Luxury and Innovation
So… Chanel just purchased a winery in Napa Valley. Burberry has incorporated “disruptive digital takeovers” in its London flagship store. Tiffany has wedding bands for same-sex marriages. Ralph Lauren has added LED lights to his bags and merged biometrics to create his Polo Tech shirt. And then, of course, there is the infamous Iris van Herpen, who was the first designer to introduce 3D printing to the fashion world. The list of innovations in luxury brands goes on and on.
Even the city of Zurich is busy innovating in every way it knows how. This can be seen most clearly in the many non-corporate guided, grassroots projects around town focused on art, science, technology, and education.
But what, pray tell, is happening in its world of luxury?
Does the “do or die” mantra of innovation apply here as well?
While I write this, luxury cigar maker and heritage brand Davidoff, headquartered in Basel, is getting ready for its Cigar Tasting Night and Sinfonia Del Tartufo events to be held on the Davidoff Ship on Lake Zurich.
Pairing their refined cigars with exquisite foods, these events are bound to be just as brilliant as the one we attended way back on September 11th 2015.
Despite its sophisticated cursive logo, cool and hot fragrance lines, hand-crafted pipes, elegant smokers’ accessories, and sleek cigarette packages (owned by Imperial Tobacco), Davidoff represents more than just “The Good Life”. It is a statement of comfort, celebration and quality.
In fact, every cigar is a bold statement, not only to the person who consumes it.
Escurio Gran Toro
Frequently called “flavorful, opulent, unique”, Davidoff cigars are hand-crafted in the company’s factory in Santiago, Dominican Republic. The new Escurio cigar has been described as tasting of leather, cream, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and of delivering “intense, spicy, sweet palate stimulation”. While I didn’t catch all of those, pre-light notes are cocoa and hay. Background notes when I first lit up are black pepper spice and espresso. A little later on, cream, oak, dark chocolate, coffee, and just the natural tobacco.
This new line sees Davidoff yet again innovating with more than just flavors by expanding into new territory: this time, Brazil. Alongside the superior dishes, which would be prepared by creative Michelin-starred chefs and team from Christian Geisler from the famed Kunsthof restaurant, we at Food Freaks were definitely looking forward to putting our combined taste buds to the test.
So, given this context, and despite the fact that I knew that most Davidoff dining events were announced with the dress code “festively elegant (black tie is welcome)”, I also knew that jeans and a sports jacket would not raise an eyebrow as even Zurich’s ultra-wealthy are well concealed behind downplayed exteriors. I was happily surprised throughout the night by just how subtle the delivery of understatements was from the mélange of two high-profile, uber-quality brands sharing the spotlight in one culinary taste-centric event. The event was super relaxed and leisurely sophisticated. Perhaps this was by design? An innovative approach to marketing luxury?
immigration and innovation
So where is the product „innovation“? It is in an underlying theme. Companies, often target an association to innovation but often this is simply an „evolution“ in the product and brand relationship.
So doing a bit of research, I found they drive home three “values” – Innovation, Passion, and Integrity. That is quite an inspirational value set. I realized that despite the brand being ubiquitous around the world and certainly in Zurich, I actually knew very little about the company’s heritage, current status, and future plans. So in comes the power of Google and Wikipedia.
Zino Davidoff, the creator of the Davidoff brand from Kiev, Russia, was born into a long line of tobacconists. His empire began with a tiny shop his father opened up in Geneva, and the Second World War brought the opportunity to enter a much broader Swiss market. Switzerland was a neutral country and the Davidoff shop catered to a wealthy clientele: from prominence to royalty, all seeking solace and some enjoyment in the shop during wartime. This time set the stage for Davidoff becoming a popular cigar brand, and then in the 1970’s, the company expanded to become a worldwide chain.
The word „entrepreneur“ is used so often in the last few years, it sort of lost the „crazy“ sincerity but clearly this sincerity is reflected in Zino, his style, the product and the business history. What makes a strong entrepreneur is a charismatic leadership and like the many people who immigrate into new countries, they build commercial empires through that leadership and sequential innovations.
The evening of this event of Davidoff Tour Gastronomique started off with an outdoor aperitif, Cava from Gramona, Gran Riserva Vintage 2009, Criadores de Cava and a small “starter” cigar from the new line. While it was mild and calming, it had been nearly a decade since I had smoked any cigar: to celebrate the birth of my second daughter. I certainly cannot profess to be a “qualified” expert when it comes to cigars, but I do know how to enjoy their smoothness and tried to pick out as many flavors as I could as my stoogie burned. An earthy sweetness stood out.
We then made our way upstairs to the dining room, where we were greeted by a calmly lit space in the grand style of a large hunting lodge hall. No smoking far and wide. This was going to feel like a party among friends.
The dinner in Kunsthof
The first thing that caught my eye was the seating of the dining space. After all, seating is an instant message for how long a restaurant wants you to stay. When purchasing chairs, restaurants make their chair selection based on the desired duration of a patron’s visit. If fast turnover is the goal, a restaurant might select a “30 min” chair, so that customers don’t get too comfortable. This place is not setup like this at all. With seats like lounge chairs and plenty of space for dining, we immediately become immersed in the brand’s vision of experiencing “time beautifully filled”.
The engaging, happy staff begins pouring some crisply brilliant wine, Riesling St. Martin, Weingut Korrell, Nahe, 2014.
So most of the time, we write detailed descriptions of each dish. The quality here deserves all this traditional labour and sure, I took my notes, recall the tastes, and could lay it all out but this time, not for this event. I am going to just wrap it up with one obscene but accurate word, „Funtastic“. Yep. That corny word that steals the sophistication directly away from it all.
The reason is, real innovation is tied to play. Sophistication is not needing to be the center, even though the luxury brand aims for this. This was fun, playful and full of quality with no pretense. As for the palette balance, all I am able to confirm is that these masters paired the food with grace. There was just one exception… the desert. The Seabuckthorn (Sanddorn) berry jam generously layered in was too overpowering with the rest of the chocolate cake and the toppings, but maybe that was just mine. What we should infer here is that these Davidoff events are strong and stunning culinary celebrations, bridging the finest dining experiences with the rather traditional emphasis on highest quality.
And the not to be overlooked was the service, which was extraordinary and the partnership teamwork with these master chefs was clear. Attentive and efficient with knowledgeable introductions and explanations of each of the 7 course.
Time passed with wonderful food and friendly conversation. We were relishing in the decadent luxury of time, and suddenly realized that the clock had struck midnight. The last train would soon take us back to the city, and we were forced to exit stage left in a hurry. We bade a quick goodbye to our table neighbors, and did not forget to thank the amazing chefs and kitchen staff, who were all smiles after the successful event.
Slightly buzzed and ecstatic from excellent food and wine, we dashed to catch the train. On the short walk to the Rapperswil Station, I could not resist a follow-up sample of the new Escurio cigar. I selected the short one, knowing the distance and urgency would not permit me to enjoy anything else.
Der Kunsthof – Restaurant
Telefon: +41 55 290 22 11
Mittags ab 11:45 Uhr
Abends ab 18:30
Ruhetage: Montag und Dienstag
Das FoodFreaks Team wurde zu dem Dinner und der Präsentation der Zigarren eingeladen. Dies hat jedoch keinen Einfluss auf die Bewertung des Essens, Restaurants oder der Zigarren.