Catered chalet meals and chalet cooking
We feature almost 1,200 catered chalets in the Alps which are managed by over 160 different chalet companies. These companies range from the very large (with over 100 properties) to the very small (one chalet which is owner managed), and from those offering simple good value to others with eye-watering prices. However, all these separate companies provide what are called 'catered chalet' holidays whereby chalet staff provide the three standard daily meals of breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner. We look in a little more detail at 'chalet cooking' and the catered chalet meals you can expect on your ski holiday.
Catered chalet breakfasts
Most chalet staff 'live out' so their day will start with a cold (usually dark) early morning walk to your chalet. They will clear away any glasses left out from the night before, prepare the fireplace in readiness for evening use, layout the breakfast things and get the coffee brewing. Some chalet companies will offer a morning tea or coffee delivery to your room service so if you like to wake to a fresh mug of tea then it's worth checking this.
The quality of breakfast can vary considerably from chalet company to chalet company. At the lower end of the price spectrum expect fresh bread (which is often the best item), cheap jams, fruit juice made from concentrate, cheap cereals, UHT milk, low grade coffee and tea and a 'cooked option' which will consist of one egg per person and one other item such as a sausage, rasher of bacon or small portion of beans. A good test of your chalet staff's culinary skills is to ask for scrambled eggs on your first morning and judge what is offered. Given that at the lower end of the price grade your chalet host is likely to be a poorly trained 'gap year' student the simple scrambled eggs test is often enough to tell if they can cook or not. The other bug-bear to be aware of on a cheaper chalet holiday is that the croissants (if offered) are likely to be frozen rather than fresh. We know from our own experience that a frozen croissant can be ruined just as easily as the scrambled eggs.
As you progress up the price scale your breakfast will improve. The quality of the ingredients used for your cooked option and the range & quality of breads, juice and cereals will improve. At the upper end you will receive a breakfast that would rival that produced by any 5 star luxury hotel. Freshly squeezed juice, smoothies, freshly made waffles, maple syrup, delicious yoghurts, proper coffee, fresh croissants and pain au chocolat (if in France), tropical fresh fruit, a full cooked English breakfast if you want and, 'yes' scrambled eggs done properly.
Catered chalet afternoon tea
Whilst you are eating breakfast your chalet staff will knock up a cake (sometimes biscuits) and get it in the oven. The standard cakes on offer are lemon drizzle, yoghurt and carrot cake. However, there are many variations on a theme meaning your afternoon cake or biscuits can take many forms. Whilst your cake is baking, and after guests have left for the day's skiing, your chalet host will make the beds and clean bathrooms. Breakfast things will be cleared away and the chalet generally made ship shape for your return from the slopes later in the day. Finally, before leaving the chalet (at around 11am) your chalet host will put the cake on the table along with side plates and mugs for tea.
Catered chalet dinners
Your chalet staff will return to your chalet at around 6pm to prepare dinner and make canapés. If you have children in your party they will return a little earlier to make a high tea for them. The cheaper chalet holiday companies will not provide canapés before dinner and of those that do the quality and quantity will vary. At the simple end of the scale you will be served a bowl of peanuts or perhaps a packet of tortilla chips. You will then progress up a notch to some olives, or maybe cheese & pineapple on sticks, or cream cheese on crackers. At the top of the ladder you will simply have your taste buds blown away by superb canapés made by a professional chef eager to show off his or her skills.
Nearly every catered chalet will serve what is then loosely described as a "three (or sometimes four) course dinner with complimentary wine". We think by now you have the picture - there is a very wide gulf between what the cheaper and the very best chalet holiday companies provide. Beware the cheaper chalet company that dress up their offerings with fancy sounding menu examples. In our opinion it would be better for them to serve simple, tasty and well prepared dishes such as lasagne rather than something fancy sounding which is well beyond the skill level of the chalet host.
Wine is included with dinner but of course the quality varies. Back in the 1980's Bladon Lines ski holidays were branded for some reason with a red, blue and yellow parrot logo and the wines on offer with chalet dinners, with no pretentions of grandeur, were named affectionately after this parrot. The red was therefore labelled as 'Parrot Claret' and the white as 'Parrot-fin' (pronounced "paraffin"). Needless to say neither variety was particularly drinkable. Despite this light hearted start in the world of viniculture Simon Bladon went on in 2004 to establish Jenkyn Place Vineyard, Hampshire, which today produces some of the finest sparkling white wine in the country.
Please note that with some chalet holiday companies wine is only served whilst dinner is in progress. Once the coffee is on the table, dinner is deemed over and the supply of complimentary wine dries up. If you are a party that likes to keep drinking long after dinner has finished there are plenty of chalet companies that allow guests to simply help themselves from an endless supply of red and white wine. Please check with us if this is something that is important to you.
Generally the chalet staff will cook a set two-week menu plan. This allows companies to budget effectively and it also allows chalet staff to learn how to cook 12 dinners with a degree of confidence and panache. Although dinners in a chalet operate loosely on a ‘table d’hôte’ system (ie you get what you are given) nearly all chalet companies will be able to cope well with the basic special dietary requirements of a vegetarian. If members of your party have more specific dietary requirements requiring either dairy free or gluten free meals it is best to check before booking that this can be catered for.