Cooking For A Season In The Alps
A season: the perfect ‘Chalet Girl’ perfect lifestyle, i.e. working for ridiculously good looking clients who spend about two weekends in five months in their chalet. Dom Perignon, hot tubs, and caviar for breakfast, carefully prepared in a kitchen fit for the Queen. The height of luxury? The reality: waking up at 6.30am after a 4.00am scramble to bed, arrive at your distinctly lower-than-average chalet with a kitchen the size of an airing cupboard to serve breakfast to some screaming children and their oh-so-fussy parents. Prepare yourself for a barrage of complaints,"the loo overflowed - clean it up." Oh joy.
However, despite all the problems that come with demanding guests, there is definitely something to be said for what you learn whilst working a season. Not only do you perfect your skiing skills (win), but you realise that it is possible to keep a house vaguely clean, and that to cook breakfast, afternoon tea and a three course meal for 12 people every night with work space that just about fits your chopping board isn’t as hard as it sounds.
So, how to cook in a chalet in the Alps:
1. Preparation is everything. Do as much as possible for the evening meal BEFORE heading out skiing. Your guests will have gone, so use the little time you have without them nagging about the lack of fridge space for their beers. Put your beers in the snow!
2. Water boils at a lower temperature at high altitude, therefore things take longer to cook (interesting lesson for life). Boiled eggs, for example, take 4 ½ minutes when at 1800ft.
3. Anything can be rescued. If you burn a pudding, scrape off the top and smother it in icing sugar. Or ice cream. Or anything. Your guests will be none the wiser.
4. Describe your food with flair. ‘Grilled goat’s cheese crostini salad with a warm apricot dressing’ sounds a lot fancier than ‘goat’s cheese on toast with a bit of lettuce’.
5. When running late, blame it on the oven, or the dishwasher. Or the fact that the two feet of snow that fell last night made it difficult for your food delivery to arrive. They needn’t know that food delivery day is actually tomorrow.
6. Let them eat cake. As long as you get a good cake on the table for your guests to return to after a long day of skiing, they will love you forever. Fact.
7. If you forget to defrost your meat, don’t panic. Put it in a bowl, then put the bowl in a sink of warm water (keep replenishing). It WILL defrost, it will it will it will.
8. Forget to order some crucial ingredient? Wing it. On my last week, with 12 guests booking on the night before arrival, I had missed the weekly food order day. Serve with confidence and you can get away with anything: the chicken hotpot, usually containing chopped bacon and mushrooms now contained peas and sweetcorn. Apparently a good mix - who was to know?!
9. Do not make pancakes when hungover. You will feel even more sick. Stick to boiled eggs or something of that sort.
10. A dark-coloured mug is your best friend. Whilst cooking and serving the evening meal, your guests will think you are drinking coffee. You are actually drinking the chalet wine.
If all else fails, add some spice to your guests’ meal by getting the steaming pot of beef casserole, tripping whilst taking it to the table, and sending it sliding precariously down to your least liked guest. If it stops just short of spilling on their lap, the look on their face will be priceless. If it falls onto them, it will be even better.
So if you are wondering what on earth you are going to do when you have to make your own way in the world, STALL REALITY. Head to the Alps. It will be the best five months you will spend, perhaps ever (who wants a real job anyway?). And if you don’t think you can spare 5 months, use these skills in your university life: serving food for a dinner party in an airing-cupboard-sized kitchen is just so St Andrews.