Work. Mountain.Work.Play.Sleep. The rhythm of life for five months of working in the French Alps.
I’ve done four seasons in total for two different companies in Morzine and Val D’Isere – one mid-market family company and one higher end gourmet company but generally, the days were the same.
I had slightly more mountain time with the gourmet company as I didn’t always have a children’s tea to serve – but expectations were higher on the standard of food I was expected to produce.
Every company will have its own way of working (e.g chefs shopping for ingredients instead of receiving deliveries) and you may be expected to do more or less depending on the expectations of your company.
Although the days were long and the hours were split, the skiing and snowboarding made it the best type of split shifts during my career as a chef!
The ebb and flow of each day will look something like this….
7am Breakfast Prep
Still my most favourite work commute to date – a slow walk up the hill, sometimes through ankle-deep snow, sometimes with the moonlight still reflecting off the mountains.
Pop the oven on to warm up croissants and pain au chocolats. Make a large pot of coffee. Put the porridge on to blip away on the stove.
My host would arrive around 7.30 with fresh bread from the local bakery, and we would both clear away the previous nights’ wine glasses and reset the table for breakfast.
Prepare the breakfast special – anything from pancakes to Eggs Benedict.
8am Serve Breakfast
Middle Eastern Shakshuka Breakfast Special
The guests would often emerge anywhere from 7.30-8 depending on if they have kids or how keen skiers/boarders they are.
Depending on the mood/taste of the guests, my breakfast service might range from making 20 crepes, to a few boiled eggs and soldiers! The guests also help themselves to continental items.
9am Clear down breakfast and bake off time!
Once the guests had ordered cooked breakfasts, I would get on with afternoon tea – anything from scones to millionaire shortbread to a carrot cake (or the trusty yoghurt cake, which was used countless time during my first few seasons!).
10am Prep prep prep
Clear away the breakfast and begin prep for the evening. The host would give the bedrooms a general tidy round and clear any snow needed to make accessible paths.
I usually tried to get either the starter or dessert boxed off, and prepare any elements that take a long time to cook (eg a leg of lamb to slow cook all day). If I had children in the chalet that week, I might also prepare the kid’s tea, so that I can serve it straight away once I got back off the mountain.
11am/12pm Finishing touches
Decorate the cake (extra special if it’s a birthday!) and re-set the table for afternoon tea with fresh bread.
I would usually leave the chalet anywhere between 11 – 12 depending on how much I had been faffing. For two season my chalet was known as ‘The House of Plod’ due to my relaxed approach to chalet running!
As most chalet kitchens are open plan, guests/kids often wander in for a chat in the evening. Therefore, the more I could get done in the morning, the better as I sometimes struggled with chatting and concentrating on cooking….
12pm-4pm Mountain Time
If the weather and/or the snow was good, I’d usually head up the mountain for a couple of hours on my board, often armed with a baguette sandwich from the chalet leftovers, tucked into my ski jacket to enjoy on the side of the piste or on a chair lift.
If it had been a late/heavy one the night before or if it was a white out (unable to see due to every snow), I might use this time to nap, chill, head into town or catch up on life back home.
Sometimes just to mix it up, I’d go for a walk in the woods or down to the lake.
I would aim to be off the mountain by 3/3.30. Head for a quick shower and chill before heading back to the chalet at 4/5pm depending on if I had kids tea to serve and how much prep for the evening I needed to do.
4/5pm – 7.30pm Back to the chalet
Finish the prep for the evening meal and be ready to serve at 8 (ish!) My fourth season with the gourmet ski company, we served a three-course meal, plus canapés and a cheese board.
The host would set the table for the evening meal, serve any drinks or mulled wine and help out with last minute prep I might need.
I was really bad at this, but I was also supposed to cook for myself and my host, but I’d usually get so caught up in last minute prep and forget. Instead, we would usually eat when we finished at about 10pm.
On my first three seasons we were allowed to eat with the guests, an option we tended to pick and choose, depending on if we liked the guests that week! (Although there was only about 10% of guests during a season we actively disliked!).
9.30pm/10pm Clean down
Finish serving dinner anywhere between 9-10pm depending on how punctual the guests had been arriving for dinner.
Load the dishwasher with the plates and cutlery, wash up the used pans and utensils (I was pretty famous for using loads!). Always remember to turn the dishwasher on, otherwise, it makes for a nightmare breakfast the next day.
10/10.30pm Home/Party time!
Head home to chat, chill, party or sleep!
This was an average day, apart from ….
Friday was the shopping day. The host would serve breakfast and the 2 other chalet chefs and I would drive the van down to the supermarket at 8am to shop for the next weeks’ guests. This would usually take 3-4hrs depending on how bad the snow on the roads was (it took us all day once when we had a snow chain issue after heavy snow!).
Shopping day madness
Wednesday was our sole day off, and the resort manager would deliver bread and croissants to the guests who would eat at a restaurant in the evening. I would usually spend the whole day on the mountain unless I was knackered or had gone out for a big one Tuesday night.
Apres Ski time…
Saturday was transfer day, the day the previous weeks’ guests leave and the new guests arrive.
This may look like an average day if the new guests were arriving at a decent hour, or it may turn into a mammoth day if you’ve got guests to wave off at 7am and your new guests get stuck in traffic and you end up serving dinner at 11pm.
The chalet is deep cleaned ready for the next week. Most ski companies disallow staff to ski on a transfer day, as it’s usually a pretty hectic one. If you happen to be on top of your own chalet, you may be expected to go and help out at another chalet.
As far as work routines go, it made for a pretty magical 5 months!