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Service-Compris - Individual Catering Service in Chamonix Valley (France)
When you are traveling and staying in big cities in hotels, your options for getting food are usually limited to restaurants, cafes and similar places. It is fast and convenient; it is possible to find places offering good food in different price ranges and offering different cuisines. Often, restaurant experiences are part of your traveling adventures and often are a source of great enjoyment (or disappointment) discussed long after your trip is over. We tend to extend this way of satisfying our nutritional and gastronomic needs no matter where we are - even if we are somewhere in a countryside - and we forget that there are great alternatives to traditional dining patterns.
Individual catering service is one of them, and we decided to experience it while traveling in Chamonix Valley in France. Chamonix-Mont-Blanc (or, commonly, Chamonix) is a small town with the population of less then 10 thousand inhabitants, but in no way it is an indication of any problems with finding good places to eat. In fact, as much as the town reflects the diversity of the people that make up the "chamoniard" community, the dining experience presents a vast choice of all sorts and flavors.
However, while exploring our lodging options and finally deciding on staying in a chalet (which is another very exciting story), we also decided (for the first time in our life) to try a catering service. To be honest, we did not research this issue: we simply went with what the chalet owner suggested. And we never regretted our decision - it turned out to be an excellent one.
If you want to find some official information about this service, go to the Service-Compris Web site. You will learn quickly that Service-Compris is the creation of Philippe and Trudi Collus, who are based in Les Houches, and operating within Chamonix Valley. One of the Service-Compris' markets is an individual 'in-chalet' catering service to local chalet owners and operators who would like to enhance the holiday experience or their guests by offering gourmet cuisine on an individual contract basis.
In practical terms it means that Service-Compris caters for small parties (that could be as small as two people only) offering various degustation menus and/or looking after guests in chalets from breakfast to six course dinner. But it also can be larger themed events, for example, a Spanish night complete from costumes, paella, and tapas with sangria, to hot Indian buffet or even summer Barbeque with marinated dishes such as Pesto Tuna steak, Rosemary Lamb tournedos or Teriyaki beef.
Since summer 2007, Service-Compris started a new service, delivering freshly prepared picnics to chalets in the valley for guests to take them on their daily walks to admire the beauty of Mont-Blanc and surrounding mountains. Private dinners at homes are offered as well. All information including prices and menu options are available on the site. But since we had a chance to experience the service and a chance to be engaged in interesting conversations with Philippe, I would like to add some personal perspective to the official information found on the business' Web site.
I would like to start off by saying that the service is very flexible. If you have any particular wishes, do not hesitate to express and discuss them with Service-Compris owners. Such discussions begin normally via email, and that's how we started communicating with Philippe. In our case, since after the first evening we decided to invite the chef again, we also had to express our wishes personally - and on a very shot notice (we were talking about next day). Specific example - a French wine of a particular taste I wanted to try. I described the taste (I had been trying unsuccessfully for some time to find a French wine similar to the Italian Barolo and/or Barbaresco) and, voila, next evening I had a bottle of Chateau Jura-Plaisance (Montagne Saint-Émilion) - excellent Bordeaux that indeed was the type of wine I was looking for.
This is not the only example. I could give you more - the point is that with our experience we believe that Service-Compris will do everything humanly possible to satisfy its customers. And what's probably more important, we saw that this was a sincere and honest desire to make us happy without any affectation, airs or pose (or counting on future positive review on a site like this one).
During our interaction with Philippe we learned a number of interesting things about our chef. He decided to pursue this profession quite early, at the age of 16. Nobody in his family had a catering background, and no one pushed him into this career. Philippe says, "I wanted to have a manual job where I could also create."
He was born in a small town of Bourgoin-Jallieu, about 20km south of Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France and graduated from a catering college (two years), Ecole Hoteliere "Le Clos d’Or" in Grenoble. Philippe received his advanced cooking skills after spending another two years in Ecole Hoteliere de Challes-Les-Eaux, near Chambery.
Philippe has quite a substantial international exposure and impressive credentials as a cook and chef - he worked for two years in New-Haven, Connecticut, in a French brasserie cooking with American ingredients (such as yellow squash, mahi-mahi, Angus beef, etc.) in a French way. He worked in Frankfurt, Germany for a few months while waiting to be called for French national service. Upon finishing the service (which took place in French Alps), he went to England and stayed there for more than six years having different jobs as sous-chef in a gastro restaurant, chef in various pubs and a chic restaurant, chef for an outside caterer and sous-chef at Daimler-Chrysler HQ (cooking fresh food for about 400 hundred people at a time).
My wish for a
satisfied as well
- a bottle of
Since winter 2003, he came back to France (now with his wife Trudi), and worked for two seasons as chef and host in a chalet, in Les Houches (located several miles from Chamonix) and another two summers on Hotel-Barges, on canals in Burgundy and rivers in Paris and Amsterdam acquiring yet another unique experience in this luxury market. In 2005, Philippe and his wife started their own business, Service-Compris. By the way, Philippe speaks fluently excellent English which can be an additional factor to consider for English-speaking tourists.
Originally, we requested Philippe's service only for our first evening at Chamonix and ordered a "degustation" menu (€140 per person). It included:
- Mini Croute filled with local smoked sausage and prunes
- Grilled Fillet of Fera, red cabbage vinaigrette (fera is a whitefish caught in Lake Geneva)
- Carpaccio of Local Beef with marinated vegetables
- Cream of Fresh Broccoli with wild mushrooms (see side bar for the recipe)
- Roasted Rack of Lamb with smoked bacon filled tomato and pan fried polenta
- Selection of Savoyard Cheeses with fresh and dry fruits
- Summer Berries Pudding with Genepi Sauce
- Champagne, a bottle of red wine and a bottle of white wine
- Coffee and Chocolates
- A drink of Genepi
Having been impressed with food and service, we asked Philippe to come again next evening. This time, a "regular" menu (€70 per person) was served. It consisted of:
- Fresh Foie-Gras on Cereal Bread
- Truffle and Parmesan Risotto, served with Roasted Garlic Tiger Prawns
- Roasted Pork fillet served with a Grain Mustard Sauce
- Selection of Cheeses
- Crepes Suzette with Orange Syrup and Vanilla Ice-Cream
- Champagne, a bottle of red wine
- Coffee and Chocolates
- Local Mach (my personal request)
I would like to note that only local fresh ingredients were used - since the whole process takes place in front of you, it's not difficult to see what actually goes into dishes. And if you keep in mind how much time goes into this personalized service which starts with procuring in shops and local markets, then cooking, laying the table and actual serving at the table during the whole dinner and finally cleaning everything, perhaps you would come to the conclusion (as we did) that price is very reasonable and worth every penny (or cent) of it.
To wrap up this brief account of our experience with Service-Compris and its chef, Philippe, I would also mention that we enjoyed not only his food but also his companionship. His easy-going personality, ability to maintain conversation and soft manners contributed to the wonderful atmosphere during our dinner. Many thanks to Service-Compris - we highly recommend it to anybody who is traveling in Chamonix Valley.
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