The Season Workers Guide: Ski chalet menu planning tips
Cooking for a chalet full of guests may seem daunting at first and the first two to three weeks will be hard work. A Cookery Course could help immensely to build up your confidence as well as your repertoire of recipes. The first three weeks of the season will be very busy and you can guarantee your chalet will be full. You will still be getting used to cooking for large numbers, at altitude (heard of the yoghurt cake recipe?), to a very tight budget and often with a restricted shopping list. These guidelines to menu planning can help you through those first few weeks and ensure you make the most of your time as well as keeping your guests satisfied throughout the season.
Practice Your Menu
Firstly, learn and practice 7 or 8 options for each meal and course you prepare (breakfast, afternoon tea, high tea for kids and dinner). Breakfast is the easiest meal; most items can be placed on the table for guests to help themselves. A hot option is normally offered and you can make is easy by choosing what you are going to offer rather than cooking to order. You are normally required to offer porridge every day as well.
Dinner for an average chalet size (8-16) should take no longer than 2 hours to prepare, especially if there are 2 of you. You will probably be required to serve meat/fish with two vegetables and either potatoes, pasta, cous cous or rice. Bear in mind the type of food the company you work for want you to cook, for some Spaghetti Bolognaise is a big no no and don’t set your sights too high, most people do not want to eat fancy cuisine after a hard day’s skiing. Filling, tasty, heart-warming meals will go down well. Serve coffee and tea in the lounge so you can clear the dining room and clean and tidy as quickly as possible.
Special Dietary Requirements
You will at some stage have to cater for special diets be it veggies, vegan, wheat-free, dairy-free, nut free, even if it is only at interview stage. Have at least 6 options for veggies and vegans. Other intolerances or allergies are fairly easy to adapt to during the week. Make sure the options fit with the veg/carbs you are serving with the meat dish so you don’t have to cook an entirely different meal.
You may also have to cook children’s meals separately. Most kids will eat only what they are given at home and it is useful to talk to the parents at the beginning of the week to see what they want their children to eat, as well as what their children want to eat (there may be a difference). Maintain a stock of frozen pizzas, ice cream, chips etc. but parents will appreciate home cooked food. It’s easy and cheaper to make your own turkey nuggets for example.
- Recipes should be quick and easy. Avoid anything that needs stewing or involves intricate preparation.
- Avoid repetition and vary textures. Make the plates look nice. Colours on the plate should not clash or be bland. Add garnishes.
- Fruit and vegetables deteriorate at different rates at altitude so you will have to be flexible and use ingredients in order of perishability.
- Never serve margarine, long life milk or stale bread, this will not impress (ok to use in recipes though). Filter coffee is often cheaper than instant and guests will love waking up to the aroma of fresh coffee in the mornings.
- Take into account your storage facilities, e.g. you may have only tiny freezer.
- Transfer day will be spent mostly cleaning the chalet and guests may arrive late especially if the weather is bad. Choose a meal which will keep or can be reheated without spoiling, e.g. cold salad starters like Tomato & Mozzarella Salad, main course casseroles such as Beef Bourguignon and desserts like chocolate mousse or cheesecake.
- Familiarise yourself with the supermarket/shopping list (availability, quality, prices, specialist counters like meat, fish, cheese).
- Keep a back up meal in case delivery/shopping is delayed or you have a major disaster.
- Big up your food to your guests, announce dinner every night, make it sound really delicious and use elaborate or foreign names to give dishes an air of mystery. Avoid telling your guests in the morning what they are having for dinner just in case you have to do a last minute change because the broccoli has turned yellow.
- Finally, appear confident and enthusiastic. Guests will often want to relay their day’s escapades to you whilst you are cooking, so make sure you walk the walk and talk the talk (and hide the recipes books!).
Budget & Portion Control
Wastage is the main culprit of going over budget, as well as using expensive ingredients where there are cheaper alternatives or just as effective cheaper recipes. Serving the meat on a plate and the vegetables/carbs in serving dishes can result in more wastage. This can be controlled far better by serving the whole meal on a plate, as long as you ensure there is enough food on the plate. Aim for 150g per person of meat and ensure there is enough veg/carbs for seconds. Leftovers can be used effectively to control budget as well. Freeze reusable items or recycle into soups. Half used tins of food can be used in other recipes.
- Fresh hot croissants, French baguettes
- Selection of cereals
- Jams, marmalade
- Chilled fruit juices
- Fresh coffee and tea
- Cooked option (e.g. boiled eggs, eggy bread, scrambled eggs, bacon, egg & tomato etc.)
- Freshly baked cake
- Fresh baguette, choice of jams
- Fresh coffee, hot chocolate, a selection of teas
- Ginger Spiced Pumpkin and Carrot Soup
- Pork roasted in Herbs and Cider with Baked Apples
- Gratin Dauphinois, Baton Carrots in Tarragon Butter, Pan Fried Sweet & Sour Cabbage
- Pear and Almond Tart with Chantilly Cream
- Coffee and Tea
A ski chalet cookery course with an organisation like SnowCrazy will increase your competence in this area.