From Start to Finish; we spend a full day with two-season veteran Dave from Chalet Le Milan Noir
We don’t mess around in the mornings; wake up around six, coffee, muesli, shower, quick “Morning” to our housemates, and we’re out the door.
Almost immediately I’m smiling. It’s tanking it down! It becomes a daily ritual here to check the snow forecast ten times a day and yesterday’s late night forecast was bang on. It’s been snowing heavy all night and as we trunch through the knee-high powder my smile just gets bigger and bigger. I still can’t believe we live here.
Divide and Conquer
Once at work, we immediately walk off in different directions.
It took us a week or two at the start of our first season to figure out our work routine, but we soon realised that the best strategy was ‘Divide and Conquer’. These chalets are big and standards are very high, so the best way to get things done is for you to divide the day’s list of jobs equally between the two of you, go off in different directions, do what you can do, and then ask each other for help as needed.
First thing in the morning, I tend to grab a shovel and start clearing snow from the steps and pathways around the chalet. I like to get this out of the way first thing, because pretty much as soon as breakfast is done, guests are running out the door to hit the slopes. This way, their path is clear when they’re ready to leave. (Especially important after a heavy dump like last night.)
By the time I’m inside, apron on, and at the sink washing my hands, Vanessa has the breakfast table fully laid up with continental goodies. Croissants are in the oven, coffee pots are on, and now she’s off tidying the living area. (Did I say we split jobs equally? Vanessa puts me to efficiency-shame. Glad she’s on my side.) Looks like the guests had fun after we left last night, there are wine glasses and board games everywhere!
This morning is a slight departure from our normal breakfast menu, but that’s all good. We pride ourselves on being super flexible and accommodating and serve pretty much anything our guest ask for, or happen to mention they like. One of our guests Marie mentioned the other night over dinner that her favourite breakfast was avocado on toast. Trendy! Let’s give it a go! I’m going to add sweet, oven-roasted cherry tomatoes for some colour and flavour and one or two Spanish-style-eggs. (We visited Barcelona a while back where they do something with their eggs that I guess falls somewhere between poaching and frying – in about an inch of good quality oil over a very low flame, the eggs are allowed to bob gently for a few minutes, giving them this lovely creamy texture on the outside while still lovely and runny on the insides.) Here goes…
This week’s guests are lovely and funny, professionals, yet not willing to completely give up on their party-days even though most of them have brought their children. They’re avid skiers. As predicted the night before, even though everyone is nursing slightly sore heads this morning every guest is up and at the table early and breakfast begins promptly at 8am. All goes well. Marie is very pleased and everyone agrees the avocado toast was a hit.
By 8.30am everyone is back in their rooms. The kiddies have ski school at 9am and these parents have all this down to a tee. (Dress the kids, then dress yourself. Mental note.) While Vanessa and I clear the breakfast table the kids are excitedly running around telling us what happened on their ski lessons yesterday and where they hope the instructor will take them today, while the adults are upstairs applying base layers and sun-cream.
I spend five minutes with Paul the self-assigned leader of the pack, going over a piste map and then… suddenly… silence. Everyone, in the space of five minutes, has left the building!
Breakfast cleared away, dish washer on. Now Phase Two begins – we’re not too inventive with names, so we call it…
Cake/Rooms/Tidy/Re-stock and Prep
Vanessa’s already made the cake mix (of course she has) so by the time I’ve refilled the wine racks, honesty bar fridge and checked the hottub, the cake’s in the oven and she’s off doing the rooms. (I have no idea what she does. She has a checklist and when she’s done, the rooms look great).While she’s gone I tidy the living room again (kids+stuff=mess), clean down the kitchen and grab the hoover. I like hoovering. You look really busy so no one bothers you and it’s kind of meditative. By the time I’m done Vanessa’s back; fluffing pillows and adjusting throws in the living room and generally moving things around that I’ve put in the wrong place while she was gone. (She’s very fussy. “No I’m not! It just has to be perfect!”)
