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It’s true love when two dine from the same fondue pot

Sarah Lopez  helps JSzerszen 28 Courtney Pohlman 23 make their reservations for fondue Geja's Cafe for Valentine's Day. |

Sarah Lopez helps Jon Szerszen, 28, and Courtney Pohlman, 23, make their reservations for fondue at Geja's Cafe for Valentine's Day. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 12, 2013 8:14PM

What is it about thick melted cheese, boiling broth and chocolate you can’t eat with your hands that suggests romance?

There’s something about the Swiss national dish, fondue, that sends folks clamoring to the small number of local restaurants this time of year. Reservations for Valentine’s Day are a necessity, and the days surrounding the holiday of love are equally packed as couples line up to cook their own meal and then feed each other off long forks in a food trend closely affiliated with the 1970s.

“It’s just a fun thing to do with food,” said Carol Martorelli, 61, who has owned Fondue Stube, 2717 W. Peterson, since 1977. “It’s the intimacy of just sitting. Couples like to talk, and you can talk and your food doesn’t get cold because you cook it as you go along.”

Martorelli recently planned to retire but an outpouring of support from her customers convinced her to keep the fondue pots hot at Fondue Stube.

“Things go in streaks, and fondue kind of went real quiet for a little while,” she said. “And then there was a resurgence.”

Fondue, from the French word “fondre” (to melt), originated in the area were Switzerland, France and Italy meet. The earliest culinary reference to it was in a Swiss cookbook published in 1699 that explained the art of cooking cheese and wine together. While other culinary traditions have their own versions of fondue, like the broth-based Chinese hot pot or Japanese shabu shabu, none have cornered the romance market quite like the Swiss cheese-dominant version.

The romance of fondue lured Jim Magiera, 30, a West Loop attorney, to wait outside Geja’s Cafe, 340 W. Armitage, the morning of Saturday, Jan. 19. Geja’s, a 48-year-old Chicago fondue restaurant that supplements the romance with a flamenco guitarist and lots of dark wood, was opening up its Valentine’s Day reservation book at 9 a.m. that day.

“I’m no great fondue lover,” Magiera said. “I wanted to take the wife. She’s been talking about it, so here I am on a Saturday morning.”

Jeff Lawler, manager of Geja’s Cafe, said the formula for romance is simple. With fondue, two plates become one bowl — or caquelon, as the fondue pot is called.

“You go out to a normal restaurant or you make a nice dinner at home, you eat from your own plate,” he said. “You enjoy the food but you eat from your own plate.”

With fondue you’re “dipping into the same pot vs. eating from your own plate.”

Chocolate fondue brings couples together in another way, Lawler added: “How often as a couple do you roast marshmallows together?”

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