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While chef Melissa Kelly has received nationwide acclaim for her culinary artistry at the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company Inn in upstate New York, no single dish of Kelly's creation is likely to give her mother more pleasure than her interpretation of that Seventies staple, Swiss fondue.

"My mother was famous for her fondue," says Kelly. "When I was growing up on Long Island, she used to make the classic Gruyère kind, usually accompanied by a salad. It was a fun dinner for my brother, my sister and me--and about half the neighborhood. We almost always ended up inviting a bunch of our friends over on fondue nights." 

Between this early childhood exposure and her current position at Old Chatham Sheepherding (which is not merely an inn, but a working sheep farm with a dairy herd numbering close to 1,000), Kelly seemed an ideal person to consult about cooking with cheese. When food & wine asked her for a menu, she decided on fondue. After experimenting with fresh sheep's milk cheese--delicious, but more like cream sauce than fondue--she made a traditional Swiss fondue for her fiancé, Price Kushner, the inn's baker and pastry chef, and her brother, Mark, who was visiting. 

Along with the Swiss fondue, Kelly served herb and onion pizzettes, as well as a prosciutto and shaved fennel salad. For dessert, she and Price made individual quince tartes Tatins. "We collaborate on ideas, usually on our days off," Kelly says, "because even though we both work at the inn, we don't actually see each other very often. I usually finish at about 1 a.m., and two hours later Price is getting ready to leave for work." 

It's a schedule that seems to preclude the possibility of many romantic meals for this recently engaged pair. Still, Kelly says, the success of this fondue menu inspired her to consider future fondue incarnations: "Chocolate fondue. Now that could be very romantic."

Published February 1998
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