FUNNY WOMEN #128: At This Fondue Restaurant, the Word Is “Romance”


Welcome to the Steaming Crock, where we empower you to transform raw chunks of meat into cooked chunks of meat! Here, the lighting is dim and the word is “Romance.”

I will now turn on the burners in the middle of your table. Move your hand back, Sir and Ma’am. Don’t touch the burner, the pots, or their handles. It’s best to sit with your hands quietly and cautiously folded in your lap until I instruct you otherwise.

While the burners heat, please take time to admire our décor and general aesthetic. Look, now. Most of our artwork exemplifies the Illuminated Dyed Liquid Behind Plastic School, popularized in Peoria in 1982. Its artists were inspired by the Jell-O salad, whose opaque bits of cottage cheese or cabbage render the translucent surroundings all the more captivating. The sculpture on your left is called “Tiara in Pink Liquid, with Bubbles,” and the installation on your right is “Red Rose in Sarcophagus, Simmering in Blue Liquid.” The Steaming Crock paid above asking price for them at the auction of an abandoned storage unit. All the artworks light up, which is helpful because things get dark in here. Darkness is what makes it so romantic.

Ah, I see that we’re steaming now. Why has water vapor begun to rise from the burners before any liquids have been placed on them? Theater, my new friends, the theater of romance!

As I prepare the cheese fondue, I will start with the pot on the burner closest to me, and then rotate that pot to the burner farthest from me, and meanwhile I’ll keep talking about the whole alchemy of this art we call fondue. First, I pour in the beer base. Plenty of garlic!Daly1 Now, the Worcestershire sauce! Now the shredded cheese, which I’ll dispense from this plastic bag.

Take a moment to let the cheese congeal, and then, dish in!

Now stop dishing, immediately, because your entrees have arrived. You see, we’ve cut up the raw meat into manageable chunks and arranged them on a plate with a sprig of parsley, just as one might present dinner to high-class dogs.

Yes, Sir and Ma’am, the entrees arrive raw. That’s our whole thing. Isn’t it romantic to cook dinner the way your ancestors might have, over an open flame in the dark, praying to your animist gods that the cookfire will keep ravening wolves and youth at bay?

Cook the salmon for roughly two minutes. Cook the beef for exactly four minutes. Cook the chicken for exactly five minutes. Do not violate these cooking times. You have been warned. Now I will distribute release forms for you to sign.

If you should cook a piece of chicken or pork and then cut into it and discover it is still pink inside—I know, it’s hard to tell with this lighting, but guess—just pop it back into the pot and immediately summon me by pressing that red button to replace your plate. Do not proceed with contaminated dishware. This constitutes your legal and binding warning. Here is another release form.

Ma’am, you seem to have been attending to every word I’ve said, so I’ll give you the honor of holding the Spoon of Last Resort. Should any morsel escape your fondue fork, just scoop it out with this, and then hook the spoon over the handle of the pot. Do not leave the spoon inside the pot or you risk a scalding. Why yes, another release form.

Sir, I must note that you’ve committed a breach of protocol: Do not eat directly from the fondue forks! You might well suffer a lip scorching! Instead, transfer the morsel to your plate. Always move the raw food from the platter to the pot of boiling broth, and then to your plate, and then use your regular fork to eat with your mouth. Please feel free to apply the myriad dipping sauces in the order and combination of your unique palate choosing.

As a matter of fact, I am going to stand here talking for the duration of your dinner. There’s a lot to go over. Communication is romantic.

I notice that you’re not making eye contact with one another. Did you have a fight? None of my business? Well actually it’s part of my job description. Sir, if you would stare into Ma’am’s eyes and—no! There’s a pot of boiling oil between you! Do not reach for her hand!Daly2 But do gaze deeply into Ma’am’s eyes and ask her the meaningful questions you’ll find on that cheese-splattered laminated sheet.

How are you supposed to do all that talking and gazing while cooking your meat? Look, you need to keep on your toes here. This is fondue. If you wanted someone else to cook your four-course dinner, then you should have gone elsewhere. My throat is a bit parched from all this chatter—may I have a swig of your wine?

Ah, and now comes the melted chocolate, the dessert of romance! We at the Steaming Crock were the first to declare it socially acceptable to eat things dipped into a communal pot of runny chocolate.

I’ll put this pot of chocolate on the front burner, and then why not feed your beloved a piece of cake as you were obliged to at your wedding in accordance with strict cultural protocols? Nothing says, “I’m ready for romance” like molten chocolate oozing from the corners of your mouth! Here, let me show you.

Well, if you’re determined to leave before your meal is prepared, then I can’t keep you here against your will. (It’s all spelled out in release form 2C.) But won’t you consider us for Prom Night or Flag Day?


Rumpus original art by Annie Daly. Purchase Annie’s art here.


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Jenny Shank’s first novel, The Ringer, won the High Plains Book Award, and her stories, essays, satire, and reviews have appeared in the Atlantic, the Washington Post, the Guardian, Poets & Writers, Prairie Schooner, Alaska Quarterly Review, McSweeney's, The McSweeney's Book of Politics and Musicals, The Toast, Bust, and The Onion. More from this author →