We met Alicia Boyes at Burning Man (where else?) and bonded over our shared love for making madcap meals in the desert and watching trashy ski movies from the 80s.
Alicia is a lifelong climber, skier and badass outdoorswoman. She is also the former maître d’ at Per Se and recently launched her own restaurant and hospitality consulting business. When she offered to apply her signature culinary talents to the creation of Ski Provisions, our new line of gourmet meals for the winter, we did a happy, perhaps trancey, dance.
In the second half of our Meet the Chefs series (read the first installment here), we asked Alicia to share a few anecdotes about what her love of the outdoors has to do with food and the art of fine dining.
Let’s start at the beginning. Where do you call home?
It’s a bit circuitous. I grew up in the Eastern Sierras in Mammoth Lakes, climbing and backpacking and skiing. When I was 19, I had an opportunity to move to Switzerland to apprentice in a small hotel restaurant. That’s where I fell in love with fine dining service. I worked my way up, alongside the owners, learning all the classic table-side etiquette. I was there for three years.
And then you came back to the US?
Briefly. I was only home for a short time before an old boyfriend of mine called me up and said, “Remember that dream of ours, of living in Chamonix or Grenoble and skiing all the time? I’m doing it. I’m moving to France, and you should come with.”
I was already experiencing a kind of reverse culture shock, so I moved back. It was a way to go and live a kind of fantasy life, skiing some of the biggest peaks, having amazing lift access and so on. It’s something we always dreamed about ever since we started watching “The Blizzard of AAHHH’s.”
Damn. You were living the dream!
In a way, except for one major incident. I arrived in Chamonix in January of ‘99. I was 23. In February, my boyfriend and I and his brother were all staying in this chalet in Montroc. One day his brother left to make a call at the local train station, which had the only pay phone. Moments after he left, this avalanche comes through and completely buries our village! We survived but it completely wiped out most of the buildings and businesses. I think I could find some news articles about it but my name is spelled funny. I was shaking so much when they pulled me out… I don’t think I could speak properly.
Afterwards, things settled down and we did get to experience a kind of dream life, skiing and climbing. We were writing for Powder magazine and doing product testing for Oakley and got to ski some of the biggest peaks out there. Mostly off-piste with a crazy range of elevation: 3000 feet at the bottom of the valley to 12,000 feet at the top.
Were you cooking then?
Ha. Not as much, but my experience did inspire one of my recipes for Ski Provisions. We used to wake up early to go skiing, sometimes around 4 in the morning, and I would make these little breakfast sandwiches wrapped in foil. We called them “hockey pucks” and would eat one on the drive and throw a couple others in our packs. So much better than a granola bar, you know?
How did you ever manage to leave that life?
I knew I had to think about my career. I came back and worked in restaurants in Mammoth Lakes, spending time in the outdoors during the day and then serving at night. It was a good balance, but I really missed the fine dining aspect of working in Europe. I ran into a friend with a similar vision, and started learning about charcuterie from him and doing pastry work. Eventually, I decided that if I wanted to be able to work in all aspects of the industry, I had to go to culinary school.
I applied to the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park and got in. From there it was a lot of different stints with local chefs and restaurants. I worked with David Bouley for some time and at 11 Madison Park. As much as I loved the making of food and being in the kitchen, it wasn’t what I wanted long-term. I wanted to understand hospitality and management and how to run a business. I found an opening at Per Se and, over the course of eight years, I worked in seven positions, ending up as Concierge and then Maître d’.
We’ve heard Per Se is an intense place to work.
When I was in the Concierge role, I really had an opportunity to hone my hospitality skills, working on serving VIP and industry guests, managing reservations and all aspects of service. We really strived to make every aspect as flawless as possible. It was a great, great experience.
When you do have the opportunity to cook, what do you like to eat?
I love simple, clean food that’s also substantial. A good example is the skirt steak recipe we did. If I were cooking it for dinner, I’d want to keep it really simple. Marinate the steak in some oil with herbs, like the kind of herbs you find in Italian salad dressing. Let it marinate all day while you’re skiing, then pull it out, dry it off, and throw it on the grill. Done. It’ll have a ton of flavor. It’s easy. And super satisfying.
You also contributed burrito and tacos recipes for us. They’re a far cry from the alpine way of life.
True, but I did grow up on the West Coast and I couldn’t deny my Cali roots. I’m always a sucker for a burrito or a taco. It might be what I most miss about being there, although Spanish Harlem does have some good spots. The flavors you get in a burrito or taco are great—strong, spicy, bold flavors. It’s good for when you’re on the slopes.
Any plans to head west in the future?
Who knows? I was just there a few months ago, working as the GM for the opening of Saison, and had a great experience. It coincided with the launch of my business in restaurant and hospitality consulting, which I’m hoping will let me discover all kinds of new places.