Once the place is looking sweet, I’m back in the kitchen – it’s time to squeeze in some prep for tonight’s dinner service. For the adults tonight we have ‘Mozzarella Bruschetta with Balsamic Strawberry, Courgette Ribbons and Fennel’, then ‘Marinated Chicken Skewers with Asian Salad’ for main course, followed by my favourite dessert of the week, ‘Sticky Toffee Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce’. We also have six kids in this week, they seem cool and I’m thinking to myself – cool kids always love… Mini-Burgers! So I start by making homemade slider buns and a tasty burger mix for later.
While I slice and dice and make a marinade for the chicken, Vanessa makes up the Afternoon Tea table and finishes dressing her cake, a triple-layered lemon drizzle number with lemon buttercream (Mmmm…).
And that’s it! We’re almost out the door and… (I always forget this part!)… I run back inside, grab 200 grams of dates, boil the kettle, make a cup of tea and plonk the dates in to soak (extra sticky dates = extra sticky, STP!).
Now, we’re out the door!
It’s barely 11am and the sun’s shining and the birds are singing and we’re rushing home to change and grab our snowboards.
Today we have a private lesson booked with Flo from Easy2Ride. We meet near the top of the Pleney gondola at noon and head over towards Nyon where the slopes are quieter and spend the next two hours messing around doing 180’s and attempting our first forays into all this off-piste malarkey. It’s a perfect, beautiful day, with pristine snow and blue skies and Flo’s such a great instructor it doesn’t even feel like learning at all. Just having fun. By the end of our lesson we’re all laughing and brushing snow off each others faces and I give Flo a proper French double kiss and a big hug as we say farewell and we finish up at the bottom of the Pleney.
Quick panini and hot chocolate in Beanies and we’re back home for 3pm. Time for a power-nap!
And back to work for the evening shift
Everyone’s back from the slopes when we arrive at the chalet, either lounging on the sofas or soaking in the hottub. We have a little tradition with our guests at this time of the day, exchanging stories from the day over a hot chocolate. We all run through where we’ve been that day and what the conditions were like (Avoriaz was busy today apparently, Pleney too). We tell them Nyon was pretty much empty and Les Gets would be great for the kids and newbies tomorrow maybe.
Kids meals are served at 6pm so we head back into the kitchen around five to get things ready. Vanessa clears away the (very little) leftover cake, lays place settings and tells the kids to wash their hands ready for dinner. Mini-Burgers, sweet potato fries and salad platters. We both stand back once it’s plated up. This looks awesome! I wish I was having kid’s meals!
Kids fed. Next up, adults. But first, time to light the fire. Apart from writing the blackboard menu just before service, lighting the fire is the last thing I’ll do front-of-house for the rest of the evening, apart from help clear the table between courses (mostly to keep my timings right). Fire lit. Vanessa’s lighting candles and dimming the lights. We’re looking good.
Marinated chicken skewed, browned off in a hot pan, and in the oven on low. Done, done, and done.
Homemade Bruschetta, drizzle of garlic and thyme olive oil, season, oven, and back out to cool. Done.
Half Six – time for canapes. Today we’re going with ‘Cucumber, Whipped Feta & Pomegranate’. Done.
Now it’s time to chop, peel and dice. Each day is different but today it’s the Asian salad and Bruschetta topping that take the most prep time… lots of ingredients go into these dishes, and each one has to be prepped individually and in a particular way to do them – and the final dish – justice.
At 7pm Vanessa takes the canapes into the living room and offers everyone pre-dinner drinks. G&T’s always go down well, but a few days ago the guests found out Vanessa used to manage a cocktail bar, so tonight’s main requests are Daquiri’s, Cosmo’s and Espresso Martini’s.
Back in the kitchen I’m almost done with starters and mains. Mozzarella goes on the bruschetta and back in the oven to melt, salad’s coming together nicely (don’t chop the apple or avocado until the last minute or it’ll oxide and start to brown), and the chicken’s almost done too. Awesome.
Sticky toffee is one of those ‘more-than-the-sum-of-it’s-parts’ type of cake mix, which never fails to impress. I think it’s the all those sticky-tea-soaked-dates. Or all the butter. Or the Sugar. Or Golden Syrup. Anyway, mix made in no time. Next, sugar work. Melt sugar in a pan with a splash of water. Let it bubble then cool, but not too much, and you have something like treacle that you can go crazy with if there’s any sort of artist in you. Spun sugar or lateral work. You decide. But it has to impress.
