Ready, steady, cook
- Clare Meaney
In days gone by you would have been forgiven for assuming that the only qualification necessary for being a chalet girl was to be called either Arabella, Pandora or Lucinda. Not any more; getting a job is a very competitive business. PlanetSKI reports.
Tuesday October 23, 2012 - Email this article to a friend
Times have changed.
For one thing, you will no longer be known as a chalet girl or chalet boy. If you are lucky enough to be selected, you will be awarded the more glamorous title of "Chalet Host".
With the new title however comes a whole new set of responsibilities.
You can't expect to just "rock up", make some "water soup", throw together a spag bog, make a cake from a packet mix and dash off to spend the rest of the day on the slopes.
I have only a rather vague memory of my first chalet holiday, probably due to the vast quantities of undrinkable wine we were served each evening, but I'm fairly certain that we were only ever given Coq au Vin or Boeuf Bourguignon in strict rotation.
Oh, and Banoffee Pie with filter coffee - the very height of sophistication.
The chalet girls and boys were very good looking and very charming but they had little interest in whether their souffle was going to rise or their sauce was seasoned to perfection.
Quite simply they were there to drink, ski and snog each other.
The role of the Chalet Host must be taken much more seriously in today's climate. The number of people taking a winter sports holiday has reduced drastically in the last three years and the tour operators are fighting for your business.
They need to be the best, and in order to achieve this they need to employ the very best.
The ski companies Ski Total, Ski Esprit and Inghams are owned by a parent comany, Hotelplan, and this summer they moved into joint premises in Godalming in Surrey and they have a purpose-built kitchen to train their staff.
And interview them.
State of the art
This season there were 1,000 applicants for 270 Chalet Host roles. Only 500 of these applicants will be asked for an interview.
Unknown to them they will be tested and I was there as six hopefulls were put through their paces in the kitchen.
Meet the candidates:
1. Florence; Florence has recently graduated with a degree in Politics from Newcastle University and this will be her first season in the Alps. Florence loves being a hostess and has been cooking for her flatmates at Uni for the last three years. She recently worked as a hostess at the London Olympics.
In order to prepare for her role as a Chalet Host, Florence is planning on attending a Chalet Cooks course at The Orchards Cookery School. Her favourite ski resort is Mayrhofen.
2. Joanna; Joanna has recently finished her A-levels and has a place to study Medicine at Cardiff University in 2013. She is hoping to spend her gap year as a Chalet Host as she loves cooking and skiing.
Her favourite ski resort is Morzine.
3. Charlie; Charlie is hoping to study Philosophy and Economics at Uni next year but would love to spend his gap year as a Chalet Host. He has gained invaluable experience whilst working for his mother's catering company over the summer.
He has already completed at cookery course at The Orchards. His favourite ski resort is Morzine.
4. Max; Max is hoping to study Business at Newcastle Uni next year but in the meantime would like to work as a Chalet Host in either Verbier or Meribel. He has recently completed a two week cookery course as well as a Bartender's course where he learnt how to make cocktails.
Max's favourite resort is Val D'Isere.
5. Shane; Shane is going to study Mechanical Engineering at Bristol in 2013 but would like to spend his gap year in the Alps.
He doesn't have a favourite resort and doesn't mind where he goes as long as the snow conditions are good.
6. Sarah; Sarah studied Journalism and Photography but has recently been working in a Finance role in the City. For Sarah, a season in the Alps will be a gap year from real life before she burns out.
She has worked as a waitress in the past and front of house in a restaurant so she does have practical experience in the catering industry. Sarah has only skied once and that was in Verbier. No prizes for guessing her favourite resort then...
The candidates are asked to bring a meal with them to present to the interview team.
The meal must be prepared using only ingredients from the following list;
Strawberries, apples, parsley, chives, chilli, salt, pepper, olive oil, potato, eggs, flour, cocoa powder, sugar, onions, beef, milk, cheese, vinegar and lemon.
As the candidates are welcomed into the mock chalet kitchen they all look remarkably confident and composed.
They are each allocated a work station where they are given a few minutes to display the meal that they have prepared in advance at home.
There is an impressive array of culinary delights.
I look on in awe and wonder how they could possibly have made such amazing things with such a small list of ingredients.
The candidates are then invited to present their meal to the interview team, describe how they made their dishes and why they chose to make these particular dishes.
Next the candidates are asked to sample their dishes along with the interview team.
Mark Vinall, the Recruitment Manager offers some constructive criticism as he does the rounds.
He tactfully suggests that a chilli garnish may not be the best idea just in case a guest should inadvertently eat it.
Not all ideas work
And is it really necessary to make a quiche with six cheeses when two would probably suffice?
I'm sure by now you are all thinking how easy it must be having all the time in the world to prepare a meal in advance of an interview and how easy it would be to get somebody else to assist you with the task.
Well this is where Blue Peter (here's one I prepared earlier) becomes more like Surprise, Surprise!
The candidates are now going to be asked to create the perfect Crepes Suzette and they only have fifteen minutes in which to do so.
As the realisation of the task ahead takes hold, I ask them if they are feeling nervous. I don"t really need to ask as the look on their faces tell me that some of them are now going to be taken well out of their comfort zone.
I ask the candidates if they were expecting to have to do this task and it seems that it has come as a complete shock to most of them.
Some are more slightly more confident than others.
One of them muttered the what must now be an immortal line in the mock kitchen, "What is there to worry about? It's only a pancake."
It wouldn't be fair of me to mention any names or to tell you where that particular candidate's Crepes ended up...
Not quite so succesfull
As the candidates are given the go ahead to commence the task, they all seem a little reluctant to be the first one to start.
They anxiously look around the kitchen to see if anyone else has been brave enough to take the plunge.
Mark tries to calm them down by wandering around casually offering handy hints and words of encouragement.
Some of the batter mixes end up being a little bit too watery and some are a little too lumpy. Some of the candidates are completely panic stricken as their crepes start to burn and super glue themselves to the bottom of the pan while they frantically try to make the sauce.
"Sauce?" I hear one of them say!
All too soon there is just a minute to go. I can't imagine how they must be feeling. Just as the buzzer goes they all somehow manage to have something resembling a crepe on a plate.
Spoilt for choice
It is time for the interview team to taste the crepes and to give their feedback.
Mark kindly explains what went wrong (in some cases) and what "could" and "should" have been done.
He explains how the milk should be added gradually in order to achieve the right consistency and how the pan needs to be very hot to start with.
Mark then calmly demonstrates how to make the perfect Crepes Suzette.
It tastes as good as it looks.
The next task is to clean the kitchen, but nobody seems to mind.
It somehow seems to provide a release from the tension of the cooking task.
The candidates are all well aware that cleaning is an integral part of being a Chalet Host, and they are keen to make sure that the surfaces are suitably sparkling!
Cleaning to be done
If you are planning to book a catered chalet this season with either Ski Esprit, Inghams or Ski Total you can rest assured that your Chalet Hosts will be very well prepared for the task that lies ahead of them.
And for all the "chalet hosts" heading out to the Alps this coming winter then I wish you all the best of luck for your dream job in the Alps and I'm quite sure that it won't be all work and no play.
And if you have to prepare a crepes suzette then you know exactly what to do.
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