My most memorable meal: Claudia Winkleman
The Strictly Come Dancing host dips into the memory of an early date with her husband-to-be.
I am a big believer in hot food. I find summer a sort of disgrace, mainly because I am never going to want a salad or a piece of fennel or a small tart with beetroot in it. I also have a love affair with cheese, it is my life. I could talk about it until your ears bleed. When I was about 25, Kris, my later-to- be-husband, took me out for a meal in a Swiss restaurant, in London (definitely not Switzerland – we could just about afford Tube fare at that stage).
It was probably our fifth or sixth date. It was a cold night, which I love. I love winter clothes, I like it getting dark at four, I like twinkly lights, pubs. I don’t really like the outdoors or sunlight, my body no longer recognises the sun and can only cope with tan if it is in a bottle. I like big boots, socks, skinny jeans, an oversize sweater. So that was what I wore that November night. December is the sexiest month but November is not far off.
So we tumbled in, the sleet fell off our shoulders, everything candlelit around us. It was quite noisy, but that is cute on a date because you don’t have to fill in all the natural gaps. As I recall it might possibly have been a comedy restaurant – people were in lederhosen. Kris said: ‘Have you had fondue?’ I didn’t quite hear and slightly panicked. But then it all became clear and we were off. I remember being led to the table and sitting down next to a Bunsen burner – I thought maybe we were doing some kind of science lesson.
But then they brought out the hot cheese in a bowl and chunks of bread to put in it. We were talking, flirting, the cheese was bubbling. I found the whole thing magical. Hot cheese is deeply erotic... heady. I think there was alcohol in it. It was shiny and it gleamed in the candlelight. You put the bread on quite a dangerous skewer and then you do the twirling motion. It was singularly the greatest taste sensation of my life. All this time you are drinking very cold beer.
I am not very good at drinking but have always thought that, if I was, I would be the kind of person who drinks a bottle of beer because it looks cool. I think you aren’t really supposed to eat the whole thing, but by the end I had the whole pot over my head as I was shaking out every last bit of a cheese. I was not chic. For pudding we had supersoft chocolate mousse. By the way, I would never have chocolate fondue. Because it is not cheese. It was a very romantic evening.
There is some theatre in fondue, not the sort of theatre where somebody fillets a seabass in front of you or arrives with a tower of seafoam, that wouldn’t be my thing. But it’s a treat. I think I have only had fondue about three times since. When something is so magical, like an amazing concert or a great kiss, you can’t try and replicate it. If I do have it again, it wouldn’t have to be with my husband: I am happy to be unfaithful in terms of fondue.
And I swear that if I marry again it will be to a piece of Gorgonzola. My husband, luckily, is also a very big fan of cheese. And so when our son came home from school one day – he was 14, the age when they get involved all those clubs like Dungeons & Dragons or geography – and said he and his mate had started a cheese appreciation society, well, we knew we’d got things right. When I say cheese, his favourites are Babybel and Dairylea...
Claudia Winkleman’s new observations-on-life book Quite is published in hardback by HQ HarperCollins, £16.99. Also available in eBook and audiobook.