High above the treeline in France’s snowy Savoie mountains, surrounded by an endless, frozen sea of piked peaks that somehow seem closer to heaven than earth, a lone sentinel stands watch by a glass doorway inside one of the world’s most luxurious ski-in/ski-out hotels.

Dressed in the colorful, high tech “armor” of mountain explorers, like a silent knight guarding a castle keep, the famed solemn doorman of the Hotel Pashmina’s Michelin-starred restaurant Les Explorateurs in Val Thorens, is the first clue that the “haute cuisine” you’re about to experience will be the culinary equivalent of summiting one of the world’s highest peaks.

The mountaineering gear on Le Pashmina’s silent knight (actually a mannequin) is totally legit, bearing the patina of a successful Mount Everest ascent by a friend of the owners. The 5-star hotel, and Les Explorateurs, the cutting edge, world-class dining establishment it houses, are a testament to the Gorini clan (one of the founding families of Val Thorens in the early 1970s) and their collective passion for mountains, and mountain-life.

“The outfit belongs to a Chamoniard guide friend. It was an experimental factory outfit from the ‘Millet’ brand that allowed him to reach the summit of Everest in 1991,” says Cédric Gorini, general manager of Groupe Yak & Yeti, who own Le Pashmina, as well as the nearby Hôtel 3 Vallées, and two other popular Val Thorens mountain chalet bistros.

“My father Marc also attempted to reach the top of Everest in 1991, along with my mother, but they were only able to reach the summit of the North Col at 23,031 feet due to poor weather conditions. For my part I have never reached a summit above 20,000 feet, perhaps those will be future projects,” Gorini explains.

For Gorini, who’s last major ascent was the Matterhorn in 2023, the desire to go higher is a state of mind that transcends easily into his way of doing business.

“I find many similarities between mountain adventures and entrepreneurship, but also with culinary research. These are always beautiful human adventures which are essential to share and introduce to loved ones,” he adds.

“Beautiful human adventure” to echo M. Gorini, is a very apt description of my experience at Les Explorateurs. Just like climbing Mount Everest pushes the limits of the human body and mind, it’s more than clear that the decorated team of chefs and staff working at Les Explorateurs is pushing the limits of culinary creativity by reimagining classic French cuisine, and reinventing an assortment of Savoyard delicacies for their clients.

The main menus are the brain children of a gastronomical holy trinity of culinary masters led by Chef Josselin Jeanblanc (one Michelin star), Chef Camille Vallet, and Chef Romuald Fassenet (MOF). The restaurant’s heavenly selection of desserts are the creations of Chef Sébastien Deleglise, who won the Michelin Guide’s prestigious Trophée Passion Dessert in 2023. Les Explorateurs has two main menus, the 7 course “Menu Grande Expédition” and the 5 course Menu Refuge, as well as a vegetarian menu.

I selected the 7 course Menu Grand Expédition based on the number alone. Seven is a number that has spiritual connotations in many world religions, but it’s especially important in Hinduism, a religion that believes in seven higher worlds or “heavens” (earth being the lowest of the seven), and that the Himalayas are a sacred place – which is the general vibe at Le Pashmina. Trust me when I say each of the seven courses (and the extras in between) I ingested was sheer heaven – an elevated state of joy and contentment with every bite.

A meal at Les Explorateurs is normally a two-hour plus adventure, an otherworldly experience that should be savored without hurrying, just as you would making a final ascent on Everest.

The culinary “guides” who helped me with my meal were Cécile and Jonah, two of THE most enlightened foodies I’ve ever had the good fortune of meeting, each equipped with knowledge beyond their years, and the patience of Tenzing Norgay as I peppered them with questions and queries throughout my 2.5 hour gastronomic stairway to heaven.

Here is a description of my journey to epicurean enlightenment at Les Explorateurs…


On Jonah’s suggestion, I opted for the restaurant’s namesake “Les Explorateurs” cocktail which was an extremely refreshing and bubbly concoction made from Cremant de Savoie, blueberry and cherry liqueurs, and Vetiver cordial. I highly recommend!


Like the first glimpse of Everest as you approach, this little trio of delectable beauties foretells the magnificence of the meal to come, and prepares the palate for the wonders of the seven heavens on the not too distant horizon. Canapés like this should be served to everyone about to enter the realm of heaven!

Beauty No. 1 – La FraicheurCylinder of apple, celery, and Génépi (the famed herbal liqueur of the Savoie)…so fresh, the perfect first step on a fantastic journey!

Beauty No. 2 – La Croustillance – Puffed beetroot, whipped goat cheese, cured arctic char…if I could have had a hundred of these crunchy gems I would have!!!

Beauty No. 3 – La Gourmandaise – Declinaison d’oignon in a tartelette…THE MOST scrumptious, sweet and savory little onion mini tart you’ll ever devour!


Cromesqui de queue de Boeuf, Poudre de thé Matcha Full disclosure, I’ve never been a fan of oxtail…that is until I put this little green ball of deliciousness covered in Matcha tea powder into my mouth. It looked like an edible, and took me to higher ground, so again I highly recommend!


