Menu planning is a crucial part of a chalet chefs job. Most companies will give chefs the freedom to create their own menu, and they’ll be expecting you to come up with something really impressive for their guests. Every chalet company has different requirements - so it depends on what level of service you go for. Some companies offer guests 6(+) courses, bespoke to each group, whereas others may only provide 3 courses. You could be cooking for 4 guests or you could be cooking for 24. For the purposes of this blog, I’ll be talking about a 4 course meal with canapés for up to 19 guests, as this is the set up I’m familiar with. A few important things to consider when designing a menu are:
Menu balance - Skiers are a hungry lot, believe me! They like a good feed, but unfortunately a lasagne just doesn’t cut it in a luxury chalet. You need to provide meals that are substantial enough to fill people up, but that you are confident you can plate up beautifully. Really think about how the plate is going to look - it is so important - it may sound obvious but visual appearance is a huge part of the eating experience, and guests will remember visual impact just as much as they remember the perfectly cooked fish (if not more). Consider serving elements on the side if the plate is too crowded.
Plating up practicalities - Catering for 19 people on your own can be a challenge at the best of times, but in a small chalet kitchen it takes real co-ordination. You probably wont have a hot light or very much space. No matter how fast you are, it’s a difficult task to plate up 20 pan fried seabass with gnocchi, spring greens, salsa verde & crispy capers. Not to mention that they all have to be perfectly cooked, hot and beautifully presented. Something's gotta give! Make sure your menu is practical to plate with the space and resources you have. Its better to do 4 elements perfectly than it is to crowd the plate up with 6 or 7 items, jeopardising the heat, presentation or execution of the dish. Absolutely no-one wants an overcooked, lukewarm piece of fish, no matter how nice it looks. Consider your numbers when writing your menu, and get your host(s) on board, teach them the dish, let them help.
Prep time - Unless you’re working purely to further your career and have no interest in snow sports, then you’ll want to be savvy with your prep time. In order to hit the ground running, your menu needs to be tried and tested so you can work smart & fast. This does not mean cutting corners, but instead means making wise menu choices and being smart with your prep. Make a list of your biggest jobs and make sure you’re not giving yourself a prep mountain to climb! If you have time, it really pays off to trial as much of your menu as possible before you leave home. Not only may you have to cook some, if not all, of your menu for your employer on arrival, but it will mean you can get out on the slopes faster. You don't have to compromise on flavour, ingredients, presentation or techniques - you just have to work smart and be organised. Do not underestimate your prep time.
I’m in the process of menu planning at the moment. I really enjoy coming up with new menus to trial, and am always reading cookbooks and scouting the internet (Instagram in particular) for inspiration and plating ideas. It feels like the closer I get to finalising a menu, the closer I get to putting my skis on!