“Welcome to the vegetable garden – biodynamic for over 30 years” says the black sign leading the way to Denis Carrier’s wonderful organic garden. The August sun shines on the herbs – chives, lemon verbena, vervain, parsley - and all kinds of salads, looking like people with funny hairstyles from above. Then there’s kale, chard, leeks. And flowers in all colours, stretching their heads towards the sky. Many of them, like the blue starflower or yellow violets, are edible. Everything here looks so healthy you feel the sudden urge to pick and eat it on the spot.
Healthy salad with flowers, vegetables and herbs from our organic garden
Two hours of work have to be put into this little piece of paradise facing Mont Blanc – per day. “And a whole lot of love,” adds Denis Carrier. Maybe it’s the love that makes his plants flourish, even those who generally don’t grow in these realms. A little sign next to the basil says “Basil doesn’t like cold and Chamonix is not its favourite place.” And maybe, in addition to the love, it helps that Denis Carrier plants and manages his garden according to the rules of the moon calendar. Or maybe it is the combination of love, moon and the traditional knowledge applied in biodynamic farming.
Everything and everyone is welcome here, even uninvited guests like the poppies who just found their way into the colourful garden. Or the little wooden shed in the background with some chairs in front of it. And Denis Carrier with his rake and all the love. “Originally, I’m more of a gardener,” the chef explains, “already at age seven I helped my grandfather with planting salad.” We owe it to his love for wine - a gentleman named Jacques Puisais - that he still found his way into the kitchen: Denis Carrier apprenticed with the renowned oenologist at the Château d’Artigny in the Loire region. “I really enjoyed the atmosphere at his place,” he recounts, “and then, suddenly I realised what I wanted to do.” He trained to become a sommelier – and finally discovered his love for cooking. Still today, he loves wine just as much as his organic garden and all the beautiful things it yields for his kitchen.
When it comes to cooking, Denis Carrier’s approach is pure and simple: preserving as much of the original, natural flavour of the ingredients as possible while creating dishes that please palate, eyes and nose. Naturally, he prefers to use produce from his own garden. “Unfortunately they lose their colour in the cooking process,” says another little sign next to the purple beans. The ingredients that do not grow in a garden – meat, poultry, cheese – Denis Carrier sources in the region. “There are not many farmers left in Chamonix, and I only work with those who provide the highest quality.”
There is no compromising on the quality of ingredients for chef Denis, for this is the only way he can create healthy, high-quality meals, something he cares deeply about. “I am convinced that a lot of ill people could improve their condition if they ate healthily. I know it’s hard, I eat too much chocolate and cheese myself!” he says, laughingly. So what is healthy eating in his book? “A lot of good quality vegetables and fruit, a little cheese, meat and fish every now and then and something sweet from time to time, but not too much of that. In cooking, it’s all about balance – the balance of salty and sweet and the right amount of fats.”
When Denis Carrier was young he wanted to become a doctor. But then his parents bought the hotel where he cooks today, changing the course of his life. So here he is, serving meals to guests, improving their wellbeing on the way. “I really care about my guests’ health, and I think they can feel that. That’s why they come here,” he says.
For his own wellbeing, Denis takes advantage of everything nature has to offer in and around his hometown of Chamonix. “I love to swim in the mountain lakes in summer. Sometimes I will bring my tent and sleep by the water. There is a special magic about that,” he says. And when there’s no time for breaks like that, a little time-out in his organic garden or out on the hotel’s beautiful terrace will do as well. Because both places offer the most magnificent view of the Mont Blanc or, as Denis Carrier likes to put it, “the gem amongst the world’s most beautiful mountains”.
Nov. 7, 2016