Preparation for the piste

Students on the Orchards course learn all the tricks of the chalet-cooking trade, says Amy McLellan
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Isabel and Lucy Bomford start every day with a four-mile run. It's essential to work up a hearty appetite given that the day ahead will include a cooked breakfast, assorted cakes and biscuits plus two four-course meals - standard fare for students on the sisters' five-day Chalet Cooks Course, although the run is optional.

Isabel and Lucy Bomford start every day with a four-mile run. It's essential to work up a hearty appetite given that the day ahead will include a cooked breakfast, assorted cakes and biscuits plus two four-course meals - standard fare for students on the sisters' five-day Chalet Cooks Course, although the run is optional.

Based in the Bomford's 18th-century farmhouse in the heart of Shakespeare country - Stratford-upon-Avon is just eight miles to the west - the Orchards School of Cookery takes rookie cooks and transforms them into competent chefs capable of producing a sophisticated four-course meal for a chalet-load of hungry skiers without even breaking a sweat.

The sisters devised the business after several seasons of hard graft in Europe's ski resorts. "My first ski season was awful," recalls 29-year-old Isabel. "The chalet kitchen was in a terrible state and the chef quit a couple of days in. That left two of us cooking dinner for 23 people every night. I'd done a cookery course and while it had taught me how to make great pastry, I didn't have a clue about how to put a meal together and get it to the table."

The Orchards Chalet Cooks Course, by contrast, is designed to prepare the would-be chalet host for every eventuality, culinary or otherwise. Students - a maximum of six per course - are given the low-down on every aspect of chalet life, from making the dreaded welcome speech and shopping in a foreign language to dealing with awkward guests. There are tips on dealing with the culinary quirks of cooking at altitude or salvaging a burnt cake or over-salted dish. And hands-on kitchen time is key.

"They do all the cooking, everything," says Isabel. "We supervise them but you can only learn by doing it yourself." The standards are high: Lucy, 27, who trained as a chef in Paris and has worked in some of the city's most prestigious restaurants, patrols the kitchen checking on the consistency of sauces, carving techniques and soup presentation - absolutely no splashes allowed. "At the end of this course they can go and work for one of the top-end ski companies," says Lucy.

The sisters have widespread contacts throughout the ski industry and provide an informal recruitment service for their students, helping them fill in application forms - which can run to several pages, requiring sample menus and budgets - and tapping their network for job openings. Although Orchards has been open for less than a year, it has already hit the radar screen of ski companies hungry for quality staff.

"The companies sometimes take our students without even seeing them," says Isabel. This vote of corporate confidence is testament to the Bomford's in-depth, hard-won experience of what it takes to be a successful chalet host.

The large well-equipped modern kitchen is a hive of activity, saucepans bubbling and cooker timers buzzing, as the students, all gappers preparing for their first ski seasons, put the finishing touches to a four-course lunch, served hot, on the dot of one.

After lunch there's an hour off, when the students are encouraged to make good use of the sporting facilities: tennis, badminton and croquet. Then it's time to prepare the second four-course extravaganza of the day. The cost (£460, or £895 for two-weeks) covers all tuition, accommodation and food. Former students say it's an investment that quickly yields a return. Working at the higher end of the market, a good chalet host can earn £80-£100 a week plus tips of about £200 a week, depending on the size of the chalet.

And there are longer-term financial rewards. "It doesn't matter where you go in the world, you will always get a job as a chef," says Lucy. "People know that after you've done a ski season you can handle anything. You learn so much about life and people that it's an education in itself."

The prime focus of the ski season, however, should be the skiing. And the Orchards even claims to help with this."The better you are in the kitchen, the more skiing you'll be able to fit in," says Isabel. "You should be able to leave the chalet at 11am, with things largely set up for the evening. Then you can ski all day before starting work again at 6pm. If you do that six days a week, you'll be amazed how good your skiing is at the end of the season."

'I've carried on in catering since I got back'

Psychology graduate Andy Smith, who starts law school in September, worked in Val d'Isère

I really had the skiing bug and doing a season seemed the obvious way to get a lot of skiing in without having to pay for it. The Orchards course was really helpful - it focuses on what you need to know - without it Val d'Isère would have been a disaster.

I also really enjoyed the cooking. In fact I've carried on working in catering since I got back. I do dinner parties for people in their own homes and then clear up afterwards.

Comments