips and tricks on everything my Top Chef heart desires-from basic knife skills to assembling the perfect marinade. Sure, I probably shouldn’t quit my day job, but that doesn’t stop me from trying my new recipes at home. I’m told they smell divine.

The eight-hour cooking class with Claudio Schmitz is open to guests of the Dolder Grand; to participate, book the "Cuisine at the Dolder Grand" accommodations package for around $690 per person, per night. Besides a firsthand look at the inner workings of a top-notch kitchen, you’ll get recipes to take home. Dolder Grand, 41-044-456-60-00, thedoldergrand.com/en.

Ensconced in a soundproof suite, you’ll swear you’re the only guests staying at the 173-room Dolder Grand. Everything about this eco-friendly resort is über-modern and designed with absolute comfort in mind. Floor-to-ceiling windows perfectly frame the beautiful city and the Swiss Alps beyond. Heated floors, a cavernously deep bathtub and the practically-a-religious-experience shower just add to the cool factor at this historic-made-new hotel. Dolder Grand, 41-044-456-60-00, thedoldergrand.com/en.

At the 43,000- square-foot spa, don’t miss the "pebble loungers," tubs filled with tiny stones that warm with your body heat to relax you, and the cooling "snow paradise" room that produces 12 inches of real snow per day. In quaint, walkable Zurich, you won’t need anything more than a map and comfy shoes for a day of strolling. Book a leisurely steamboat ride on Lake Zurich with Lake Zurich Cruise. Or make a quick stop at the famous chocolate shop Sprüngli to get one of the signature Luxemburgerli cookies. Lake Zurich cruise, 41-044-487-13-33, zsg.ch; Confiserie Sprüngli, 41-044-224-46-46, confiserie-spruengli.ch.

Using the freshest in-season foods, the Dolder Grand’s three restaurants will impress even the most discerning foodie, whether you get a simple fruit smoothie or a button-popping seven-course meal at The Restaurant. The Sunday showstopper brunch, a lavish buffet of Swiss foods like müesli and rösti-a potato dish served everywhere-is a huge draw for guests and locals alike. While out in Zurich, make sure to stop at the hip Restaurant Terrasse for an aperitif. Restaurant Terrasse, 41-044-251-10-74, cafe-terrasse.ch; Dolder Grand, thedoldergrand.com/en.

From PHL, it’s a nine-hour overnight flight on US Airways, plus a 30-minute car ride to the Dolder Grand.

Parts of the spa may be clothing-optional, but all common areas require bathing suits. Definitely bring the gym clothes-you’ll want to hit the state-of-the-art fitness center, if only to offset the calorie-packed meals you’re taking in. For the cooking class, bring closed-toe shoes for the kitchen. They’ll provide you with an apron, but wear clothes you don’t mind spilling sauce on. Dinner attire is fun-dressy-guys need a jacket but not a tie.

Back in Philly: Take an evening or weekend class at the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College (4207 Walnut Street, 215-222-4200, walnuthillcollege.com), where more than 50 hands-on workshops offer kitchen secrets to everything from French pastries ($125) to cooking with beer ($65).