Years back, Alexandra Heitzer was the first personwho believed in a Zurich food festival. Now she is the co-director of Food Zurich, an annual festival which will take place from September 7 - 17. In our interview she reveals her favourite restaurants, why food seems to be so important these days and how she convinced Zurich’s residents to sit at long tables with complete strangers.
Alexandra, what makes Zurich so special for you? While the lake is the obvious answer here, and I have to say that I do love it too, there’s so much more to Zurich. It’s just such a nice and lovely city in so many ways. The intact old town with its centuries-old buildings, which wasn’t destroyed in any war like so many other cities in Europe on the one hand, the thriving urban districts of 4 and 5 on the other hand, the shopping, the restaurants… There is so much going on. In my opinion Zurich can not only keep up with cities like London and Paris, it actually offers more, or at least better quality. Let’s take shopping for example...
Yes please. Do you have some shopping gems that you’d like to share with us? ...the variety of shops is unbelievable. Honestly, I don’t go to other cities to shop anymore, like I used to. Nowadays I go to Rome because I want to see the city and to eat some great Italian food… the shopping I do in Zurich. There is, for example, this great concept store called Cabinet at Viadukt. It’s very carefully curated and has some fashion as well as some interior design, individual pieces and some vintage stuff. I bought this really cool vintage champagne cooler…. You see, I totally start raving about it.
And is there anything that annoys you about Zurich? I wish Zurich people were a little more open minded. I miss some italianità, where people go to the piazza in the evening and talk to each other. Zurich people are rather reserved. A couple of years ago, when I started, the Il Tavolo festival, the predecessor of Food Zurich, we had this one really long table, where people had to sit next to people they didn’t know. You could tell that this was awkward for some. But they learn fast. We still have this long table at the Food Zurich party, and over the years people have actually begun to like it. I still dream that one day the city will allow us to have a 500-meter-long table down Bahnhofstrasse...
You established the Food Zurich Festival last year and are its co-director. How did food become one of your life’s passions? Thanks to my grandmother, food has always been very important in my life. She used to spend all day in the kitchen, preparing everything fresh from scratch, be it a broth or a cake, she loved it. And I loved to spend time with her in the kitchen and inherited this passion for cooking and food. The kitchen is for me a kind of magical place where it all happens: that’s where we meet, talk, philosophize, taste. The kitchen attracts people somehow. When I have a party in my flat, everyone is always in the kitchen… the living room seems too boring. That’s also why our festival centre is essentially a kitchen.
Is Zurich a good destination for food aficionados? Oh, yes, definitely. There are so many restaurants in Zurich with such an incredible variety. There really is something for everyone be it world-class cuisine by chef Heiko Nieder at The Restaurant at the Dolder Grand hotel, some laid-back Mediterranean cuisine at Les Halles or uncomplicated and original Spanish tapas at the Bodega. There have also been so many innovations over the last few years. There are all of these pop-up restaurants experimenting with special locations and special ways of preparing food and the street food festival with ten of thousands of visitors.
Why has food become such a big thing these days that we even have a food festival? People want to know more and more about what they eat these days. Questions like ‘how is my food produced?’ and ‘do I really need to eat meat everyday?’ are much more important today than 10 or 15 years ago. I can see it with my son. He’s interested in those questions but when I was young, we honestly couldn’t care less. Also, with so much of everyday life happening online these days, a meal is one of the few occasions where people actually meet in person. That’s why eating together has become important again.
Besides Zurich Food, what are your favourite restaurants in town and why? I have to say, I love the traditional, old school kind of restaurants. Kronenhalle, for example, has an unbeatable atmosphere with its Miro and Picasso paintings on the wall, its solid cuisine. And despite what one might think, it’s really uncomplicated and not just for fancy people. You can easily visit with just jeans on, your kids and your dog. I also like places like Morgenstern da Mario, where the host comes to your table and tells you his recommendations for the day. For traditional Swiss cuisine, I recommend Adlisberg or Geeren, both on Zürichberg with lovely outdoor seating areas.