Geneva is Switzerland’s centre of gastronomic excellence, and the Your Gourmet Geneva package at Mandarin Oriental perfectly embodies what the city has to offer one’s taste buds. Hence I have signed up for a cookery class with the hotel’s Executive Chef, Yoann Le Bihan, as part of a luxury stay.
My introduction to the city’s gourmet delicacies couldn’t have got off to a better start. Arriving in my River View Room, I am delighted to find a welcome bottle of champagne on ice and a selection of beautifully made Swiss chocolates, all offset with fresh flowers.
A Junior Terrace Suite at Mandarin Oriental, Geneva
After an incredible night’s sleep and a rousing coffee on my terrace overlooking the River Rhône and the Salève mountain range, I am ready for my 9am start with Chef Yoann. Born in Brittany, France, Yoann is instantly warm and welcoming, his passion for food and high quality ingredients immediately evident.
To source ingredients for today’s cookery class, our first stop is Geneva’s finest indoor food market, Halle de Rive. (On Wednesday and Friday mornings, the market extends outdoors and is a vibrant must-see for any foodie or fan of local, lovingly reared or seasonal produce.) As we tour the market, chatting to local suppliers and examining the bountiful supply of charcuterie, cheese, vegetables and fruit, I learn a valuable lesson about the Swiss approach to food – and perhaps life. Famous for its political neutrality and being the banking capital of the world, Switzerland places a premium on produce that is decidedly home-grown. The Swiss like to buy Swiss, and are fiercely protective of their food and wine.
Executive Chef Yoann Le Bihan
A landlocked country, Switzerland is as carnivorous as it gets. However, perche, a popular fish that comes from the lake, has to be tried.
The friendly vendors are happy to let you taste their produce, so make sure you try the creamy Tomme Vaudoise – Chef Yoann’s favourite Swiss cheese. We leave the Halle de Rive saddled with organic eggs, a variety of locally foraged mushrooms, fresh veal and cured beef, which is a speciality of the Canton of Valais.
Next, I meet the hotel's Chief Sommelier, Fabien Mene, and we head to Geneva’s prestigious wine shop, Lavinia – a two-minute stroll from the hotel – to choose, and sample, the wine to accompany the meal I will cook. Because Switzerland exports such a miniscule amount, its wine may be one of the country’s best-kept secrets.
We select a beautiful Genève white – a Scheurebe from winery Les Eliades. Similar to a Chardonnay, its explosively fruity yet not overly complex taste is the perfect pairing for a mushroom starter. To go with the veal, we pick a Valais red, a bottle of Humagne Rouge from award-winning one-man winery Philippe Darioli.
Back at the hotel, I don my chef’s apron and get ready to start cooking. Weather-permitting, this can take place on your suite’s terrace, but with the clouds gathering we opt to stay in the hotel’s no-less-salubrious cooking salon, just off the main kitchen.
Simply watching Chef Yoann – who trained in Michelin star restaurants and at the French Consulate in Hong Kong – would have been a learning experience in itself, but he is keen to not only share his finely-honed skills, but also to get me involved.
The Halle de Rive
Genevan wine store Lavinia
Our menu begins with that starter of wild mushrooms, with a poached egg, cured beef and truffle-oil infused cream – a simple yet stunningly satisfying dish. Next up, a delicate and downright delicious risotto with melt-in-the-mouth veal cutlet.
A fresh berry and sorbet dessert was pre-prepared by the chef, and is the perfect way to end a decadent meal. By the end of the class, I am suitably sated yet hungry for more.
While it may take a decade to catch up with Chef Yoann’s chopping skills, many of the techniques and wisdom he imparted will be put to good use. And I now know the secret to a creamy risotto and a perfectly poached l’œuf…
It’s all in the details, and the Your Gourmet Geneva package proves this. From a handwritten welcome note to personalised menus and an embroidered apron as a souvenir to take home, this is one culinary experience to savour.
The Your Gourmet Geneva package is priced from CHF 895 per night and is available until 31 October