Happy Hour Fondue


I have a strict rule on Fridays: no calls after 2. Wrap up work until 4. Then I open up my personal office for happy hour.

Not once has this actually happened. There’s something about late Friday afternoons that brings people out of the woodwork. There’s opposing counsel, checking off their list to call me and tell me that my latest settlement demand was categorically chortled at, but that I am kindly invited to make a “reasonable” demand for their further amusement. Then there are the clients, who start filling my email box with the patter and crescendo of an incoming storm, each email laden with multiple attachments –  such as page-by-page photographs of voluminous documents taken with a cell phone camera.

And the work that’s supposed to stop at 4? It never ceases. Yet we manage – once in a blue moon, perhaps as often as once a fortnight – to squeeze in … well, maybe not as much as a full hour, but several happy minutes. I turn on the music, put out some snacks, and a few bottles magically appear.

One of my office appliances is a mini-crockpot. I got the idea to make fondue in it, even though I actually own a fondue pot. When I was in college, my roommate’s girlfriend would sometimes make fondue, much to our delight. She always had the same three “dip-ins” – toasted English muffins, pieces of vegetarian sausage, and cherry tomatoes. It was a great memory. And in seeking to recreate it, turns out I’m not the only person who thought of using a crockpot.

Why not? It is ridiculously easy. This recipe is a traditional fondue, with Swiss cheeses, white wine and kirsch (cherry brandy). Just mix the ingredients and let it simmer in the crockpot. I even kick-started mine in the microwave – 30 seconds at a time with frequent stirring – because happy hour was delayed by all this stupid work.

The dip-ins are the fun part. A chewy French bread is mandatory. If you are lucky enough to visit the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market, get a loaf of bacon bread or cranberry walnut from White Lotus Farms, or the Kalamata Olive Twists from Millpond Bakery. Try steamed broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, sautéed mushroom caps, salami chunks, boiled new potatoes, even apples and pears. Gooey melted cheese can improve just about anything – including a long, trying work week.


12 ounces shredded Emmentaler or Jarlsberg cheese (about 5 cups)

12 ounces shredded Gruyère or Comté cheese (about 5 cups)

3 tablespoons cornstarch or all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons ground mustard

1 medium garlic clove, halved

1 1/2 cups dry white wine (a dry Riesling is nice)

1 tablespoon Kirsch (I skipped this. You can too, or put in a bit of apple brandy)


1. Toss the cheeses, cornstarch or flour, and ground mustard in a large bowl with your fingers until thoroughly combined; set aside.

2. If you have the luxury of a stove and saucepan: rub the cut sides of the garlic halves all over the inside of a medium saucepan. Add the wine and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the cheese mixture to the saucepan a handful at a time, stirring between additions, until all the cheese has been added and is melted, and a smooth mixture has formed. Add the Kirsch, if using, and stir to combine. Transfer to crock pot and serve.

3. If you just have the office microwave: Rub the cut sides of the garlic halves all over the inside of the crockpot (which should be a removeable bowl). Add the wine and bring to a boil in the microwave, about three minutes. Add the cheese mixture a handful at a time, microwaving and stirring for 30-second increments, until all the cheese has been added. Add the Kirsch, if using, and stir to combine. Transfer to the crockpot and heat on low, stirring occasionally until melted.
The beauty of the office crockpot is that you can let the fondue simmer away while you finish dealing with all the Friday afternoon crackpots. Er, I mean opposing counsel and valued clients. Then when it is time, crank up the music, serve the refreshments, and savor those Friday afternoon minutes of happiness while you’re watching the blue moon come over the horizon.


Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel, PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and wrote a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. Follow him at @nickroumel.