“Troot,” says the young sous chef proffering me a plate. It takes me a second to realise this is the famed trout from three-Michelin starred chef Norbert Niederkofler.
But this is not a white table-clothed, silver service posh dining room. I’ve just skied up to a mountain refuge, unclipped my skis and stomped into the hut with my boots still on.
This is one of 13 restaurants or refuges in the Alta Badia ski resort in the Italian Dolomites which serves Michelin-starred food, and this year, A-list chefs have partnered with each restaurant to create a special dish for the A Taste For Skiing programme.
The dishes by famous chefs like Giorgio Locatelli are available for skiers to try all winter.
Making the most of a gourmet ski safari
I’ve arrived on the day the resort opens, when – for 24 hours only – you can buy a pass for a Gourmet Ski Safari and try mini portions of them all.
And to mark this special day, many of the chefs are up the mountain, cooking their creations in person.
Lunch on ski trips for me, usually consists of a hot dog and frites, maybe a croque monsieur, or if I’m pushing the boat out, spaghetti Bolognese.
The trout dish, which Norbert (everyone calls him Norbert) has whimsically entitled “Once Upon A Time There Was A Trout” is such an incredible treat, I savour every mouthful.
The young female chef who offers me the plate fiercely holds on to it until she has explained every exquisite ingredient.
The trout is raw and served hache (minced), she tells me. Along with the roe on top, it’s “very special” because it’s from the cold water of the Dolomites, towering above us.
The skin has been crisped and adds texture, while the sauce is made from the fish bones. It’s delicate and delicious.
As part of the gourmet ski safari, each dish is paired with a wine from the region. The trout comes with a riesling which is dry, crisp and perfect.
But there’s not time to linger – it’s off to another restaurant, La Tabla, just a couple of runs and a ski lift away.
But what are the slopes like?
The slopes between the refuges are mostly red and blue-level runs, suitable for an intermediate skier, and the region has an excellent network of snow cannons, so the runs are reliably open, even if there’s not much snow.
However, this year we’re lucky and the snow is natural. The flakes are falling again and the temperature has dropped to minus 14C. The team behind chef Alberto Faccani must be regretting setting their table outside.
It turns out the soup he’s created is just the thing for warming up.
The theme for A Taste For Skiing is childhood flavours and Alberto turned to his grandmother Ada for inspiration.
It’s a simple broth with pasta, paired with a glass of, by this time, very chilled pinot bianco.
The weather seems to be closing in, so it’s back onto the skis and I push off for the next stop, refuge Bioch, a simple pine-clad cafe.
This part of South Tyrol has a unique culture and language called Ladin. Chef Nicola Laera drew on memories of afternoons spent with his grandfather and ingredients common in Ladin to produce a wonderfully rich dish of veal cheeks with gremolata (garlic, lemon and parsley) and roasted prunes.
The meat just falls off the bone and is deliciously matched with a glass of lagrein, a red wine grape native to South Tyrol and hard to find at home.
The thrill for me here is watching Nicola in action, plating up every dish himself with painstaking care.
Although the portions are small, the food is rich and I’m beginning to feel quite full.
I reason with myself that I must be skiing off some of the calories between stops and head for the Las Vegas lodge, where chef Giuseppe Biuso is serving lobster in a bisque sauce.
I can’t quite believe I’m having lobster in a mountain café.
At €50 including wine, the Gourmet Ski Safari really does seem incredible value, even if I’ve only had four of the 13 dishes.
If you can’t wait until the next Gourmet Ski Safari (in December 2018) to try the dishes, the full versions of the Michelin-starred dishes are available every day, starting from €15 each, including the matching glass of wine.
At Norbert’s restaurant in San Cassiano’s Hotel Rosa Alpina, the 12-course tasting menu will set you back €250.
Food is at the core of this destination
The Alta Badia region is rich pickings for gourmands; three restaurants have Michelin stars and many are in the guide, including the one at my hotel, La Majun in La Villa.
Set in the heart of the village, La Majun is a relaxing hotel with its own cosy bar and fantastic spa, perfect for soaking those aching legs after a hard day’s skiing.
Back on the slopes, I stop off at Lee, a wonderfully snug wooden chalet, where London-based chef Giorgio Locatelli is responsible for a rabbit and polenta dish.
I could have had it as part of the ski safari had I been able to squeeze it in, but as a hearty main meal, it’s €21.
I also enjoy a dish of homemade pasta, beautifully crafted and served with a simple butter sauce.
I eat it with a pinot noir, described by local wine expert Hubert Kastlunger as tasting of strawberries and perfect with pasta and light meats like veal.
You can even ski with a wine expert
Hubert is the Sommelier On The Slope who leads a daily three-hour ski tour across the mountain, stopping for three wine tastings at mountain restaurants.
When he arrives at a tasting stop, he unzips his ski jacket, revealing a white shirt and bow tie, and with a flourish, unfurls an apron.
If wine tasting on skies sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, fear not.
No-one drinks too much – perhaps two small glasses per stop – and there are nibbles served alongside the wine, including a brick-hard mountain bread which tastes of aniseed.
There’s more of the local grape, lagrein, which Hubert predicts “in 10 years will be the premiere wine in South Tyrol”.
And with every tasting of gewurztraminer, pinot bianco and sauvignon blanc, a shout of “Vivas!” – the Ladin for cheers – rings around the table.