Battle of the chalets

A look at the the serious – and competitive – business of launching a luxury ski chalet in Verbier.

I thought I had tried just about every kind of chocolate on offer, but this puzzled me: a curious powder beside my dessert of pear sorbet and chestnut mousse that evoked memories of childhood.

“Powdered Nutella,” explained the chef, Daniel Cox. “There’s a processed form of tapioca that will absorb fats to leave a powder. I blitzed some with Nutella – you can even do the same with olive oil. Put it in your mouth, and it melts back into fat.”

An ingenious flourish to a delicious dessert – which also incorporated diced poached pear decorated with vanilla and pear puree, a drizzle of caramel yogurt, and pieces of caramelized chestnut. I went to bed a happy man.

Daniel Cox, chef at No. 14, Verbier

Daniel Cox, chef at No. 14

Daniel Cox seems likely to cause a stir in the Swiss resort of Verbier this winter. He won the prestigious Roux Scholarship in 2008, and has subsequently been chef at some of the world’s top restaurants, including The Fat Duck in Bray, El Racó de Can Fabes in Barcelona, and Per Se in new York, each of which boast three Michelin stars. Before coming to the Alps, he set up and ran Michel Roux Jnr’s latest fine-dining restaurant, Roux at Parliament Square in London, where he was in charge of a team of 17.

All of which the 29-year-old has swapped to work at a new luxury chalet opening this Christmas called simply No. 14, sharing a small kitchen with just one other chef. “I wanted a complete change,” he said. “I wanted to see more of the world. And learn to snowboard!”

Nabbing Cox seems quite a coup for the chalet’s owner, David Pearson. In a resort that already has its share of luxury properties, his emphasis on bringing in skilled young talent could well pay dividends.

Another asset is Alexandra Main, a masseuse and sports physio, who graduated this summer from Loughborough University. She became interested in massage after suffering injuries playing netball, and in her third year took a course in massage alongside her degree in sports science with management. During her studies, she worked on patients ranging from members of the visiting Springboks rugby squad to Team GB Olympic athletes.

She also experimented combining spa treatments with elements of sports massage. “I started to use hot stones with sports massage, and found they had amazing benefits not just as a holistic massage but also for aiding sports performance.” In a conventional treatment, the hot stones just lie on the skin, but Main massages with the stones. “With your legs really sore from skiing, the last thing you want is someone digging their fingers right in,” says Main. “But with hot stones, you can get the same benefits without the deep-tissue massage.”

All in all, No. 14 Verbier has a staff of 14, including three drivers offering in-resort transfers around the clock, all headed by a chalk-and-cheese double act of young managers: Sarah Howe, a linguist and former tour guide from Yorkshire, and Ivan Gonzalez from Tenerife, who worked at a beach club in Ibiza until Pearson, impressed with his skills while on a family holiday, whisked him over to the Alps.

Pearson himself is an old Verbier hand, having founded Ski Verbier in 1992 and built it up to a portfolio of 17 chalets and one hotel by the time he sold up the company 2006. To sell holidays to No. 14 and other smaller chalets, he has set up a new company called Verbier Exclusive, which he owns and runs with a former colleague, Tom Avery, who in recent years has made a name for himself as an explorer, reaching both the North and South Poles on foot – presumably in rather less pampered style than that now on offer to his clients.

Guest room at No. 14, luxury chalet in VerbierThe chalet sleeps 26 guests in three suites and ten en-suite rooms, with custom-made furniture by Ben Whistler in London, Vi-Spring mattresses, Frette linen, goose-down duvets, organic Bamford toiletries, and artworks by recent art-school graduates. There’s a lush home cinema, and a 10-metre indoor pool, with stone Jacuzzi, steam room, two treatment rooms, plus a cedar hot tub for ten on the terrace.

The team behind the conversion of the former Hotel Les Rois Mages – the Verbier architect Patrice Coupy, and Fiona Barratt Interiors of London – is the same as that behind Richard Branson’s uber-luxury The Lodge, also in Verbier.

Pearson and Avery clearly have ambition, claiming that theirs is Verbier’s “most spectacular luxury chalet”, offering per-person rates “typically 40-50 per cent cheaper that the Lodge’s.” You have to give them full marks for chutzpah, bearding the master of PR in his alpine den. The ski gloves are off – and as the first guests arrive at No. 14 Verbier, the fight for the title of chalet champion is just beginning.