A goal that may never be fulfilled: fondue

Coming off Valentine’s Day, I was reminded today just how fun it can be to have an intimate cooking experience with the one you love — or even the ones you like.

Elisa Ung, who for five years has reviewed restaurants at my last newspaper, penned a review this week that perfectly captures The Melting Pot, a fondue chain restaurant. Her experience is limited to the Westwood, N.J., location, but in my experience, the chain replicates that experience everywhere, including Albany.

The food’s OK, and very expensive for something that’s not cooked. But once or twice a year, the Melting Pot strikes the right note for a night out with my wife or daughter — sometimes both.

Who can’t resist bonding with laughter and love over food we create ourselves.

Who wouldn’t want to do that at camp?

Logistics kill it. We can’t use tabletop burners, hot oil or long-handled forks. For that matter, I don’t trust kids with marshmallows (or dinner rolls)

But maybe there’s another way to capture some of that essence.

We set a goal two years ago to build in more food interactivity at mealtime — a way for guests to get more involved in picking the particulars of the meal. It can be as simple as preparing more side dishes for better customization or having a salad bar. Of course, the first thing we did was eliminate the salad bar because of the ridiculous amount of food waste it had generated in past years and because we didn’t have the staff to properly prepare and stock it (sorry, but canned three-bean salad, shredded iceberg lettuce from a bag, frozen chopped egg and canned banana pudding doesn’t make a salad bar.)

But we created Ultimate Nacho Day our first summer — essentially glorified taco salads with as many possible toppings as we’re able to muster up. We used a ground beef filling the first year but replaced it with ground turkey for last summer (when adults are here, we’ll often use sliced chicken, steak or slow-roasted pork shoulder, or give them choices).

It became more fun than pizza day.

Last summer, we added KFC-style bowls — chicken with mashed potatoes, cheese, corn, gravy, bacon — a bunch of possibilities. It was well received, though perhaps not as much as Ultimate Nacho Day. We’ve done some baked potato bars and some one-time salad bars to good feedback. Occasionally, we’ll prepare ice cream sundae bars for guests that request it (and pay for it). We’ve done a few pasta bars for guests to mix and match pasta, sauces and toppings.

So where do we go from here? What are efficient ways to allow guests to play with their food and have something to talk about?

An oatmeal bar has been under consideration. I’ve thought about a Souper Bowl — a dumb name for essentially a soup bar with bread bowls, if my baking skills ever come around. Mac-and-cheese Mania, where they can pick from a few styles, like Mexican, Philly Cheesesteak and more? (I’ve actually done this somewhere else before; I’d forgotten all about it!)

A peanut butter and jelly bar has endless potential, but endless allergy risks, too.

If you have ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Photo credit


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