by Courtney Lichterman
While it may not be that common now, in the 60s and 70s fondue was the ultimate hip dinner party staple. It was as perfect for the Junior League as it was for cool bohemians. It was playful but sophisticated, easy to put together but slightly mysterious to the inexperienced. Why hostesses put away their fondue pots we’ll never understand, but now, thanks in part to the popularity of shows like “Mad Men” and “Masters of Sex”, this communal dish is on the verge of having a moment. Here’s how you can throw your own fabulous (and crazy simple) fondue party.
Half the fun of this dish is in the equipment, which in this case is easily findable on auction sites, in thrift shops, and maybe even your mom’s cupboards. Like their cousin the Crock Pot, fondue pots seem to have a special place in the kitsch kingdom. Motifs range from Danish folk interpretations to mushrooms to sunny daisies.
Keep in mind that just about anything that can be placed over a fire, a can of Sterno, or even a votive candle can be turned into a fondue pot. If you see a great vintage chafing dish at Goodwill, don’t turn it down just because it’s not officially a fondue pot.
Partly because they’re never used for anything other than fondue and partly because they’re something most people don’t own, fondue forks are always a huge hit at fondue parties.
Since they’re cheap and easy to find, get a few boxes and put them all in a vintage glass or even a vase and then sit back and watch as your adult guests give serious thought to which color they want to represent them for the evening. You’ll be shocked how proprietary people get over their colors when it comes time to get new ones for dessert.
This little can turns any vessel into a fondue pot. Once it’s lit, the party’s on.
Back when people were giving these parties on a regular basis, fondue plates and even fondue bibs were a thing.
A big thing, in fact. If you can find a couple of fondue dish towels as well, these make great table runners.
What to serve
As any veteran fondue lover knows, there’s a hard way to do fondue and there’s an easy way. The hard way involves at least $100 worth of cheese and booze and considerable prep time. The easy way costs about $20 total and the time it takes to open and close a pair of scissors. We’ll look at the easy way here.
No fondue cookbook or restaurant on the planet has ever managed to match the perfection of Swiss Knight fondue mix. It costs about $12 at your local grocery store and can either be jazzed up with a few extra ingredients or, frankly, not.
Open it ahead of time and let it come to room temperature. As it’s doing that, take a little garlic and rub it around the inside of your pot for a little extra flavor. Once your guests arrive, put the mix in the bowl and add a little nutmeg, a little Lea & Perrins, and a little salt and pepper.
For some extra punch add a dash of cognac or cherry-flavored kirsch (both of which are great to serve as drinks as they go perfectly with fondue).
About an hour or so before your guests come, cut up a baguette into bite-size pieces and put them in a breadbasket covered with a napkin (if you have a vintage ice bucket, that works well, too). Your bread actually holds up better if it’s a teeny bit stale so try to buy it the day before and don’t wrap it up as tightly as you normally would.
Keep in mind that bread isn’t the only food you can dip in there. Bite-sized pieces of vegetables like broccoli and asparagus are delicious as are cooked shrimp and prosciutto. Just keep in mind that if you use anything that already has flavoring on it, the flavor of the fondue will change so try to leave your dipping food unseasoned.
Also, most cheese fondue dishes aren’t hot enough to cook anything (
means “to melt,” not cook), so make sure anything you have on hand is either safe to eat without cooking or is pre-cooked.
One especially great thing to serve with fondue are
or as we know them, gherkins. The best brand to get is Maille, not only for the taste but for a little green plastic handle at the bottom of the jar that drains the water from the little pickles long enough to fish one out. Like fondue forks, this is something that just captivates guests who’ve never seen it before (trust us, someone will call you the next morning to ask where you got them).
Nothing goes better with fondue than a nice Caesar salad but making one from scratch can be a long expensive process and since we’re doing this the easy way, here’s how to fake it:
The night before your party cut up a couple of cloves of garlic and let them marinate in some olive oil. The next day, mix the oil with some Ken’s Light Caesar Salad Dressing with about half a pack of Sweet’n Low, a dash of Lea & Perrins, a little dry mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. Dress some bite-sized pieces of Romaine lettuce in it, toss in the usual Caesar ingredients (anchovies, croutons, Parmesan cheese, etc.) throw it in a vintage salad bowl et voilà
For dessert nothing beats a warm pot full of Nutella and some fresh cut-up fruit like bananas and strawberries. Throw a little heavy cream and some Grand Marnier in there and your guests may never go home.
Somehow communal food like this just begs for a few traditions to go with it and there are quite a few that go with fondue. One old custom calls for anyone who accidentally pulls out his or her fork out from the pot without bread to either kiss the person on his or her right or buy them a drink, depending on whom you ask.
Another is to scrape off the burned cheese left on the bottom of the pot and eat it as a signal that the meal is over. The great thing about this tradition is that it also makes your pot a lot easier to clean.
Music to Eat Fondue By
Taylor Swift and Wiz Kalifa may be dominating the charts right now but somehow they just don’t go with fondue. Here are a few music suggestions to set the perfect mood.
Bette Midler ‘s “The Divine Miss M”
Before Bette Midler discovered schmaltzy ballads, she was an incredibly soulful singer whose music helped define the era. Sexy tunes like “Do You Want to Dance?” will help set the perfect fondue party vibe.
“Sonny and Cher’s Greatest Hits” – Sonny and Cher
One of the great things about the 70s was that so many kids had divorcing parents that people actually started writing songs about it. Tracks like “You Better Sit Down, Kids” are perfect for making your guests feel like they’re right back in the decade.
“Michel Legrand et Son Orchestre” – Michel Legrand
Pieces like “Di-Gue-Ding-Ding” may not ring a bell but the minute you hit “play” you’ll know why this is the perfect album for the occasion.