Executive chef at Chesa
Cheese fondue is the hotpot of the West. A bubbling pot of melted cheese and wine served over an open flame, this ultimate winter warmer is beloved in Europe, particularly in the Alps. “Cheese fondue is very important in Switzerland,” says Florian Trento, executive chef at The Peninsula Hong Kong’s Swiss restaurant, Chesa. “Almost every family has a pot and burner at home and will eat it once a month or even once a week during winter.”
Trento’s passion for cooking began with a one-week internship at a Swiss motorway rest stop with six food joints. He continued his culinary career in Saudi Arabia before moving to Hong
Kong in 1987 to join The Peninsula as sous chef. Twenty years on, Trento is now the group executive chef for The Peninsula Hotels and executive chef at Chesa.
As a teenager he would have cheese fondue with friends at a classmate’s home. “I used to have cheese fondue every Wednesday. We really enjoyed it, especially with the company of each other,” he says. “Also the discovery of Swiss white wines, which was especially great when you were only 16.”
Literally translating to “melted cheese”, fondue originates from the French part of Switzerland, where it is a national dish. It is typically enjoyed with cubes of bread for dunking and cold cuts or a salad are sometimes served beforehand. While fondues vary across Switzerland, it is the concept of sharing that draws diners to the dish. “Having fondue is a social activity. It is about sharing since it brings people together. Often we will have [fondue] for dinner since people will have more time to enjoy it.”
As jetting around the world becomes more common, so does the ability to experience different cuisines. Authenticity is important to Trento, so for Chesa’s classic fondue he uses two types of cheese – a mixture of mild and strong flavours – along with a touch of garlic and white wine. He recommends buying cheese from specialist stores rather than supermarkets since fresh cheese is the secret to a good fondue. “A good cheese should be around one year old. It can’t be too old or it will be too salty,” he says.
The melted cheese must be continuously stirred so it doesn’t burn. However, for a truly authentic finish to the meal, Trento recommends letting the last bit of cheese crisp up and turn golden brown at the bottom of the pot. Called la religieuse (French for “nun”), this cheesy crust has a crunchy bite. It is also common to add an egg to la religieuse to make a cheesy scrambled egg.
It’s not the only fondue tradition. “Anyone who loses his bread in the fondue has to buy a round of drinks for the table,” he says. It is traditionally paired with wine or alcoholic black tea to cut through the greasy goodness. According to Swiss lore, other liquids, water included, will cause the melted cheese to coagulate in your stomach and cause indigestion. Trento’s final tip is to have fun and enjoy sharing this great dish. “Fondue is a very easy dish to make, but it is about the atmosphere and the company you bring that makes the cheese fondue experience different,” he says.