Why you should shop local in the French Alps
23-year-old Chef Annabel Little is one of Consensio’s incredible chefs and worked as a private chef in the amazing Chalet Lhotse last winter. She has had a love of food her entire life and has worked all around Europe. Most recently, she has worked around the Balearic Islands, creating her incredible dishes aboard a yacht.
The winter has always been the best part of the year for me and to spend it doing what I love in the most amazing properties in the French Alps is a dream come true – and I get to ski almost every day. I am also very proud to be a female in a male-dominated industry.
I’m incredibly passionate about sourcing ingredients locally and will always use local products whenever possible; this is especially the case when working in a chalet in the French Alps. Buying local benefits everyone, and it’s time to seize this golden opportunity to integrate the old ways of yesterday with the present. By making the conscious decision to support our local farmers, fishermen and bakers, I embrace our local French economies and give back to the mountains.
Local food can also be better for your health for a number of reasons: local produce often retains more nutrients, is allowed to ripen naturally and food picked fresh and in season doesn’t have far to travel before being sold. Quite simply – fresher food tastes better. In Val d’Isère where I worked last season there was a plethora of farmers and local food shops to source your local French produce, and I spent the whole season checking them all out. Here’s where I recommend…
Fruit and vegetables
When working in Chalet Lhotse in Val d’Isère, we were incredibly lucky to have the wonderful local supermarket, Cash 2000, only 500m from the front door of the chalet in one direction, and in the other, a well-stocked Spar shop. Cash 2000 is a strange place. It’s like a warehouse at which anyone can shop, with random aisles hiding lots of hidden gems if you know where to look. Inside, you’ll find Claire, the most lovely and helpful person around, with short hair which she sometimes dyes pink and a strong Northern Irish accent. Claire used to be the manager of Chalet Lhotse, so she always knows exactly what I need or am dealing with.
I buy all the fruit and vegetables for my dishes in Cash 2000, for both the convenience and also the incredible quality. It really comes into its own when we have a last-minute request. You’ll often catch one of my chalet team doing a quick shop for additional fresh herbs for garnishes. Or in one case last season, a last-minute run for some horseradish as a guest had requested a Bloody Mary cocktail. Thankfully Cash 2000 is open until 7pm!
Chef’s top tip: Try Cash 2000’s mangoes and pineapples from Cameroon, they are the best I’ve ever tasted!
Attached to Cash 2000 in Val d’Isère is an incredible butcher called Cash Frais, run by Charlie, a friendly gentleman in his 30s with long blonde dreadlocks.
Cash Frais source all their meat ethically from the Savoir region and it is all sold fresh. You can tell Charlie is really passionate about his work as he will enthusiastically tell you exactly where each cut of meat is from. Additionally, if they don’t have something you’re looking for, they are always super helpful and recommend other things which you could substitute. Charlie goes out of his way to give me the best fillets and short ribs! Cash Frais is open in the mornings.
Alternatively, there is a fantastic butcher in the Spar Butchers down the road which is open for business in the afternoons. Seb, a super friendly brown-haired bloke in his 40s, always has an amazing selection of local organic meats. He is also happy to make last-minute changes to orders which is very helpful when creating bespoke dishes. Having been there for at least four years, you can always trust him with your order. He is very kind to us local chefs and even offered to sharpen my chef’s knives when we couldn’t find my knife sharpener.
Chef’s top tip: Buy a beef fillet from Seb. It is always a good alternative when people don’t like fish, and the quality of the cut is brilliant.
Fish and seafood
Seafood is always best served freshly caught and there’s a man in Val d’Isère who can get it fresher than anywhere else. His name is Matthieu. If you want to order fish from Matthieu you can only get in touch with him via a text message. A simple text with your order at any time of day or night, even up until 3 am, will ensure that you will get your fish so fresh you could eat it raw! I often order my fish last minute, mainly when a guest requests something different than I’d planned for the following day. A simple text, and always the same reply – ‘okay’. The fish is sourced freshly caught at 3 am where Matthieu hand-selects it and, after a long drive there, turns around and drives it straight back to our chalet door, fresh and on ice ready for when I arrive at 7 am. What I like about using Matthieu is the assurance of really high quality, local fish. And last minute! I love the freedom of luxury – just because we order last minute, it doesn’t mean a drop in the standard or quality.
If you’re particularly after oysters, you can order in fantastic quality seafood at Cash 2000. Claire orders it in direct from Léon also, and although expensive, it is worth the money. The only downside is you need to order 24 hours or more in advance.
Chef’s top tip: I highly recommend trying the raw black Thai prawns from Cash 2000 – delicious!
Bread and patisseries
I recommend heading over to Oh Crazy Barm’s Bakery in the centre of Val d’Isère. I love going there in the mornings to get fresh bread for my guests. They have such a large range of options I can always choose whatever my guests like, and it is so fresh, it is still warm by the time I have collected it and arrived at the chalet.
Chef’s top tip: Buy a boule cereal loaf, a big ball-shaped bread filled with seeds. It was a staple in chalet Lhotse and is perfect to have on the table for breakfast and dinner.
Every Monday in Val d’Isère there is a famous market selling only Savoyarde products which goes around all the mountain resorts. There you can find lots of traditional local food and drink including homemade génépi, saucisson, and cheeses. My favourite stall is always set up just outside Oh Crazy Barm’s Bakery, it sells great cheeses and smoked meats – not to be missed! When we walk past, they always wave and ask how the guests liked their cheeses the previous week.
I highly recommend trying the local Morbier cheese. To create this traditional French semi-soft cheese, they milk the cows first thing in the morning and from the milk they make a layer of cheese. They then sprinkle a layer of ash over it to stop it from setting while all the dairy workers go to eat lunch. In the afternoon they make a second batch of cheese and layer it on top of the morning’s ash-covered cheese. This is why there is a black squiggly line through the middle.
Chef’s top tip: Add Morbier cheese to your cheese board after a delicious dinner. It is creamy, mild and delicious.
There is a wonderful local farm in Val d’Isère called Ferme de l’Adroit. They make their own cheese, milk, yoghurt and butter and I make sure to always have their products in the chalet.
Their yoghurts aren’t sweet processed ones, so I’d only buy at the request of a guest, but we’d always have their milk and table butter wrapped in paper whenever possible.
Chef’s top tip: During the day the cowsheds are always open to visitors, so make sure you go say hello to the cows!
Val d’Isère, in particular, makes it easy to shop locally because everyone supports each other and supports good-quality food. It is a big community where everyone sells each other’s products, making it easy to shop locally and support the local businesses in the Alps.
Whenever possible I highly recommend sourcing your food locally. Not to mention the quality and the taste, the feel-good factor of investing back into your community is unbeatable.
To book your next holiday, see Consensio’s catered chalets and self-catered apartments in Val d’Isère here.