Natives Cookery Course
Reporter: Debra Bookbinder
Have you ever wondered what is involved in getting your meals to the table whilst on a ski holiday? Well I hadn’t, not a very interesting question when there’s fresh powder to be had or new runs to be discovered. However, I found myself asking that very question having secured employment as a chalet host for the 2013/2014 season.
Clearly primarily motivated by the opportunity to ski 4/5 times a week for five months, the catering and cleaning requirements had been somewhat downplayed until the season loomed and I suddenly realized that cooking my favourite dishes, in my own kitchen, with my own equipment, at sea level, with a Tesco hypermarket round the corner, every blue moon, might not be sufficient preparation.
Previous experience returning to the same chalet operator (once in Courchevel and then again Tignes) due to the excellence of the first experience only to be bitterly disappointed when the change of staff was accompanied with a dramatic crash in quality of service and ability to cook meant I knew both what it should be like and what it could be like. However, I wasn’t sure what side of that divide my provision would fall on and didn’t want to ruin anyone’s holiday the way mine had been, due to poor food and service.
So I decided to book onto a week’s chalet cooking course. I looked at several and they were either too long, too expensive (or both) the dates weren’t convenient or they hadn’t been suggested by my employer, with the exception of Natives. I booked in July for the October course (yes, they get booked up!) and feared I would be spending a week with pimply gapyear wannabes being torn from their iPhones discussing bands I’d never heard of.
In the event, the course participants were pretty diverse and hurrah, I wasn’t the oldest person on it (we didn’t go into details). 14 in total comprised 3 pals with places in Val D’Isere (Carole, Martin and Heather) who appeared to have been drinking together one night when they decided the course would be a good idea, a science teacher on a sabbatical (Richard) who came because his wife had booked the course then changed her mind and he didn’t want to waste the money, a girl from Australia on a 2 year visa wanting to work the coming season (Alex), a young pre University couple who had secured work (Bud and Dec), a recent graduate who already had a job offer (Cassie), with the rest being Year 13 A level students, some of whom would be using this for the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award, considering, with various degrees of commitment, doing a gap year 2014/2015. Helpfully one of the participants was gluten intolerant and another was vegetarian, so we got lots of practice at that. I also refused to cook cauliflower on the basis it’s a stupid vegetable.
The Course Tutors Wendy and Chrissy had extensive experience as hosts, managers and several years of running the course. Fortune has it both of them knew the chalet I’ve been allocated and throughout the course when discussing adjustments for various altitudes would add ‘that’ll be xx minutes etc., for you Debra’. Fabulous.
The week was cunningly structured to gradually build experience and intensity, commencing on the first morning with the preparation of children’s dishes and culminating on Friday morning with the preparation and presentation of a 3 course menu, including two vegetables (only one plain) and a carbohydrate, to a budget and a deadline, WHICH WAS THEN JUDGED!
Each day a ‘crew’ was established to be responsible for afternoon tea, the evening ‘service’ and the following morning’s breakfast. Items for the afternoon tea and evening service had to be made in addition to the daily tasks and those ‘on crew’ had just an hour after course finish before they had to be in the kitchen agreeing the timeline and tasks to deliver the evening service.
The theory and examination for Level 2 food and hygiene was shoehorned in and there were lots of demonstrations and specific feedback throughout. Each day we were placed in a new pair and asked to provide a variety of dishes. The range of menu covered by this approach was huge and as we got to eat what we’d made it was soon obvious whose dish was a hit! There were workshops on menu planning, cakes, canapés, presentation, table setting, welcome talks etc.
In addition to eating lots, working hard and learning loads, I haven’t laughed so much in a long time (thank you Richard for the Pineapple and Coconut Yoghurt Cake - without the Pineapple and Coconut, Alex for the guidance on how to make a roux—you get a Man Kangaroo and a Lady Kangaroo and they love each other very much…apparently).
Ultimately I had a brilliant time and feel prepared and excited instead of anxious and scared. And I got an Apron and a t-Shirt! Money well spent.
More info at www.natives.co.uk
To book my chalet (accommodates up to 8 and 10% Friends and Family discount) click here.
Note: there is a £50pp reduction on web prices for January bookings.
For the first 5 lucky SCoM members to get to the end of the article, there is a Natives Cookery Course Menu Book to be claimed!