“Oh, I’ve had fondue. I don’t really like it that much…all that melted cheese, phew, sort of makes me sick.”
MB and our Savoyard neighbor (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Savoyard) look at me strangely. They are not shocked or saddened by this statement…just thoroughly confused. MB doesn’t comprehend anyone who doesn’t like to eat cheese…basically all the time, and for a Savoyard, fondue is essential to existence. I can see their minds turning, “surely, she just doesn’t know what it is that she is saying!” After a few awkward moments, our (rather shy) neighbor pipes up.
“You have not had it right.”
“I made it for her once,” says MB.
“Yes, but you are from Paris.” Our neighbor says this matter-of-factly and with no quantifying statement; the facts speak for themselves.*
MB gives a laugh. “This is true. I think she just does not care for it though.”
“I don’t know,” I say. “I mean, lots of melted cheese just isn’t my favorite thing.” I shrug, innocently. “What are ya gonna do?” Obviously, my folksy charm will smooth all discomfort from the room.
“Next week, I will come over and make you a right one,” our neighbor says.
With this statement he gets up from his chair and says good night. The sentence has been handed-down.
I look at MB, “it’s just melted cheese, how much different can it be?”
MB just smiles.
The following week, with frightening punctuality, our neighbor shows up at our door, equipment in hand. He has brought three different cheeses, bread from the bakery, and his own fondue pot (apparently ours was not “right”). I watch him setting up and think, “ah well, I’m sure it will be interesting”. The next 45 minutes are spent sitting on the balcony with a glass of wine, cutting all the cheese into tiny little pieces.
“You want it to melt evenly and you can control better the amount of each cheese this way,” our neighbor explains to me.
Afterwards, he takes half a clove of garlic and rubs it along the inside of the fondue pot, before throwing it and another whole clove into the bottom. Next he pours a moderate amount of wine into the bottom of the pan.
“Oh, so you do this differently. When MB made it he used a lot more wine.”
The neighbor just smiles and gives himself a knowing nod. I can sense him rolling his eyes and thinking “ah, silly Parisians!”
Finally, the cheese is added to the pot. Creamy, oily, pungent…the slow mélange of tart, dry wine with rich, bold cheeses is awesome; it finds its way into my olfactory senses whispering the rumor of things to come.
As we sit at the table and I spear my first chunk of bread, a hush falls on our little group. The neighbor watches nervously, not for the integrity of the dish but nervous as to whether he properly honored his regions most famous plate. I roll my bread in the white velvet heat, slowly bringing it to my mouth.
It is a life changing moment. The taste is indescribable in its beauty. The serotonin rushes to my brain and I have the bizarre inclination to start laughing.
“I love it!” I proclaim. “It’s so…so…I don’t know. I love it. Wow.” A fondue has made me speechless.
MB digs in and I go to spear my next piece of bread. I look up and see the neighbor watching me, deep satisfaction on his face.
Once the fondue is almost completely gone we throw in a few pieces of bread and crack an egg which then forms the most delicious omelet I have ever had. At the very end there are brown, crunchy, cooked lattices of cheese on the bottom of the pot which we scrape off and eat like spun sugar. There is almost no clean up because we have consumed every single part of the dish. It has been an evolution of cheese.
A love affair with food can be tempestuous. Just as a good meal can make me elated and excited, a bad meal can bring feelings of depression and irritation. When I cook for others, these feelings are compounded further; it is horrible to make something that you love and you know can be wonderful and not have it turn out the way you know it can. I have spent nights awake in bed, analyzing small things that I did wrong or should have done differently when preparing a meal for others; just as I have had long peaceful nights of rest knowing that I had nourished body and soul.
As my neighbor leaves that evening he looks satisfied and happy; he has made a believer and I suspect that he will sleep very well.
* As a born and bred Southerner, from a particularly intense BBQ city, I fully comprehend this attitude.