21. What is the cookery course like?

Tagines in the high atlas

Tagines in the high Atlas

We have attained our City and Guilds level 2 Food hygiene certificate! Considering our respective current jobs this is a bit random but it is essential for our first and possibly subsequent jobs in the next volume of our lives. We (…were led to believe that we…) had to complete it successfully before attending the week long chalet cookery course which would comprise the first chapter of our new lives. It was not a problem to have done so but our fellow attenders hadn’t. This course was another demanding but enjoyable experience. One of the hardest challenges was becoming accustomed to being on our feet all day, 9am – 7pm, excluding an hour for lunch; comfortable footwear is essential.

IMAG0243We decamped to Godalming, a surprisingly attractive little town whose railway station on the Portsmouth to Waterloo line was my only sighting previously. We settled for the duration in a large room, interestingly furnished, over a nearby pub. It was a 2 minute walk to the head-office, we had to walk further to get into town at lunch time where it was essential to get the weight off our feet for the period and were delighted to find a rather nice café/bistro on the first day; we only transferred to a wine bar on the Friday. There was no option to stay in the kitchen as the hour was used to assess other applicants who claimed cooking skills. The anonymous post-mortems of these candidates in the afternoons were quite helpful and at times, entertaining. We ate what we cooked so it wasn’t quite as arduous as the hours may imply. However, it was quite strange to eat a 3 course evening meal with canapés at 5.30 and without a single glass of wine all week! Also I was not too enamoured with having to leave the table and start to deep clean the whole cooking area prior to leaving when I was suitably replete.

The free evenings were compensation but our fatigue, exacerbated by the heat, resulted in spending every dusk sitting in the beer garden rehydrating. Over the background clamour of the Football World Cup (there was even a TV outside – under our bedroom window!!) we did manage to dissect the course programme, analyse our fellow students and assess our tutor. After presenting our cakes to the office staff we were also in a position to consider the wider organisation and amaze at the extent of the company. We found it fascinating to discover how the ski holiday business operates, particularly when our only experience of the whole hospitality industry is solely as a recipient or customer.    olives Morocco

Our fellow students comprised 2 girls from the great metropolis who had only completed their A levels the week before and wanted a gap year before university. One was quite confident and extrovert, the other quieter but a very competent cook and excellent at presentation. We were to learn quickly that presentation is a key feature; the tutor informed us that 50% of the pleasure of eating is visual. We were joined by a young man who is considered ‘mature’ at 27 by the industry standard (what term do they use for us? I dread to think) from Exeter who had previously worked as both a butcher and a fishmonger. These alone would appear to be useful skills however his forte was definitely clearing up and cleaning afterwards in which he seemed to revel. His presentation did leave some room for improvement but for anyone who wanted large quantities of good wholesome food after a day on the slopes he would definitely be ideal; we know people like that. He wanted to learn to snowboard and arrived on his skateboard each morning – not from Exeter but from his sister who lived nearby.

We started reasonably gently on the Monday, working on 3 different workstations, the 2 girls together and likewise him ‘n’ me with our cheerful friend working solo and making a very good attempt with twice the work to carry out. On Tuesday the pressure was ramped up considerably and we became akin to a mass production line, delivering all sorts of culinary delights in various stages of success. As the pressure increased so did the heat; the tinted windows did deflect some of the sun’s heat but with all the ovens and hobs on full blast the extractor fans were definitely lIMAG0449osing the battle. On Wednesday we were moved around which resulted in him working on his own, a challenge to which he rose admirably. I was partnered with the more confident girl at their station and discovered where all the rapidly diminishing stock of utensils, dishes and pans were residing. I was relieved the following day to be back with the starting line-up but we did draw the short straw for the assessment. There were 5 students and 4 workstations so the obvious pair to double up were us. I don’t think we were given enough recognition to have produced 2 reasonably successful meals on a shared oven, sink, utensils and 2 rings each. But we must have accomplished something.

A couple of the recruitment staff were regular visitors, one of whom had a number of years of experience as a resort manager. We interrogated her, in the nicest possible way, about to what we would be submitting ourselves. She managed to change our opinion of sleeping-in to not and to look at resorts we’d not even heard of, never mind knew. We thought we wanted to live-in in Meribel! She advised us to look at the brochure from a staff perspective rather than as a guest but that is difficult to do when you have no parameters. One person said that you didn’t want hot tubs or saunas as they just produced extra work; another said that these made guests happier and increased tips. We started at the beginning of the brochure again and revisited all the resorts and chalets we’d previously dismissed.

IMAG0451Initially, it appeared quite odd for people who carry out a desk job in a large office building that there should be a large part of the lower floor devoted to teaching and assessing people’s cookery skills, the outcome of which is food, as baking or meals. There seemed to be continual flow of individuals coming to see us on all sorts of pretexts but not missing an opportunity to provide their own evaluation of our products. It must be a great perk but perhaps not so good for the waist line. Currently it is difficult to tell what is and isn’t a healthy diet but we were definitely using carbohydrate loaded ingredients, which is fine if you are spending all day exerting yourself on the hills but when sat behind a desk all day it is probably a different picture.

not my offering!

not my offering!

Our final morning was spent on the assessment and there seemed to be a lot more formality about who would be sharing with our tutor, the assessment of the meals delivered, not just being the person who forgot their sandwiches. We had to produce, from scratch, a balanced 3 course meal and 2 canapés in 2½ hours. That seemed like plenty of time initially but it is amazing how quickly it disappears, particularly when the courses have to be presented at the appropriate times at the correct temperature. TGBBO have got nothing on this, 2 hours to produce 1 cake!!?

Being the newbies we didn’t expect to be able to pick which resort or chalet we would be allocated but at the start of the week were asked where we wanted to go and if we’d seen anything we liked which came as a bit of a surprise. It transpired that all the Meribel chalets required a free mini-bus trip to the slopes but that was for guests only so we looked no further there. We tried to assess resorts on the extent of their ski-range in case we got bored after a few weeks but didn’t really conclude which resort would maintain our interest for 5 months! We looked at the Southern Alps resorts as these were all unfamiliar. I enquired about one of the chalets in relation to the hot tub/sauna dilemma which is when I received the positive slant.

We had been told that on Friday afternoon we would be informed individually how successful we had been with our morning assessment and where they would place us and in which role. We had been aiming for joint hosts in a 12-20 person chalet but were prepared to accept that we might not make that grade in our first season but didn’t want to end up in separate chalets if possible but definitely not different resorts. We were enlightened jointly, at our request, that we had been successful and were delighted if not a little surprised and anxious when we were offered the beautiful chalet I had been looking at the previous day with the hot tub and saunas, ski-in/out and every room with balcony and view in the sunniest resort in the French Alps. What a result!

Jul 2014

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