A former ski-instructor turned entrepreneur has made dining on the Val d’Isere slopes possible by using computer generated ovens.
Tucking into the honey lamb stew of La Fruitiere restaurant in Val d’Isere, a curious diner might well wonder how this culinary feat is possible high on the slopes of a top French ski resort.
The answer is: with the help of computers. The restaurant serves elaborate dishes for lunch – its only service – with little staff involvement despite the complexity of its recipes, because much of the work is done at night by computer-controlled ovens.
When employees arrive at 9am with the first gondola, the confits de canard (duck) has been roasted to perfection, the veal shanks basted and the Savoyarde potee – a soup with sausages and white wine – has completed its slow simmer.
The chef remotely controls his kitchen from his office down in the French ski resort via the internet.
Since the ovens are connected by broadband, he can change his recipes at any time.
“Technology reduces the stress of making elaborate cuisine at high altitude,” says the restaurant’s owner Luc Reversade, a 58-year-old former ski instructor turned entrepreneur.
“It really makes life much easier for everybody.”
But computers also cut staff bills by 20-30 per cent, he says. Without them, employees would have to sleep on the premises.
Instead, they ski or snowboard to the restaurant every morning.
La Fruitiere sits at about 2400 metres above sea level next to the OK piste, which is used for downhill and giant races.
It serves as a training ground ahead of next February’s World Ski Championships in Val d’Isere.
Once they have shaken the snow off their boots, the restaurant’s table staff, many of them in their early 20s, change out of ski gear and put on white aprons.
They then zig-zag between tables on the sun-drenched terrace – on good days – or inside a restaurant decorated with old milk churns and other antiques to recreate the atmosphere of a traditional mountain dairy.
In French, La Fruitiere means the place where the fruits of labour are stored.
Today, it is where holidaymakers meet up to reward themselves after a morning of thigh-burning action on the piste.
The restaurant is so popular it is best to reserve ahead of lunch.
Top items on the menu include chicken breast with cardamom sauce, deep fried roblochon served on wooden sticks and a cheese plateau made up of local Beaufort, Bleu and Tomme.
ARMY TAKES SOME TIPS
Reversade’s alpine cooking techniques are so striking, they have caught the attention of the French military.
He gives tips to senior supply officers on how to prepare food fast and in tough conditions.
“I know how to make 80 litres of soup in 12 minutes so this is a technique the army could use,” he says.
Reversade has worked as a consultant for the pubs unit of British group Scottish and Newcastle as well for French restaurant chain Oh! Poivrier!.
He also sold the idea of setting up cafes inside the retail shops of US action sports apparel maker Quicksilver.
Reversade, who climbs to La Fruitiere every day on skis fitted with synthetic skins, is a self-made man.
He bought the site in 1980 with profits racked up from running a two-star hotel in Val for three years.
At the time, it was a Spartan refuge with no running water, electricity or kitchen worthy of the name.
Reversade tapped into the energy cables of nearby chair lifts and dug trenches in the mountain to lay phone lines.
He also acquired a natural water source higher up the mountain that feeds into the restaurant’s 200 cubic-metre reservoir. The water is treated and filtered on site.
La Fruitiere has a fine cheese storage room and an elegant underground wine cellar in which people can sit down for lunch.
It shares facilities with the self-service restaurant La Folie Douce, which Reversade also owns.
The draft beer fountains on the terrace have been fitted with self-regulated thermal cords that allow beer to be served outside – even when it is minus 15 Celsius.
La Folie Douce turns into an outdoor music club in the afternoon with a saxophonist playing on the roof and a DJ spinning vinyl.
End-of-season parties are the wildest, Val d’Isere regulars say, so much so that getting down the piste afterwards is usually a sport in and of itself.