A job interview is always a time of stress and self-doubt, but just imagine the added pressure of having to cook a three-course dinner within a set time, alongside a kitchen full of other candidates.
This is exactly what applicants have to do if they want to work for Ski Beat in one of their 53 hosted chalets in one of 11 ski resorts in the beautiful surroundings of the French Alps.
So, I went along to the Avenue School of Cookery, in Wandsworth, for a day to test my kitchen skills under the watchful eye of recruitment manager Susie Large, head chef Diana Horsford and members of the Ski Beat team.
Before the cooking started the first tip from Susie was; “If you want a cup of tea or coffee the kettle is at the back of the kitchen and don’t forget everyone else, because I’m sure they’ll be grateful for a cuppa,” she said with a cheeky grin.
This is the level of thoughtfulness which is one of the attributes Ski Beat expects in a potential candidates as well as lots of personality and a love of cooking, of course.
“Finding out if someone has consideration for others is very easy to pick up on during a cookery interview day,” said Susie. “If someone piles the sink full of dirty dishes and leaves them, then I won’t employ them.
“I want someone who, when they’ve finished their work, will say, ‘Can I help someone’. It’s that drive to go above and beyond that I’m looking for.
“A great chalet host makes the holiday for Ski Beat guests. It’s important to me that I get it right for both our customers and our staff, so they can both enjoy their experience.”
Ski Beat’s operations director Emma Knight explained the challenges hosts face, but said the team ethic and the happiness of the resort team was vital if their guests are going to have an enjoyable and memorable experience.
Staff also have the opportunity to enjoy the magnificent surroundings and are given free time to get out on the slopes themselves.
“We’re all here for the same reason, and that is our love for the mountains,” said Emma.
“I want to make sure that staff are also out there on the slopes enjoying their time and in turn, they can pass on that joie de vivre to our guests.”
My own ‘interview’ was slightly different to the usual ones Ski Beat holds, as I was paired up with France magazine writer Sophie Gardner-Roberts for the cookery skills test.
Our menu was French onion soup with cheesy croutons to start, a main course of roast duck breast in a cassis sauce served with mashed potatoes, carrots and leeks with a dessert of a tangy lemon pot with little rosemary biscuits.
I’m not sure where those two hours or so went, but it still remains a bit of a blur. Now and again I get flashbacks of parts of the cooking process, like chopping carrots, mashing potatoes and overcooking the biscuits and judging whether the duck breast was cooked properly. Fortunately, my cooking partner had it all under control and we came out at the other end with three tasty, well prepared and nice looking plates of food. Even the overcooked biscuits passed the test thanks to the help of a light dusting of icing sugar.
The crowning moment came when Sophie and I walked off with the top prizes for not only our cooking, but having the most clean and tidy work station throughout the test.
So, I guess you are wondering if I have all the ingredients to become a chalet host with Ski Beat. Well, let’s say this, I’m still waiting for the call.
For queries on holidays and recruitment go to www.skibeat.co.uk or call 01273 855 100.
For more about The Avenue School of Cookery visit http://theavenuecookeryschool.com/
Travellers often say you should never return to a place you have enjoyed because it usually ends in disappointment.
Quite often they are right. After all you will never be able to recreate the excitement of visiting a place for the first time or the memory of finding that special place to be treasured always.
There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, the rarity which can be visited many times and on each occasion can create new memories and reveal new places which can be explored for the first time.
One of those rare exceptions is the Grand Canyon. The first time I visited it was around 20 or so years ago when my children were young. We were only day trippers, but the memory of my first view of the South Rim opening up a thousand feet or so below me, still takes my breath away.
With my children, now fully fledged and flown, I returned to the South Rim, this time staying for two nights at the Yavapai Lodge. And to my delight, the magnificence and dizzying power of this incredible place left me as breathless and awestruck as it did all those years ago.
Of course, since the time of my first visit, things around the canyon have changed. There is now the lodge at Yavapai Point with six two-storey blocks of rooms from doubles through to family rooms. There is also a whole network of dedicated and tarmacked footpaths, from one end of the Rim to the other, easily accessible to people of all ages and abilities and linked by free buses from East to West.
For those who enjoy hiking, the ready-made paths don’t detract from the experience. It may not be as rough and rugged as it may have once been, but each and every turn and elevation reveals a panorama as stunning as the previous one.
Staying within the huge national park also gives keen photographers the opportunity to take their cameras into the night and take pictures of the night sky in total darkness without a smidgeon of light pollution.
I don’t expect to wait another 20 or so years for my third visit to the Canyon, but the next time it will be to the less accessible and apparently more spectacular North Rim. I can’t wait to start making even more new memories of the same extraordinary place, from a different perspective.
