Ski cuisine: World's best restaurants -- with altitude

Story highlights

  • Award-winning chefs bring signature styles
  • Mix of traditional and modern approaches
  • Widespread use of local ingredients

(CNN)Picture the scene: you're high in the mountains, surrounded by beautiful skiing territory. What could possibly improve that? Well, how about a really good meal?

With Aspen, Colorado hosting the women's Giant Slalom and Slalom events from November 27 to 29 as the skiing season hits full stride, thoughts turn to the bracing combination of skiing and sustenance.
Things have moved a long way from the days when simple and hearty staples were just about the only show in town, and traditional fare now sits alongside and inspires new creations in an ever-evolving ski restaurant scene.
    Increasing numbers of award-winning chefs are bringing their signature styles to the slopes, often with a strong accent on what can be done using the best of local ingredients.
    But it's not just about what's on the menu -- a venue's atmosphere, be it party or peaceful, also plays an important role.
    Take Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, an Aspen institution set in an old ski patrol hut, which combines Alpine cookery styles with what some say is the best apres-ski get-together in town.
    "When I started working for Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro in 2012, an Alpine-style menu had already been implemented," Chef de cuisine Michael Johnston told CNN.
    "My team and I embraced the concept with a goal of upholding the standards in place and hopefully taking the cuisine to the next level.
    "We took the original staples such as Raclette and Gruyere cheese fondue and, while keeping that old world flair, elevated the dining experience by adding high-end ingredients."
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    Other signature dishes include seafood towers, beef tartare, veal schnitzel and black truffle gnocchi, with locally-sourced, in-season ingredients used wherever possible.
    Changes to Cloud Nine include increasing the 'open kitchen' approach that means diners can see the culinary maestros at work and augmenting views over the Maroon Bells to make every table "as sought after as the next," Johnston said.
    The food -- and that apres-ski atmosphere in which staff and visitors socialize -- means people keep on coming back, he explained.
    "We have many returning guests, both local and from all over the world, who come up to see us and indulge in the one-of-a-kind experience Cloud Nine has to offer," he added. "We take pride in that."
    If all that talk of food has whetted your appetite, CNN casts an eye over a few more of the best, and most spectacular, ski resort restaurants:
    Saint-Martin-de-Belleville (France): Chefs Rene Meilleur and his son Maxime have won three Michelin stars for their work at La Bouitte -- which means "little house" in the local Savoyard dialect -- in the French Alps. Their take on "simple, generous Savoyard fare" is what makes the place tick, with dishes such as Tuber Melanosporum truffle complementing game and fish options.
    Courchevel (France): Two more Michelin stars at Les Airelles, where Pierre Gagnaire's restaurant, set in a stunning Austro-Hungarian-style castle building, offers delights including sea urchin, caviar, veal ravioli and pasta with truffles.
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    Courchevel: Restaurant-heavy Courchevel doesn't come cheap -- but eating well here doesn't have to be a bank-breaker. The Bel Air, with spectacular open-air terraces and old-fashioned, atmospheric interiors, offers good value staples: steaks, meat and cheese omelettes and daily specials.
    Zermatt (Switzerland): Family-run, Michelin Guide-listed Chez Vrony has a century-long heritage and uses organic produce throughout a menu making use of recipes handed down through those years. Specialties here include dry-cured meats, Alpine cheeses and home-made sausages -- and the local flavor extends to the wine list.
    Obergurgl (Austria): The Hohe Mut Alm restaurant has taken Alpine architectural inspiration for its modern, airy setting (if you want really airy, there's a huge outdoor terrace). Bask in panoramic views as you indulge in the hallmark Tyrolean cuisine: Brettljause (a lunch board), meat from Otztal cattle, dumplings, noodles and pancakes. You can wash them down with warming schnapps (or two).
    Crans-Montana (Switzerland): Hotel Chetzeron, perched almost alone at the very top of the slopes (it's 2,112 metres above sea level), is about as contemporary as it gets architecturally. Its Michelin-listed restaurant gives contemporary updates to Alpine tastes from the Valais region, where cheeses (Valais is the home of Raclette), herbs, meats and stews hold sway.
    Val d'Isere (France): If you can't hear the word Edelweiss without thinking of that tune from The Sound of Music," try this: a lunchtime-only restaurant perched halfway up the Mangard piste. Specials include duck breast, veal and grilled beef.
    Whistler (Canada): The Rimrock Cafe, with owner-chef Rick Gunther the driving force in the kitchen, specializes in local fish and game dishes and has been part of a thriving Whistler restaurant scene since 1987. Oysters, mussels, calamari, tuna, venison, steaks ... a dream for the surf'n'turf fan.
    Utah (United States): The Yurt at Solitude is a little different -- in a clearing in the middle of the forest, lit by lanterns, a maximum of 24 people can enjoy a four-course gourmet dinner that's prepared in front of them. What might it consist of? Well, you'll have to try it to find out...