Stepping into the Spruce Peak Whistlepig Pavilion is like being transported to a ski lodge in the Alps;
a massive stone fireplace with a crackling fire commands immediate attention, and a savory, toasty smell permeates the room. Guests are mesmerized by a cast iron contraption holding half a wheel of cheese, softening from the fire’s heat. A chef moves deftly around the dancing flames, his small stature and the fireplace’s huge height allowing him to enter the hearth to adjust embers and add logs. When the cheese has reached gooey perfection, he scrapes it from the wheel directly onto a number of tasty dish options: from French bread and mushrooms to marinated steak.
This inviting tableau depicts the Swiss tradition of raclette—with a Stowe twist. The name raclette—which comes from the French “to scrape”—refers to the cheese itself, the apparatus used to melt the cheese, and the overall dining experience. It is said to originate from shepherds in Switzerland’s French-speaking Valais region, with some sources dating the meal back as far as the year 1291. Needing cheap and satisfying food, roaming shepherds would melt cheese over a fire and eat it on bread or potatoes. Starting in the late 1800s, the dish gained fame in both the French and Swiss Alps (where much of the cheese is produced), solidifying its association with ski culture.
Popular for decades in Europe and slowly gaining traction in the U.S., raclette evokes slowing down and enjoying food with friends as an experience. The fire creates a convivial environment, and pools of silky cheese make for a hearty and warming meal that can be shared.
In the heart of Spruce Peak village, overlooking the ice skating rink, the warmth of the Whistlepig pavilion beckons. Inside, Chef Johel Kummer is in his element in the unique dining environment. Growing up in Providence, Rhode Island, he learned how to cook over an open fire from his mother, who taught Colonial cooking. The pavilion is the first opportunity he’s had to tap into that skill set as a professional chef, and his excitement for the open hearth is bringing new dishes to the scene.