Supposedly, Swiss fondue is one of the world’s sexiest foods. In fact, fondue is so sexy that I could only find one friend who was willing to eat fondue with me… and he actually sort of hates cheese. I even invited one of NYC’s most accomplished food bloggers, and he responded by saying simply, “cheese makes me gag.” Hilarious.
So along with my cheese-hating non-Swiss friend, I went to the New York Swiss Society’s annual fondue dinner. And then shit caught fire. And that’s totally sexy.
The evening started auspiciously. Several friendly members of the Swiss Society greeted us at the door. We shared a table with an entertaining crew of international fondue-lovers, including a multilingual Greek retiree who once lived in Switzerland, a Hungarian dentist and his charismatic Syrian partner, and a Swiss hedge fund dude and his Minnesotan bride-to-be. There was alcohol. And cheesy Swiss-German music. Life was good.
Our meal included four courses, starting with a pre-appetizer snack of bundnerteller, consisting of tasty air-dried meat (vaguely resembling prosciutto) and sbrinz, a hard cheese made from raw cow’s milk. We then received a larger appetizer platter, loaded with a cute mix of marinated vegetables, cornichons, cured meats, and potato salad. It was all very classy and tasty.
For the third course, we were supposed to eat magnificent Swiss fondue. In case you’ve had your head up your butt for your entire gastronomic life, fondue is a Swiss delicacy, consisting of craploads of melted cheese in a carefully calibrated brine of white wine, water, and kirsch (cherry brandy). According to the wise Swiss gentleman sitting next to me, fondue is always warmed over a low flame, but if the fondue boils too intensely (by using an overly large, aggressive flame), it becomes dry, clumpy, and stinky. And dry, clumpy, stinky fondue is not sexy.
Giant flaming sterno cans, however, are unbelievably sexy. At our lovely Swiss banquet, each eight-person table received two giant flaming sterno cans, which meant that sixteen eyebrows were in serious peril at each table. Once the fondue pots were placed over the flaming sterno cans, the cheese started boiling like mad. Within a few minutes, screams of horror could be heard on one side of the room, as fondue began to spill onto the tables.
The banquet staff handled the situation with grace, quickly pulling the bubbling fondue and flaming sterno cans from the tables. Dudes were running around everywhere with flaming sterno cans and giant pots of cheese. Fun!
Eventually, the restaurant staff found a stash of less-aggressive sterno cans, and we all returned to politely dipping pieces of bread in our politely bubbling fondue. It tasted like cheese. My cheese-hating friend daintily dabbed at the fondue a few times, and then started eating the bread by itself when nobody was looking. Clearly, the sexiness of fondue was lost on both of us.
As the only fondue rookies at our table, my pal and I were perfectly happy with the event—after all, we got to eat huge quantities of non-Swiss desserts, accompanied by some vaguely Swiss chunks of meringue drizzled with chocolate. And we got to drink Quollfrisch, a hoppy Swiss beer, while watching things catch fire. What more could we want?
Our table-mates weren’t pleased, though. The Greek retiree groused that the flames were dangerous, and then he complained that the Hungarian dentist was too fat. The wise young Swiss gentleman insisted that the fondue was terrible (“go to Café Select instead”), and that the appetizers and desserts were thoroughly un-Swiss (“meringue should be served with whipped cream, never with chocolate”). Even the Swiss gentleman’s charming Minnesotan bride-to-be was contrite: “I’m sorry, guys, Swiss dinners aren’t usually like this.”
Still, we had a perfectly entertaining evening. And as a special bonus, we actually left with all of our eyebrows fully intact.
Swiss Society of New York
Annual Fondue Dinner, held at Cucina Restaurant
200 Park Avenue, Manhattan
Subway: Grand Central (4, 5, 6, 7, S trains)