Poêlée de champignons, Cremeux de polenta, Chips de polenta et émulsion au Beaufort

Red Bull claims it gives you wings, I think this absolutely fabulous soup-like “émulsion” actually does give you wings because it’s made by angels…and because I don’t think the chefs had it in them to come up with something soooo heavenly. A masterpiece in a bowl –  light, fluffy, like a whipped Beaufort cheese soup without the heaviness that comes with cheese. The polenta chips gave it the perfect crunch –  this is kind of what a cheese fondue aspires to be! OMG I hope it’s on the menu the next time I’m at Les Explorateurs (hope the chefs are reading this!).


Saint Jacques en Mille-feuille d’algue Nori, Cremeux et pickles de choufleur, Truffe et sabayon au vin jaune

I love Mille-feuille, I love Coquille Saint-Jacques, what a combo!!! But seriously, to dream up making a scallop Mille-feuille using Nori seaweed, and plating it with pickled cauliflower, truffle shavings, and a to-die-for creamy wine sauce is pure genius. This was unbelievably original and delicious. This course alone was worth the price of admission!

Also of note, this course was paired with a fantastic Petite Arvine white from the French Savoie region. Complex, mildly fruity – but not fruity, light, refreshing, and it almost seemed carbonated – and that’s a good thing in my books!


Escargots, Mousseline de pommes de terre, Épinards, Crumble de bleuet/Gel Pastis

Just like oxtail, escargots (snails) are not usually something I order or dream about at night…but again the Chefs at Les Explorateurs have turned me into a born again escargot aficionado! This course tasted – and this may sound crazy – like a cross between a warm, creamy salad, with soft crunchies, and gourmet yogurt parfait, as it was almost sweet! The spinach and creamed potatoes had a definite “velouté” consistency, and the escargot were like delectable little dates you kept searching for with your spoon. If something could taste “green” – and I mean that in a positive way – this dish is it! Absolutely perfect final course before the mains started to roll in!


Lieu Jaune, Flambé aux épices, Butternut et Trompettes, Beurre blanc Sapin-Citronelle

The star of this course is a sumptuous, puck-shaped piece of Yellow Pollack filet (from the Cod family) spiced with cumin, cardamom, and Genièvre (a traditional Dutch juniper liqueur) and grilled to perfection. It’s then taken to a higher level by a crown of chopped butternut squash, Trompette mushrooms, cabbage, and chestnuts that encircle it. Ultimate pescatarian Nirvana is achieved when it’s bathed in a warm fir and lemongrass butter cream sauce right before your eyes!  Forget Everest, this is the Mount Olympus cod filets, pure ambrosia from the depths of the ocean transformed into a melt-in-your-mouth Mountain dish fit for the gods.


Chevreuil de chasse servi rosée, Jus de cuisson à la Mondeuse rouge, Bettrave fondante declinaison de choux de Bruxelles

Don’t get hypnotized by the French description of this incredible course – its wild venison served is a red Mondeuse (Savoie region wine) au jus, with beets and THE MOST delicious Brussels sprouts you’ve ever had in your life. The venison cut like butter and wasn’t overly gamey.  At one point I thought I was eating dark chocolate, but that may have been due to the delicious glass of Château Fonvert Cuvée Yak+Yeti Luberon that it got paired with. A full-bodied Southern Rhône red made from Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre grapes, the hints of blackberries and black currants this wine expresses are magical!



The penultimate course of Les Explorateus’ 7 course Menu Grand Expédition is classically French and not for the faint of heart calorically speaking – cheese! The selection that is rolled over to your table is gargantuan, bordering on overwhelming in the best way. For my cheese odyssey I selected some Beaufort d’éte, Tomme affinée au foin (hay), Tomette à l’ail des ours (garlic), Tomme parfumée à la truffe (truffles), and the pièce de résistance, that old Savoie classic, the chocolate volcano cake of cheeses, Reblochon Fermier – the soft-washed rind, smear-ripened, raw cow’s milk cheese that’s pretty much impossible to find in America. Soooooo delicious!!!


Nobody wants to enter the dessert realm (7th Heaven at Les Explorateurs) with a cheesy mouth, and the chefs at this most remarkable dining establishment know that. So, to make your journey into the highest state of culinary joy and enlightenment smooth, they serve up a delightful palate cleanser in the form of Biscuit de Savoie ice cream topped with a blueberry compôte…not overly sweet, and the perfect clean-up for the cheese aisle that’s in your mouth.


Chocolat peu sucré, Café, Confit de Cassis, Glace au Sobacha

Size definitely does not matter…especially in relation to this unbelievably delectable, and original pint-sized chocolate dessert that packs a massive punch! The melange of chocolate, coffee, blackcurrant and Sobacha (buckwheat tea) ice cream served on a frozen plate complete with fern frost ice flower patterns is genius. For someone who’s dessert cravings are usually only satiated by a skyscraper-sized slab of chocolate cake, I was shocked at how filling and satisfying this work of edible choco-art actually was, and yes, I truly was in 7th Heaven!


Restaurant Les Explorateurs at Hotel Pashmina – Le Refuge in Val Thorens, France is open Tuesday-Sunday from 19:00-20:45