Vanessa’s back from making cocktails and I know what she’s going to say, “Time to write the blackboard.” Some people don’t like writing blackboards, particularly menus’ with lots of words, but this is one of my favourite jobs of the day. It’s nice hear the ‘ooo’s and ‘ahh’s as guests find out what’s in store for dinner this evening.
7.30 – Dinner Service. Here we go. The Main event
We give each other a wink and i laugh. Vanessa can’t wink to save her life. But the message is received and the guests are told we’re ready when they are. Once seated at the table, they’re given a run-through of tonight’s menu and suggested wine recommendations. We have a wine list to cater to every taste, and guests are free to have any wine they like with dinner, but normally Vanessa’s recommendations are taken on good authority and tonight it’s the lovely, fruity ‘Horgeluis’ all round.
Meanwhile, I’m busy plating up starters. Not only are there lots of layers to these dishes, but 14 individual dishes can take a little time to plate on your own (plus I don’t want these bruschetta going out cold) so to speed things along we have a little routine worked out here too. Once guests are seated and their wine poured, Vanessa joins me in the kitchen and finishes whatever stage I’m in the middle of so I can move on to the next. Glaze goes on, orange supremes top the courgette and fennel, a cheeky crack or two of black pepper and these bad boys are ready to go…
It’s alway nice to hear the table ‘Oooo’ as starters are served and then fall silent as guests tuck in. (In my early days working restaurants and kitchens – years ago – I used to worry that near-silence at the dinner table wasn’t a good sign. But now I know better. If words are replaced by the sound of busy cutlery on plates, we’re doing a good job.)
Starters go down very well. Empty plates are cleared from the table, wine glasses are topped up and now the guests are busy chatting. There’s quite a debate going on about which restaurants are best for lunch on the Avoriaz side of the mountain. (They’re all wrong by the way. La Cremailliere’s the best, but I don’t have time to tell them that – or the many reasons why – right now.) I’m busy plating up mains.
I don’t know which looks best, veggie or chicken skewers? (I’m getting hungry now.)
Mains hit the table and again conversation is replaced by the collective ‘chink chink’s’ of happy diners. The next part, though often over looked, is an essential part of service and should not be forgotten – The check-back. Five minutes or one-third of the way through mains (which ever is first), guests are asked if everything is okay and if they need anything else. This is our opportunity to change anything, to ensure guests are happy and well-fed (maybe they don’t like fresh chillis for example, or maybe they want more).
Check-back complete. (Everyone’s happy.) Let’s wrap this up.
Sticky Toffee’s go in the oven, 20min timer set. Salted caramel sauce ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a gentle simmer. Ice cream scoop goes in a jug of hot water to help scooping later.
Okay, looking good.
I clean down the kitchen and even have time to start the cheese board, while Vanessa clears empty mains plates from the table and tops up wine glasses while the final minutes tick away on the oven timer. Two minutes later… Sticky Toffee Pudding ala Mountain Spaces!
Silence. Broken only by ‘Mmmm’s, and ‘oh wow’s. Smashed it.
I finish the cheese board as desserts disappear from plates, and then it’s time to clean down. Once dessert is done, Vanessa is going to serve the cheese (sometimes by the fire, sometimes at the table) and offer everyone tea’s and coffees (or more more often than not with these guys, more wine). So I boil the kettle and put a pot of coffee on just incase. Desserts are cleared and cheese is served.
It takes us around 20mins to clean down the kitchen, anti-bac’ing every surface and appliance and reshuffling the fridge ready for the morning.
Dish washer on. Bins out. Sweep. Mop. Done!
10pm. Not bad at all.
We say goodnight to our guests who are now lounging in front of the fire with red wine and what’s left of the cheese, and that’s us done for the day. We’re off to the Bec Jaune this evening to meet up with our housemates for a well-deserved beer before home. All in all, another great day!
Great food, happy guests, sore legs from all those 180’s and tomorrow’s another day in our personal winter-wonderland.
What’s not to love about that?!