The sun was shining bright, the leaves were emerging on the trees and spring was in the air in Zurich. My appointment was for 11am. I got a taxi half hour before to ensure I arrived on Swiss Standard time, which is always early!
The Dolder Grand is one the most prestigious hotels in the world. It sits 200 meters above the city centre, with a stunning panoramic view of Zurich. The Hotel underwent a half billion Swiss Franc renovation between 2004-2008, lead by renowned British Architect, Norman Foster. Through the restoration, the Hotel has maintained its original appearance from 1899, while the amenities have been updated to the luxury standards of the 21st Century.
The Restaurant at Dolder Grand, is the premier fine dining restaurant at the Hotel. It is headed up German Executive Chef, Heiko Neider who has been at the helm since its re-opening after renovation.
Heiko is a slender man, with broad shoulders, with a full head of hair, which is slightly greying on the sides. Despite the fact he puts in 16 hour+ shifts, he has the demeanour of a 5 star general, cool as a cucumber, ready for his next mission. In this case it is lunch service, which starts at noon.
Heiko was born near Hamburg and was introduced to the world of cooking by his grandmother, who worked as a cook at the Hamburger Schlachthof canteen. She was part of the generation of women that worked on the factory floors and later moved into what was considered domestic related work, after the war.
The concept of the canteen began in the 50’s, in the post war construction boom. It was primarily designed for guest workers that came to Germany to work in factories. These men lacked the basic skills to prepare a hot meal, the canteen became their main source of home-cooked meals. In those days, despite the cafeteria-style approach, the food was served based on local and seasonal ingredients, to produce well-cooked meals.
This all changed when a friend who had trained to be a waiter and cook started taking him into professional kitchens. Something just clicked. He could not see himself in a nine-to-five desk job. He loved food and thought why not give this a shot.
He enrolled as an apprentice at the luxury hotel, Vier Jahreszeiten, which was renowned for being the place to learn how to cook in Hamburg.
It took six months before Heiko finally made his way to the kitchen. Starting as a bellboy was an invaluable experience as he better understood customer service.
After a brief stint with the military , he started his professional culinary journey as a line chef at Le Canard, in Hamburg. The restaurant’s head chef was Josef Viehauser, who was one of the best chef’s in the world. Heiko had a front row seat during the renaissance of fine dining in Germany.
Heiko’s culinary journey would then take him through various cities with notable stops at Hotel zur Traube in Grevenbroich, which held two Michelin Stars and Vau in Berlin, which held one Michelin Star.
It was when he arrived at L’Orquivit in Bonn, he felt he had finally reached a point where he could start to create the dishes that were truly his own. A lot of what Dolder is today was refined during his time at L’Orquivit. This is where he mastered the ability to recreate traditional flavours, by creatively combining ingredients, to create unique and beautiful dishes. In the five years he was at L’Orquivit he was able achieve 17 points with Gault Millau and 1 Michelin Star.
This drive to be the best is what still drives Heiko today. The only difference is now withs kids at home, he has to manage his time more carefully.
When you walk into the restaurant for the first time, you are instantly taken in by the design. The large window brings in natural light, reflecting of the silver walls, giving the room a soothing golden glow. The bold red chairs compliment the neutral colour furniture and pristine white tablecloth. The large modern glass casing, carrying some of the finest vintages of wine and champagne, effortlessly blends into what is truly a fine dining experience.
Heiko wants to transport each guest away from their daily lives, by giving them an experience through his dishes, which he describes as “a jouney through taste.” He wants his guests to have a new experience, the unusual combinations of taste.
This philosophy is a key driving force pushing innovation in Heiko’s kitchen. The ability to change the menu every season with flair and consistently delivering for over 10 years, is only possible if the passion is still alive.
This is the hallmark of experience and talent, both of which is extremely important to reach the upper echelon of gastronomy and Heiko is in this elite group.
Today we were invited for the Amuse Bouche menu. It is a lunch tasting menu, which takes your through a tapas style journey, over five courses. Each course has a minimum of three small dishes covering everything from snacks, soups, seafood, meat and dessert. It may be a lighter version of the dinner menu, but it gives you a glimpse of what Heiko and his team are all about.
Lobster with citrus fruits, avocado, blossoms and herbs
Veal with marinated mushrooms, miso and green tomato
Tofu with radish, tamrillo and seaweed
Sunflower-seed soup with black truffle
Hibiscus-beet root soup with coconut and ham
Potato-dried bean soup with ham
Scallop with quince, ginger and piment d’ Espelette vinegar
Sea bass with herbs, mushroom, pear and mustard
Hake with goose liver, lime and chilli
Lamb with olive-oil foam and aged balsamic vinegar
Beef with barbecue sauce, rocket and dried plums
Duck with marinated winter melon, sesame and Asian spices
Maroni with hazelnut, vanilla and port wine
Tangerine with tarragon, pecan nut and aji amarillo
Milk ice-cream with apple, lychee and cherry blossoms
Spout granitee with honey and green tea
Carott juice with sweet mustard and cress
The meal was honestly one of the best-orchestrated meals I have ever eaten. It was a journey of discovery, with familiar tastes but pushing towards something new and surprising my palate. This meal was a reminder of why I started TookTook and what drives my passion for gastronomy. My lunch companion and head photographer for TookTook, Oliver Moertl, made a comment that still sticks with me today.
A lot of Heiko’s inspiration comes from travelling and while it has slowed down a bit with his kids at home, he still tries to go when he can.
All these new experiences does not mean he forgets his roots and what drew him to cooking in the first place. He gives me some examples,
It is uncanny how many chefs I have met around the world look back to their grandmothers as their original source of inspiration. Food is such an integral part of our childhood. Those happy memories that come from being fed from a place a love is something we take with us for the rest of our lives.
In the case of Heiko Neider he has taken his past, combined it with his experience and talent to continue his grandmother’s legacy, by feeding us remarkable memories.
TookTook Stories covers the people behind the most exciting restaurants, bars and hotels from around the world. Running a restaurant or working in hospitality is incredibly hard. It takes more than a few visits to really be able to judge a quality of the experience. This is the reason why this is not a review. We only cover places we admire, with the focus to learn more about the background of the individuals, their work and what drives them.