Switzerland is picture-perfect. Some would even argue that it’s heaven on Earth. In my opinion, any country that produces chocolate and cheese in such abundance qualifies as paradise.
New York’s recent dose of beautiful, white snow reminded me of the four years I spent at hotel school in Switzerland. Nostalgic for those hearty, warm dishes typical of that mountainous environment, I cabbed it to Trestle on Tenth in Manhattan, where chef Ralf Kuettel showcases dishes influenced by the Northern European Alps.
I started with a tartine of dark rye bread smeared with pork butter, topped with salmon roe, and drizzled with gribets (crispy, fried pork drippings.) “There is no typical Swiss food,” chef Kuettel explains. “It’s a confluence of neighboring cuisines, the seasonality, and our local topography.” And this was a delicious example.
Bordering Germany, Italy, and France, the Swiss combine the rich diversity of their neighbors with Mother Nature’s bounty — freshwater fish from its lakes, foraged foods from the woods, and abundant products from the free-roaming alpine lamb, beef, pork, wild turkey, and chicken.
Everything at Trestle on Tenth is homemade, very typical of the industrious Swiss. Spaetzle, a distinctively homespun pasta, combined with caramelized onions and melted gruyère cheese is a divine, melt-in-your-mouth side dish that will give you the same comforting elation you get after a massage. Throw in bacon or tomatoes, ingredients herdsmen may have on hand or around their cottages, and the spaetzli can stand alone as a main dish.
Smoked pork broth and a homemade chicken stock are combined with white beans, sour cream, and poultry for a wintry soup that hits all the high notes — sweet, sour, salty, and pleasantly savory — every sip a jolt of warmth.
Switzerland is famous for its regional cuisines. For example, Canton Graubünden is characteristically known for its gratinéed pizokel, a house-made smoked cabbage and garlic sausage, always accompanied with a strong, spicy mustard or horseradish. They made me feel like I could scale the Matterhorn — a walk on the Highline was the next best thing.
No après-ski evening or winter vacation in Switzerland is complete without a fondue or raclette. In fact, these regional dishes won world fame, thanks to the industrious Swiss Cheese Union that aggressively promoted their most popular varieties; Emmental, Appenzeller, Gruyère, and Vacherin.
Fondues are a social event that find families or friends together around a “caquelon” — the fondue pot. Fondue is a tasteful blend of the best Swiss ingredients: white wine, garlic, three to four kinds of cheese, and a dash of Kirsch (cherry brandy), accompanied by boiled potatoes, pickles, cured meats, and cubed bread. Special long forks are used to dip the bread into the deliciously gooey, molten cheese, and tradition says that if you lose your piece of bread while stirring, you buy the next bottle of white wine — no exceptions — and this is taken quite seriously.
The whole tradition is made for sharing, and it is about big, warm conversations, and lots of drinking that usually extends late into the night. Many restaurants in New York, like Mont Blanc, Taureau, Craft Bar, and Artisanal Fromagerie Bistro, prepare fondues while the temperatures stay below 60 degrees. Kaskaval and Ocean Grill serve a chocolate fondue, while Hotel Griffou does a decadent lobster version.
So, to beat the winter blues, gather a group of your besties, and indulge in some Swiss fondue and Fendant wine; but be forewarned, if you lose what’s at the end of your fork, you buy the next round. Luckily, it happens a lot!
En Guete! Bon Appetit.