After his recent interview with Source Magazine, Nick Lyon Dean talks to us about the changing face of the modern day chalet chef in light of the proliferation of food allergies, intolerances and dietary requirements.

It’s rare to qualify into a profession only to have the parameters of your career keep changing, but nowhere is this more apparent than that of the Chalet Chef. Over the last two decades, the chef’s role has undergone a total transformation, and the goal posts just keep moving, as more recently there has been yet another seismic shift.With more than 150 million Europeans now suffering from chronic allergic diseases it seems everyone now has their very own unique set of dietary requirements. And with a prediction that by 2025 half of the entire EU population will be affected, this isn’t a passing fad (the British market for gluten-free products alone is expected to grow to £561m in 2017). For chefs not up to the challenge, the future is bleak. For those at the top of their game, such as Nick Lyon Dean, the future just keeps getting brighter.


Yes, definitely. When I started working in chalets 16 years ago it was rare for people to have allergies and other dietary requirements. You’d have a few vegetarians and maybe a couple of serious allergies per season. Nowadays if you have a week without any dietary requirements it’s a rarity. I think what has also changed in recent years is that people will label whatever foods they are avoiding (for whatever reason) as “allergies”, which can be somewhat misleading!


It has definitely made it more challenging, but I think for the benefit of everyone. 15 years you could produce the same menu week after week and only have to make alterations for dietary requirements every once in a while. The danger there is that it is quite easy to become bored with that scenario. Now it is much harder to follow the same menu plan when you often have 3 or 4 dietaries in any given week, so there is a pressure there to be much more creative. I think guests can definitely tell when their chef is being stimulated creatively and that makes the experience for them all the more enjoyable.


For many chefs working in a chalet gives them the opportunity to be more creative and imaginative than working in a restaurant might do, and so having a multitude of dietary requirements actually provides a catalyst for that creativity which can be quite exciting. On top of that you have to consider that the range of produce and ingredients that can be sourced in the mountains is fairly limited compared to the UK, and so it can be quite hard to get the ingredients required for, say, a paleo diet. On the other hand it does provide a great opportunity for us as chefs not only to learn about different allergies and diets, but also how to cater for them in new and exciting ways with the resources that we have.


I think because a lot of FAD diets are being listed as allergies, it can mean, in the industry as a whole, that legitimate allergies are not taken as seriously as they should be. People need to be more honest about why they are not eating certain foodstuffs and this in turn will engender a higher level of respect from chefs. If I’m told that a guest doesn’t eat a certain food because they are following a particular diet then I will respect that, whereas (as has happened several times) instances of guests who declare themselves as vegetarian then ask for a steak tends to generate a certain amount of cynicism! However at the end of the day at the luxury end of the market satisfying and exceeding guest whims, however bizarre, is what creates an enormous amount of job satisfaction and is why we return season after season.We get to create and find solutions. 

In the last couple of years there has been a definite shift away from eating 5 courses every night to people wanting less, more nutritious and often more simple food. People now are much more conscious about what and how much they eat, and this is starting to have an affect on what kind of dining experiences we offer our guests. In turn this is having an impact on menu design. 15 years ago I would have served petits fours as standard, now there is little demand for them. The proliferation of dietary requirements and dietary fads has certainly been a factor in this shift. However I do think that as the luxury sector largely recruits chefs from high end restaurants, menu design will naturally follow new restaurant trends. An example of this can be seen in the style of afternoon tea. A decade ago it was the norm to serve a whole cake and/or savoury item. The resurgence in the popularity of the Grand Hotel afternoon tea has resulted in a shift towards serving a variety of bite-sized items that are attractively decorated and presented. When we serve afternoon tea now there is a bit of theatre and it feels like more of an event than it used to, with much more personalised service. Thus while allergies will produce challenges in designing and delivering certain styles of dining experience, I think the experiences themselves are becoming increasing determined by outside and market forces.