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Stars on the slopes: the chefs and dishes of Gourmet Skisafari

Stars on the slopes: the chefs and dishes of Gourmet Skisafari

by Tom Riby 21 December 2015

We go to the Italian food festival set on the Alta Badia ski resort to meet the chefs and eat the dishes.

South Tyrol (or Sudtirol) is fairly unheard of in the UK and still undiscovered by enthusiastic skiers, even though the region is famous for its winter sports throughout Italy. However, Italians don’t just visit during ski season; South Tyrol is becoming a year-round tourist destination thanks to its renowned, world-class cuisine.

Despite being only 7,500 square kilometres large with a population of 500,000, the autonomous Italian state has managed to score more Michelin stars than any other region in the famously food-centric nation: twenty-three across twenty restaurants. The reason for this success can’t really be pinned down, but many believe the marriage between the Mediterranean Sea and the local Alpine culture is a match made in heaven.

We begin our gourmet trip to South Tyrol ascending the slopes of Dol on snowmobiles, with big appetites and bags of curiosity 2000 metres up amongst the dazzling peaks of the Dolomites. Chef Norbert Niederkofler, along with the Alta Badia ski resort and the South Tyrol tourism board, are the founders of an event called ‘Gourmet Skisafari’, which started on 13 December. The culinary festival sees fourteen Michelin-starred chefs from around Italy and South Tyrol including Gennaro Esposito, Marianna Vitale, Angelo Sabatelli, Pino Cuttaia and Ernesto Iaccarino create a recipe for one of the mountain huts on the slopes of Alta Badia. Some of the chefs cooked for and served skiers on the first day of the festival, while others trained chefs at the huts how to perfect their dish. At €40 for four courses (in four different huts) it was an opportunity impossible to miss.

Our role was to ski from one hut to the other and taste the dish, with our skiing guide leading the way. It’s the perfect example of chefs trying to change the way we eat; instead of sitting down to a tasting menu for two hours, imagine enjoying a longer lunch, going from course to course through the slopes of Alta Badia. If you are looking for an alternative dining experience, then this is it.

Angelo Sabatelli
Angelo Sabatelli served spaghetti full of traditional Puglian flavours
Mountain map
The fourteen mountain huts are spread out all over the Dolomite mountains

Hut to hut

The surrounding snow bowl within the ski area means the runs are tailor-made for novice skiers: long, gentle and wide with few trees to crash into. We managed to get to grips with the turns fairly quickly, which allowed us to think about the food to come instead of whether we’d be falling over every few minutes. After two runs on the slopes through the fresh powdered snow, we reached the first hut – Ütia I Tabalà – where Angelo Sabatelli showcased the flavours of Puglia with a dish of spaghetti with garlic, oil, chilli and scallops with wild turnip sauce. It was only 10am but skiing does make you hungry, and there is nothing better than pasta to keep your energy levels going. But this was no ordinary pasta dish; Angelo brought incredible Puglian ingredients such as strong garlic, large scallops and wild turnip tops bursting with strong aromas and flavours. He spoke to us afterwards and explained why he focused on these stronger notes: ‘Tasting my food at this altitude has given me a new impression of flavours and the intensity of taste. You notice the difference; everything is cleaner, sharper and faster.’

After one course and a quick chat we were back on the pistes and heading towards the next hut, still hungry and curious about how each chef would showcase their cooking on the slopes. Chef Pino Cuttaia created a comforting dish of Sicilian ravioli that even captured the attention of the locals who ski through these areas regularly.

Moving on, we reached the delightful hut of Ütia Col Alt to meet Norbert Niederkofler who served a wine soup with herb croutons and marinated char on potato bruschetta. Afterwards, we sat on the benches overlooking the mighty Dolomites and thought about how special South Tyrol is. Gourmet Skisafari is an amazing event, and could only come about through a combination of Norbert’s enthusiasm, the extraordinary work done by the Alta Badia resort and the hut owners themselves. ‘I want everyone to experience South Tyrol and the incredible collection of chefs we have in this region,’ Norbert told us. ‘This is a unique offering and we are lucky to have such a beautiful place in which to host Gourmet Ski.’

Ravioli
Pino Cuttaia served Sicilian ravioli
South Tyrol
South Tyrol is known for its winter sports, but it's also home to twenty Michelin-starred restaurants

With three dishes down and one more to go we took to the slopes once more, wondering which dish would greet us next. We visited the charming Matteo Mettullio who greeted us with his dish of tortelli stuffed with goat’s cheese, beetroot purée, peanuts and a suckling pig ragout. He said the dish was full of his own nostalgic memories of visiting the mountains.

We hopped back on our skis to head back to the Hotel Rosa Alpina full, content and a little wiser about the region of South Tyrol and its gourmet treats. We did not get a chance to try all of the chefs’ dishes (we couldn’t ski that far!) but there were some incredible dishes on offer. Marianna Vitale was cooking spaghetti with butter, anchovies and lime, while Gennaro Esposito showcased his own twist on chef Genovese’s ravioli. Heinrich Schneider cooked smoked spare rib pralines with porcini mushrooms and Ernesto Iaccarino presented the delicious flavours of the Amalfi coast with his tuna mousse with lemon and parsley jelly. We would have loved to have tasted each and every one, but the four we had were incredible and, combined with the stunning surroundings, helped create a getaway we’ll never forget.

Other events in South Tyrol

In addition to the Gourmet Skisafari, you can also attend ‘Sommelier on the Slopes’, where you spend the day with a wine sommelier moving from hut to hut and sampling the famous wine of the region. €15 per person on 2 February, 3 March and 10 March.

Also on offer is the incredible ‘Breakfast with Powder Snow’. You travel 2000 metres high by snowmobile to reach one of the chosen huts before enjoying a continental and cooked breakfast as you watch the sunrise. €25-28 per person throughout the year.

South Tyrol has a wonderful offering of accommodation and ideas for your ski gourmet holiday. For more information, visit sudtirol.com/en and altabadia.org

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