The trouble with chalet holidays

As an ex-chalet girl, I have my fair share of guilty secrets. I occasionally was not averse to cheating a little bit, knocking off ingredients here and there, leaving out a step, ‘forgetting’ to make the porridge, cleaning the bathroom with glass polish (it makes it shine without scrubbing). Anything that would give me a couple more hours out on the slopes. The minute the next set of guests stepped off the mini bus each week, they were no longer cheerful holiday makers, they were pests who were deliberately trying to ruin my life – harrassing me with fatuous questions like ‘how cold is it at the top?’ (I don’t know, I’m down here, making your scrambled eggs), or ‘so what do you do for a REAL job then?’ Grrr. One man, a company director in work time, even got me out of bed on my day off to request a lesson in how to turn the kettle on. The kettle was a Kenwood, imported from England at the start of the season. I never did find out which company he ran…

My lovely little chalet Myrtille

And yet, despite my moaning and underhand activities, I still consider myself to have been a pretty good chalet girl. The chalet always looked clean (I mean, you don’t really need to bleach the bath every day, do you?!) I was always cheerful and polite, albeit sometimes through gritted teeth, and I did put genuine care and pride into my food. Which is more than can be said for some of my colleagues, who let’s just say didn’t quite share my blossoming love of cookery.

There was the chalet boy who forgot to put any sugar in the lemon tart one evening, and when his guests winced, just plonked the bag of caster on the table with a spoon. There was a girl (later fired), who, not bothering to make dessert had grabbed a load of out of date yogurts that were sitting in her apartment, dished them out to guests, then remained blank faced as one lady choked on rancid salmon mousse. (A note to all prospective overseas workers…if you’re going to use shop bought, make sure you can read the language.) Another host I knew had told her chalet-holiday-virgin guests that they could only have starter and main course, or main course and pudding, but not all three. I remember something similar written in my school canteen…

My recent chalet holiday, it seems, was run by staff from the same school of customer service. And although I was given strict instructions from the boy not to be all ‘snobby food writer’ about the dinners, I reached my breaking point when everyone else was actually laughing out loud at them. Because, actually, I wasn’t being snobby food writer about it at all. I was being snobby ex-chalet girl.

The problem with the whole chalet system is that they employ young people who just want to ski, drink and kiss people. Sorry Mother, but it’s true. As a rule they’re not interested in whether or not their cream sauce has depth of flavour, or if their pannacottas set. And for some reason, most chalet companies insist on making their staff cook awful 80s dinner party food, peppered with outdated words like jus, tian and  assiette. One of our chalet girls had such trouble with the word pithivier I ended up butting in and telling the token veggie ‘it’s an aubergine pie’.

Do you seriously want these people touching your food?!

This all-fur-coat-and-no-knickers approach to the menus only exacerbates the problem of the Lacklustre Chef. Most hungover youths with a week’s cooking course behind them can knock up a pretty decent lasagne or pie, but cooking 25 duck breasts to pink perfection takes a bit of effort (and a vaguely clear head). And let’s be honest, who wouldn’t rather have a bowl of really good pasta at the end of a hard day skiing than a wizened, leathery old pork chop with a mint-infused, honeyed (insert pretentious term) watermelon salsa? Watermelon. In the Alps. Seriously.

So my idea is this. If and when food writing holds no more promise for me, I want to set up a chalet company that serves proper food. No jus, no bavarois, no poivrons farcis just delicious, unpretentious, proper food in generous portions, that hungry skiers look forward to sitting down to. And I promise to clean your bathrooms with bathroom cleaner, and not glass polish. Now, who would like to bankroll me?!

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8 Comments

Filed under Musings, Recipes

8 responses to “The trouble with chalet holidays

  1. I have nominated you for the Sunshine Award:
    http://aprovinciallife.wordpress.com/
    Goodluck!

  2. Not all chalet companies do it the same way – some are different and I know that as I set up Zenith Holidays after many years with the larger companies…….my advice would be – go for it but get your funding sorted as getting the food right is important but its a tough “discount led” market and it takes time (hence the need to be well funded) to establish your reputation – Good luck in your 2nd career

  3. Roger's Mum

    Ha ha, Truefoodie. I think you should take this blog to your bank manager and tell him it’s your business plan! Sounds like a good idea to me.

  4. What an excellent idea! I have worked in a number of ski resorts around the Alps and I’m just utterly flabbergasted at the shoddy practice and the exploitative prices! Something needs to be done and it sounds like you’re the one to do it! I will join you in your venture happily. I hope someone bankrolls you soon!

  5. Stephanie Carswell

    Ah, sweet memories… 🙂 very glad im not in that photo…! Hope you’re well hun xxx

  6. YES. I went on my first chalet holiday last month. We had five courses each night from canape (singular) to cheeseboard. I would definitely rather have saved the hosts the faffing around cutting toast into circles/smearing jus everywhere and had a pile of decent pasta and a sponge pud instead!

    Our host also seemed determined to incorporate garlic and cayenne pepper in every single meal (and I am not ‘English’ about garlic or heat). Raw garlic and pea soup. Spicy risotto. Cayenne cream cheese toasts. The nadir of this experience was the ‘french cayenne ‘n’ onion soup’ which we all ate precisely 51% of out of politeness while trying not to catch each others’ eye…

  7. I love this! I want to set it up with you!! Oh, how I miss the life of a chalet slave… I am very good at chopping vegetables in an orderly fashion and I never skive on the cleaning!

  8. I can’t bank roll you, but I would definitely be your first, happy, paying guest. I promise not to comment on the Chalet interiors in a ‘snobby writer’ sense. I just need to learn to ski first!!

    P.S. Any old pasta is a winner in my books. You need the carbs to ski faster don’t you?

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