Last week, I was on about a funky timeless restaurant in Banff called The Grizzly House, and I posed the universal question: “What the heck is a hot rock?”
So, what are some likely answers to the posited query?
Hot rock is a smokin’ guitar band, rockin’ out some loud classic rock?
Hot rocks are the walls of the Cave and Basin Hot Springs sulphur caves? Those sizzling stones you pour water on in a sauna?
Or is a hot rock a reference to a type of dinner using a heated-up slab of stone to cook upon and that is often paired with a cheese fondue?
If it’s one of the few things I actually learned in high school, it’s when you have multiple choice questions on a test, the one with the most words is usually the answer.
This might be why I took so long to actually graduate, but in this case, yes, the answer is D – a dinner.
For those unfamiliar with hot rocks, or something called raclette, or perhaps Sweden, where this stuff was more or less invented, it’s pretty straightforward in the sense that it is the best dining experience ever created.
And The Grizzly House does it better than anyone.
So the “house special” consists of four courses: a starter salad, a traditional cheese fondue, a hot rock cookfest, and, as if you aren’t already in heaven, for dessert – a chocolate fondue.
They say the Swedes often take two to three hours to revel in this culinary adventure, and in fact, every time we go to The Grizzly House for the “special,” I am always tempted to ask if we can stay all night.
(I bet they have a “special” breakfast.)
I mostly ignore the salad, in anticipation of the classic cheese fondue. I mean, what’s better than dipping chunks of thick fresh bread in a pot of hot melted cheese?
And oh, what special cheese! This is where raclette comes in. After extensive research lasting several minutes, I determined that raclette is a special type of cheese, and it’s also often what the whole meal is referred to, and it’s also used to describe the hot rock cooking thingy itself.
Confusing, I know, but we all know how weird and whacky those lovely Swedes are.
So the hot rock (raclette) is simply a slab of granite, marble, or stony facsimile that is heated to a gazillion degrees in the oven and placed on a rack on the table with a couple of bowls of fire underneath to keep it hot.
The surface is smeared with garlic butter, and you chuck chunks of raw meat and veggies on there and happily cook away and chat with each other and sip nice cold barley beverages.
(Note: with hot rock sets like we have at home, you don’t need the fondue part on account of they have small pans you slide under the rock to melt the cheese (raclette), which you pour over your cooked stuff. Yum!)
In Banff, you can order the “Exotic Hot Rock,” which has everything from wild boar or buffalo meat to alligator, frog legs, ostrich or rattlesnake.
We tend to avoid those, depending on how many beverages are involved.
And let’s not forget the sauces. As if all this wasn’t enough, a hot rock is served with a segmented personal plate containing four or five delicious sauces for dipping.
So, really, a hot rock session at the restaurant or at your home is a foodie rainbow dream.
And the good news? Don’t quote me on this, but I think the hot rock gastronomic adventure is only about 1,000 calories. But that might be per bite.
Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker.