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…
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 There was a girl (later fired), who, not bothering to make dessert had grabbed a load of out of date yogurts that were sitting in her apartment, dished them out to guests, then remained blank faced as one lady choked on rancid salmon mousse.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’.
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?!