Think of this as a religious parable, in style if nothing else (bear with me):
The other day we each sat down to two fried eggs, one perfect (soft yolk, no nasty crispy bits), the other broken yoked, smeared, ugly, defeated. I will admit, during the making of these eggs I became grumpy as it is never my intention to break a yolk and in my eyes these two broken specimens were as good as useless; I had failed. However, I was rather hungry so I got over it. And it lead us to muse over these eggs that to serve such an egg, professionally, is an affront, a visual ‘f*ck you.’ It says, ‘I don’t care what you think, I can’t be bothered to make you another egg; eat this broken one. I dare you to complain,’ [Now cease with the parable imaginings as there is no meaningful ending].
Throughout the ski season, food was one of the frontiers of battle for staff, let alone the mouthing consternation of an affronted guest. Inside the ranks, food was negotiation tool, peace offering and lethal weapon (we’re talking raw fish and bread batons here!).
It becomes such (and now I am supposing) because whether you are manager, ski tech, ski host or chalet host, accommodation and food are provided for you, it is how the low wages are justified. You are reliant. So, in this arena, food becomes currency, plunder and leverage.
The first hitch is THE BUDGET. Each member of staff is fed by one of the chefs. They source the food – at least they should – but more often they do not factor staff into their shopping, lest it sends them further over budget. Essentially, they are banking on left overs providing. You get what the guests don’t want. In reality this is usually ample, although what you get might not be perfection every time.
However, there are times that fall outside ‘usually ample’ and in such moments you may be left wanting. And so, the first shot is fired.
Aside – as I see it, food is a fundamental need, one I am used to having met or meeting myself. When a chef failed to provide anything and further fail to tell me about before I was about to put everybody else’s meals on the table then I found I became very defensive; like an animal.
And I was not the only one.
Take the confit duck (stewed in its own juices, like many of us in the end). This is the finale, last night, dish – ‘ta daa!’ We tried it during training, twice. Inoffensive when heated through – a different, jaw-dislocating story, when cooked within an inch of its life, which happened on one occasion – and plonked on top of roasted vegetables. However, by month three I was hard pushed to eat it. By then, I decided to keep an amicable distance from the duck, which is funny, because I agreed to do the same thing with the chef who cooked it.
Sometimes, not to my dismay but to the dismay of others, there would not be enough duck to go around. It comes in tins of four or five and a chef will not buy or open an extra tin simply to feed a member of staff. This means that member of staff might not see the main course. And it depends how this is handled as to the overall effect:
1. There is no duck tonight, but you can have…[fine]
2. Or, there is no duck tonight [disgruntled of Reberty]
3. Or, it is left for you to work out by the number of plates the chef lays out for service, this alone tells you, there is no duck tonight…[not fine]
In my experience moods in resort fluctuate, it is due in large part, I think, to proximity. Proximity of colleagues, guests, the rest of the resort – every personality tic and clash is amplified, it really is a clash. It is at a moment when the chef’s mood is low when option 3 is most likely. On those occasions, I’ll admit, I was hurt, I may even have grumbled but it was never an ongoing source of contention. Let’s face it, it’s not cake.
For others, it was. At its worse it became the setting for a battle of wills where sausages and grilled tomatoes were the ‘amo’. An obstinate chef who could sniff a challenge (or weave one) at ten paces faced off to a stubborn and determined Ski Host – determined that is, to have a hot breakfast each morning. And she, the chef, was equally determined; no he would not. They fired at each other from above parapets of French loaves until one morning, she took a dish full of succulent, still piping sausages and with a jerk of her arm, fuelled by malice, tipped the lot into the bin of the chalet next door to hers so as to ensure that the determined and stubborn ski host would not eat the hot meat. The culmination was ultimately embarrassment: ‘ooooops, not all the guests have eaten,’ the chef exclaimed later when they shambled down to breakfast. Karma, perhaps? And to misquote Iris Murdoch: ‘we are all judge and the judged, victims of the casual malice and fantasy of others, and ready sources of fantasy and malice in our turn.’ How true, a wise lady and I strongly suspect Buddha would have here-here’d her.
Yet, there is more. Like a great maggot hole in the apple of your working season, food has deeper implications and effects. Hunger is often mixed with mild anxiety; for all evening meals are expected to be taken with the guests, this is irrespective of of dislike, distaste, discomfort, disturbance.
In the end, food becomes lack: ‘let them eat bread.’ When the guests have left staff diet plummets. No hot breakfast, only cereal, yoghurt and fruit. ‘Make do’; the prandial reminder of your place in the food chain from upper management. *
And finally. Cake; let them eat lots and lots of it. That surreptitious thigh barbarian cloaked in sugar. He wreaks havoc, not just on thighs but on the buttocks and hips of chalet girls. He butters (not in a radical way as described in the ABC of Snowboarding) and spreads and moulds so that come April, when they walk out of resort, they roll with the full weight of the season. **
Not a chalet girl and not an ounce on him, but his enjoyment says it all
I’m finishing this from a rubber matted table in the UK where a bunch of daffodils that have seen better days waft their stale scent under my nose. From here I can hardly believe my France-appetite (although I blame the altitude) – cooked breakfast, porridge, muesli, yoghurt, Mars Bars, chocolate sauce plopped on everything, including the muesli and the yoghurt, bread, cheese, cake, potatoes and that is all before the evening meal and most likely before lunch. I could not conscience having the appetite for these things now, nor the motivation to cook them. And from my seated position all the stand-offs and battles seem pointless too. It is a surprise that the attitudes of others can have such a profound effect on each other’s and my own piece of mind.
So, to fully exhaust the food theme; living and working a season is like living in a small lunch box alongside some pretty pungent items prone to offend after a period of time, especially when held in captivity, only hold your nose because the flavour is in the foulness…
…garlic sausage anyone?
* That said, we were amply provided for, at no point was I really left wanting.
** This is a gross (pun signpost) exaggeration used for dramatic effect only. ‘Chalet Girl’s Arse’ is a well known phenomenon, although not included in ABC of Snowboarding, which men (mainly) like to point out to belittle their female colleagues.