Do you like your yoga Vinyasa, Hatha or Yin? Well until recently, I didn't know the difference, but after my first session of an hour or so of stretching and twisting in a sun-dappled cow pasture at the foot of a French alpine peak, I suppose I can now say, I like my yoga pasture-ised.
While almost enjoyable and certainly enlightening, my less than supple body struggled to mirror the moves of my teacher Nadia of the Yoga Alliance, whose patience and self-control for continuing on regardless and keeping a straight face as I attempted the various poses, was exemplary - and I'm certain the usual occupants of the pasture would have made better and more capable students than me.
It followed another first for me in the Alps - the other was the first time I’ve ridden a real road bike around the hills and mountains of the bustling town of Morzine, as a guest of Savoie Mont Blanc Tourisme - and so, red-faced and gasping in the increasingly-thinning air, I pedalled my way 'looking the business' in my new Team Sidcup Cycles jersey, to the Col de l’Ecrenaz at an altitude of 1433m, encouraged every metre of the way by my guide Joseph Pauly.
In the past I have followed the Tour de France on TV, and never really appreciated just how tough it must be. And in comparison my 'mountain climb' was just a tiddler . . . something any professional, or indeed, any decent cyclist would do without too much of a strain.
Apparently, news of my cycling debut was not celebrated in the columns of L’Equipe and I understand my success will not be entered in the annals of road cycling either. Although slightly miffed at that news, any plaudits could not have eclipsed the pure satisfaction of conquering my first col. The feeling of relief and a great deal of pride was beyond mere words on a page.
The second day of my cycling excursion we again followed the Guide Cyclo, a book made available for free at the Morzine-Avoriaz tourist office and on their website, to take on the climb made famous by French Tour legend Bernard Hinault, whose time to the top is 33 minutes.
You may not be surprised to discover, his record for the 1800m Grimpee D’Avoriaz remains intact. Heavy rain meant I had to return to base just after the Lac de Montriond as it was deemed the treacherous descent would be too dangerous for a novice cyclist such as myself. So, Monsieur Hinault, you can rest at ease until my next attempt. For those more likely to challenge his time, there is a permanent system cyclists can use to time themselves with electronic chips which are available at the tourist office.
There are many good reasons to visit this fantastic part of the world. If you’re not into cycling or other sports, you can walk in the hills with your own personal guide to enjoy spectacular views, see chamois graze or marmets sunbathe on rocks, while eagles soar above rocky crags looking for lunch.
While on the topic of food. The Savoie region is famed for its vast selection of cheese and most restaurants have a huge choice from reblochon, used in delicious tartiflette, or raclette used for fondue feasts. But there is more to Savoie cuisine than cheese and a few days trying out the varied dishes from lake perch to the meaty farcement with a glass or two of one the fabulous wines of the area is time well spent.
Morzine, while busy throughout the year with skiers and the like in winter and outdoor enthusiasts throughout the summer, is large enough to soak up the numbers of visitors with plenty of shops, restaurants, cafes and bars, but small enough to retain a friendly and welcoming atmosphere.
I stayed at Le Petit Dru - www.petitdru.fr In the summer, the price for a double room is €168 including breakfast for two.
La Chamade www.lachamade.com where a main course is around €25 and dessert at €10
Le Bec Jaune brewery and restaurant www.becjaunebrewery.com with organic and locally sourced burgers from around €10
La Rotonde www.morzine-avoriaz.com/restaurant-la-rotonde.html
La Ferme de la Fruitière with cheeses and Savoyard specialities www.alpage-morzine.com
Alpen Roc hotel/restaurant www.alpenroc.com which has main courses from around 20€ and all desserts €6.
More on activities:
Rental cycling shop: Torico www.toricomorzine.com - price for the day is 55€ for a Scott Solace 10 Disc
Cycling coach: Joseph Pauly +33(0)6 62 10 32 77: 220€ per day /120€ half a day. Jo is also a mountain bike instructor www.ride-ability.com
Yoga: Nadia Stragliati - FB page @AlturaYoga
Price for a session of 1hr30mn costs: 90€ for a group of 10 people maximum
Nadia is member of an international yoga group called Yoga Alliance and teaches yoga Vinyasa, Hatha and Yin. Her phone number: +33 (0)6 62 38 71 55
Walking with a mountain leader: Price per person is €35 for a day and €25 half a day (group up to 15 people). For a private session: 115€ half a day and 190€ for the day
Bureau des guides - Morzine – Florian Stoppa www.guides-morzine.com