18 November 2009
Savoyard alpine cuisine, the anti-Atkins diet and altitude eating at 3842m
A little while ago, I spent a little while yomping around the Chamonix valley in French Alps visiting some lovely friends and taking in the scenery.
The views were absolutely breathtaking as were the bread products. Over a week I made a decent dent in the bakery offerings by sampling all of their bread varieties and their croissants, brioche, pain au lait, au raisin, au chocolate, a little sugared bun whose name escapes me, a pastry cross filled with creme patisserie and a coffee eclair. Not bad going. The view and bread were combined each morning with heaps of Bonne Maman and I can't think of a better way to start the day.
Getting another good bakery tip off for the "Aux Petit Gourmand" in Chamonix (Atkins-schmatkins), we took quiches, croque monsieurs and a tarte aux noix (although I realised afterward I accidentally asked for a "tart of the night" in poor French) for a micro picnic at 3842m overlooking Mont Blanc. I took off my much needed gloves and took a quick pic of the quiche as my fingers froze. This is probably the highest thing I have ever eaten with my feet still on Earth and a beautiful rich quiche it was too. Soft but no sogginess and the spinach and cheese hugged each other for warmth.
It takes me a couple of days to feel relaxed on holiday, my stiff shoulders slacken and my frown irons out. The mountains are amazing for your wellbeing. When you get to your target destination, you turn round and the view makes all the effort worth while. As I gazed into the Chamonix valley I spied a yellow helicopter and smiled at how high I must be. It came closer, And then closer. It turned and faced towards me before advancing. I couldn't possibly land here could it? I thought. Looking around I realised that amongst the jagged rocks, I was stood on the only flat area of rock. Balls.
Hitting the deck into a shallow ditch in the rock, the wind created from the rotar blades covered me in earth and debris. Here is me in the ditch:
Apparently, he was just delivering groceries to the refuge at the top of this mountain in some extreme Tesco delivery effort. Escaping flattening, I decided to celebrate with a nice big meal out (how else do you celebrate?), my only meal out of the week, such was my friends' incredible cooking.
I was sat in the La Flambée restaurant in Argentiere surrounded by bubbling fondues and huge raclette chunks, sat on specially fashioned stands with a heat source to melt them. The melted cheese is then scooped onto potatoes and cut meats. I always research local foods before I visit anywhere and make every effort to try them. Traditional Savoyard mountain cooking is seemingly a calorific fest of cheese and potatoes with a side order of cheese followed by more cheese.
Even with the days' seven hours hiking under my belt I still felt that they would be too much so I tried a delicate sounding tartifette with chanterelles (pictured above), a dish of sliced potatoes, lardons, Reblochon cheese, cream and wine. Oooof. Never being a big fan of creamy dishes, it was tasty and the combination worked for a mouthful or two but was way too rich. Maybe if I'd been stranded supply less in the Alps for a few weeks I could have gotten through it. For dessert I tried a tarte aux myrtilles. These bilberrys grow in abundance around this area and can be found looking pretty glazed on tarts in bakery windows or in jams. Unfortunately the "tart" in this instance was not brilliant, a clump of watery and cold-from-the-fridge berries sat on a few crumbs. Local sausages cooked in wine, fois gras and a cheese board also made up this expensive meal but none of it worth writing home or on this blog about.
The food event I did enjoy on this trip however, was the visits to the supermarket. I love foreign supermarkets. Now they are what I call sight seeing. I was indulged by visiting a fair few, oohing at the veg varieties and ahhing the unfamiliar packaging and products.
I was quite restrained this time but this was my booty for this trip:
Some regional Savoyard pasta called crozets which I have found are typically cooked in a gratin of cheese and cream (ha!), rose garlic, Some Bonne Maman chestnut and vanilla spread, crazy raspberry jaffa cakes, salt, lentils, verveine tea, sausages and cheese.
Who needs plastic souvenirs, eh?
Big thank you to L&L for your incredible hospitality. Don't think I have forgotten about that recipe for the dahl!