Do you fondue? In the lead up to the Grand Hyatt’s Swiss Gastronomic Week, new chef-turned GM Christoph Franzen shows us how to melt cheese like a pro.
Heidi clearly knew a thing or too about food. Fondue, the traditional melted cheese dish from the mountains of Switzerland is surprisingly simple, and not-so-surprisingly delicious.
‘There are literally hundreds of types of fondue,’ says Christoph Franzen, the new GM at the Grand Hyatt and a whiz with the fondue fork. And at this month’s Swiss Gastronomic Week, he will be promoting the Swiss dish in style. ‘People will ask me about a typical Swiss dish, fondue is one of those dishes everyone knows and associates with Switzerland, besides chocolate. As I cannot make chocolate myself, I thought I’d start with a simple dish – the cheese.’
To Franzen, fondue is a social dish that really isn’t hung up on etiquette. ‘It’s also not hung up on rules; you can really do what you like with it.’
Fondue was promoted as Switzerland’s national dish by the Swiss Cheese Union back in the 1930s, but it originates from an area covering Switzerland, France and Italy, with influences from those three culinary traditions in one pot. Nowadays fondue recipes are left wide open to interpretation.
While traditional recipes include a splash of white grape to thin the cheese, Franzen says this can be replaced with white grape vinegar cut with water. ‘People can make it their own, choosing whatever cheeses or dippers they want. I wouldn’t necessarily use camembert or brie, it has to be hard cheeses,’ he says.
But, one caveat: they can’t be low fat. ‘It needs a certain fat content. I wouldn’t call it low fat cooking. I wouldn’t put it in the weight watchers section!’
Fondue burst onto the dining scene internationally in the 1970s, when it became the party-piece for swinging get togethers. But Franzen says it’s a dish that’s eaten regularly in Switzerland as well.
‘I think it’s probably one of those comfort foods. I grew up in the 70s. It reminds me of childhood. It’s one of those things that the generation who grew up in the 70s are back in the kitchen trying to cook for themselves,’ he says.
One thing that has changed is the bread: traditionally it would be simple baguette or a white bread. Today, people mix up the types of breads used, and dunk other things in their cheese as well.
‘Traditionally you would eat this only with potatoes. Or, well actually bread with potatoes on the side. But of course people these days, they try different varieties. They try strawberries, different types of bread, figs, whatever you want.’
So, once you have the cheese and the know-how, you just need the special pan, which is easy to get hold of in most cooking stores if you weren’t lucky enough to inherit a retro version, and Franzen says they’re necessary to keep the heat going even after the pot hits the dining table.
Originally from the mountain region of Mount Matterhorn in Switzerland, Franzen grew up in hotels.
‘We owned the hotel back home, the family. I always wanted to be in hotels because I found it very glamorous when I saw my dad working’, he says. ‘I didn’t realise it’s actually a lot of hard work! In those days, when you went into the hotel business it was very traditional – you started as a chef,’ he says.
Starting his career in a gourmet restaurant, Franzen gained his chef apprenticeship and in 1989 he became a certified sommelier.
His fondue will be a large part of the Swiss Gastronomic Week, from March 28 to April 6, which also welcomes the Swiss President as he visits Doha to opens the Swiss Embassy.
But you don’t have to be Swiss to attend: as long as you enjoy melted cheese on sticks (and really, who doesn’t?) all are welcome.
The week will include oodles of melted cheese in fondues and raclettes (when the ball of cheese is heated and the melted cheese is scrapped onto the diners plate) as well as a variety of traditional Swiss dishes, from mains to dessert, and of course Swiss chocolate.
There will also be a traditional Swiss band performing live in The Grill, along with yodelling and the Alphorn.
‘It’s something you’d do amongst friends and family. I’ve never seen anyone by himself eating fondue,’ says Franzen.
After that, it’s all about spearing your prefered cheese conduit, dipping, swirling, and eating.
‘There is actually a saying, the first one who is losing a piece of bread in the fondue has to clean up the kitchen,’ says Franzen. ‘It’s an old tradition.’
Swiss Week comes to The Grill at the Grand Hyatt from March 28-April 6, with various events and promotions TBD. Call 4448 1234 for more information.
The Most Famous Cheese Fondue Recipe
350 grams Swiss Emmenthal cheese, shredded
350 grams Swiss Gruyere cheese, shredded
350 grams Swiss Appenzeller cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 cup dry white grape
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Crushed pepper from a pepper mill
In a small bowl, coat the cheeses with cornstarch and set aside. Rub the inside of the ceramic fondue pot with the peeled garlic, then discard the garlic.
Over medium heat, add the grape and lemon juice and bring to a gentle simmer.
Gradually stir the cheese into the simmering liquid. Melting the cheese gradually encourages a smooth fondue. Once smooth, stir in kirsch, nutmeg and pepper.
Serve with chunks of white bread, you can use a French stick and cut in cubes.
Some other suggestions are Granny Smith apples and blanched vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and asparagus to dip in the cheese. Spear with fondue forks or wooden skewers, dip, swirl and enjoy.