Daniel Inniss-Fitzhugh is head chef of the Lodge in Verbier, Sir Richard Branson's luxury retreat in the Swiss Alps. He explains to Janet Harmer how working in the mountains can be both a challenge and a joy
Can you describe the style and setting of the Lodge at Verbier? The Lodge is a nine-bedroom chalet, accommodating 18 guests, in the most perfect location for both the slopes and Verbier's famous après ski nightlife. During the winter it is available for exclusive weekly hire and throughout the summer months, guests can book individual rooms "hotel style".
We offer a full à la carte breakfast, as well as a continental buffet, a two-course lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, which is a three-course meal with three canapés to start and cheese as an optional extra course. All meals, except breakfast, change daily, and we tailor menus according to the guests' needs.
The food is a big part of the guest experience here and the feedback we get from them is something you don't get in larger establishments.
Explain the set up of the kitchen brigade? As head chef, I'm one of a team of 13 staff at the Lodge. During the winter the brigade comprises three chefs and a stagier from one of the local colleges. In the summer we have two chefs for most of the season and three during the busier periods.
How did you get the job at the Lodge? I first heard about the Lodge from the current head chef at the time, Gerwin Brand, who is an old colleague from Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons. I was supported and encouraged to apply for the position the executive head chef Gary Jones, as well as Raymond Blanc. I went on to have a three-day trial/interview and arrived here in December 2010.
How would you describe the style of cooking at the Lodge? We serve everything from steak and kidney pudding to more complicated dishes such as braised, stuffed rabbit legs with white cabbage, red wine jus and white mustard sauce.
Generally, my food is modern French with British influences. I am very passionate about using relevant, seasonal produce, which is something Le Manoir taught me.
You spent some time working at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons under Raymond Blanc. How did the experience enhance your career? I started at Le Manoir in July 2005 as an apprentice and was there until October 2010, when I left as a junior sous chef. The experience helped to mould me, not only into a chef, but also into the person I am today. Raymond Blanc has created a fantastic hotel, but also an amazing institute for learning.
How significant is it to have a stint at Le Manoir on your CV? I think the fact that Raymond Blanc has managed to retain two Michelin stars for over 28 years speaks for itself. This means that when people see Le Manoir on your CV they see consistency, high standards, attention to detail and commitment in a challenging kitchen. I feel honoured to have that on my CV.
What are the key challenges of working in Verbier? The logistics of working halfway up a mountain can be testing! We often get in excess of two feet of snow overnight and this can cause problems for the delivery drivers getting up to Verbier, but they're very persistent!
What do you like most about working in Switzerland? Being so close to Italy and France is fantastic for fresh produce. The local Swiss meat is wonderful, from the Heurs beef to the pork which comes from nearby Martigny. From a personal point of view, living on the mountains is incredible and being able to ski or mountain bike on my days off is brilliant fun and the quality of life over here is great.
What do you dislike? The fact that you cannot get Golden Syrup, English tea bags or suet has been quite challenging at times, both professionally and personally!
What are your plans for the future? I have got the travelling bug now and maybe would like to work in America next, but I definitely want to return to work in the UK one day.
the GUEST-editor says
Travel is the way to enrich yourself, by embracing other customs, aesthetics, landscapes, cultures and food. For me, coming to Great Britain, the greatest enrichment was to be immersed in your multi-cultural integrated society