My first out-of-college job was as a first level manager at Western Electric, then the manufacturing and supply arm of the Bell System, in downtown New York City. It was the spring of 1968. Students were protesting, the World Trade Center was rising, and the Vietnam War and assassinations in the United States filled the newspapers.
I learned to write to different audiences: not just executive speeches, in the style of a particular man (all the executives were, of course, men,) but also press releases, with both words and pictures. Employee newspaper articles. Employee films and videos. I spoke to high school classes in New York City about why they should apply to Ma Bell for jobs after they graduated. And I edited articles about engineering and community service activities. When the telephone company operators went on strike, I worked twelve hours a day as an information operator.
But it wasn’t all work. Lower Manhattan was an exciting place, and the young men I worked with (including the one I’m now married to,) often took long lunches, often with alcoholic libations included. In the summer we bought sandwiches and walked over the Brooklyn Bridge and ate on Brooklyn Heights. We headed to Chinatown regularly. And my favorite destination was the tiny restaurant up a narrow staircase above The International Wine and Cheese Shop on Chambers Street.
The first floor was filled with a world of cheeses, most of which I’d never heard of in suburbia. But the second floor was magic. Here a group of us would crowd around one or two tables, drink wine, and share raclette, or a pot or two of cheese fondue. When the cheese got thick, the owner would add more wine or Kirsch.
Lunches there tended to last a lot longer than an hour, and made for afternoons of low productivity.
But I fell in love with the place, the people … and the fondue.
I vowed to learn to make it myself, but with that restaurant so near, I only tried it a few times while I was living in New York.
But a few years later when my job was transferred to New Jersey I spent many evenings experimenting with different combinations of cheeses and wines. By the time my children were teenagers, cheese fondue was a favorite at our house … often followed (especially if we were entertaining) by chocolate fondue for dessert.
Fondue isn’t as popular as it once was. (I actually have an entire cookbook of fondue recipes.) And the couple of times I’ve ordered it in restaurants in the past ten years it didn’t approach the fondues of my memory.
Of course, that smoky second floor room on Chambers Street that smelled of cheeses from around the world was still my standard.
Unfortunately, that shop and restaurant are no longer.
But on a cold winter’s night in Maine, my husband and I sometimes share a pot of cheese fondue, and remember. And the memories warm us as much as does the fondue.
If you don’t have a favorite fondue recipe, here’s mine, for a classic taste. Enjoy!
(serves about 4 as main course … more as an appetizer)
1/2 pound shredded Switzerland Swiss cheese
1/2 pound shredded natural Gruyere cheese
1 clove garlic
1 1/2 cups dry white wine, e.g. Chablis — + more to drink
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
3 Tablespoons (or a bit more) Kirsch (Swiss cherry brandy)
pepper to taste
2 loaves Italian or French bread
Shred cheese. Cut bread into 1″ cubes with crust on one side. Rub fondue pot with cut garlic.
Note – although some recipes suggest melting the cheese in the fondue pot, I’ve found it’s easier to melt it on the stove, and then pour it into the (warmed) pot for serving.
Rub pan with cut garlic. Add wine to pan; heat. When wine is hot (not boiling) add lemon juice. Add shredded cheese by handfuls, stirring constantly with a wooden soon until cheeses are blended and melted. Bring to bubble briefly. Add seasonings, stirring until blended. Mix cornstarch with Kirsch; add to fondue and allow to boil another 15-30 seconds.
Serve and keep hot in fondue pot. Stir frequently; if it thickens too much, add wine.
The Swiss have a tradition that if a piece of bread falls off your fork into the fondue pot, you get a kiss. Following that tradition is not required .. but does liven up the party. And no — that wasn’t a part of business lunches!