August 18, 2008
Chef Earnest Ouellett
Al Fresco Flair

Chef Earnest Ouellett thinks outside the box when it comes to packing a picnic. Who else would have thought to propose a fondue? His approach is so simple, though, it makes us wonder why we haven’t been bringing fondue to picnics all along.

Having grown up in northern Idaho, Ouellett points out that he was not raised in proximity to things considered gourmet or luxurious. His is more of an instinctual “Why not?” philosophy, a delightful meeting of grass-roots common sense with serious culinary training. And his approach to picnicking? “The most important thing,” he shrugs, “is that it’s fun.”

After a short course in culinary skills at his local community college, Ouellett made the big leap to the venerable Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. He dreamed of coming to the Sun Valley Resort to work with Dave Moorehead, “a really great chef.” The dream came true:

Ouellett completed the CIA’s required “externship” with Moorehead—and then, quite luckily for Hailey, found his way to local hotspot Zou 75, and a burgeoning following of devoted fans.

Generally, Ouellett’s approach to picnicking is pure Idaho-style: Add fire. His bent, true to its roots, is meat and potatoes going one better. For a picnic celebrating the birth of his son, Ouellett marinated elk meat, then ground it and mixed it with sausage to create his version of a real burger for the grill. “You know, instead of just the usual potato salad and basic hamburgers with iceberg lettuce and a tomato. I guess I like to show off any chance I get,” he says with a grin.

For this picnic challenge, in lieu of a barbeque or campfire, he opted for a more condensed version of applying heat—the fondue pot. Ouellett totes his full-size stainless steel fondue pot to a picnic site, but Dick Wright, of Hailey’s The Cluttered Kitchen, suggests using a delightful, smaller version made of rustic ceramic, with a mostly enclosed bottom section to keep the wind off the flame.

Prepare the recipe ahead of time and carry the solidified fondue mixture to the picnic site in a resealable plastic bag. Add a bit of wine, and relax while the fondue heats in its pot. Ouellett proposes enjoying a favorite spring roll while waiting for the fondue to reach its best temperature. He insists that everyone has a favorite spring roll, and that they are easy to make with recipes found “everywhere.” While that may be true, the fact remains that people travel from every point in the Valley to taste his version at Zou 75. (Fortunately for us, Zou often makes them to go.)

Ouellett’s picnic menu: Swiss and Gruyere Fondue with Poached Shrimp, Garlic-Herbed Vegetables, and Crostini; Mixed Baby Greens with Soy-Ginger Vinaigrette; L’Ecole Columbia Valley “Barrel Fermented” Semillon, 2002. Crème Anglaise Fondue with Fresh Fruit; Three Rivers Biscuit Ridge Vineyard Late Harvest Gewürztraminer, 2002.

Swiss and Gruyere Fondue

1 cup white wine
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, cubed or shredded
8 ounces Emmentaler cheese
2 tablespoons additional white wine
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 clove garlic

Slice garlic in half and rub over the interior of the fondue pot. Pour white wine into pot and warm slowly. Make sure wine does not boil. (Boiling would diminish flavor, and the sauce would not hold.) When wine is warm, add cheese slowly – 1/2 to 1 ounce at a time, letting each addition melt completely before adding the next. Be patient, even if it “doesn’t look right.” When the last ounce of cheese is added, the sauce will come together to make a creamy, smooth fondue. Make a slurry out of the cornstarch and additional wine, adding to fondue to finish the sauce.

Poached Shrimp and Garlic-Herbed Vegetables


12 peeled and de-veined shrimp
1 quart water
1/2 cup white wine
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
Old Bay Seasoning, if desired

Blend all ingredients except shrimp together, and bring to a boil. Drop shrimp into boiling mixture for 2-3 minutes. Immediately place shrimp into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Keep chilled.


Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 1 T. butter
1/8 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon fresh dill leaves
10 button mushrooms
10 asparagus spears
10 baby carrots
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 head broccoli, cut into florets

1. Bring pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Blanch carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, and asparagus until just tender. Quickly drop into ice bath to stop the cooking process.

2. Heat 10-inch sauté pan, add olive oil and garlic. Sauté just until the aroma rises, then carefully add rice wine vinegar and lemon juice. Reduce liquid by half, and add herbs. Sauté an additional minute, then add mushrooms. Continue cooking until mushrooms are soft. Pour mushrooms and liquid over blanched vegetables. Toss lightly and chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.
3. Serve with small cubes of toasted bread.

Vanilla Cream Fondue with Fresh Fruit

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
8 tablespoons sugar
5 egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla bean
Assorted fruits cut into bite-size pieces. Chef Ouellett suggests strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cantaloupe and honeydew melon.

1. If using vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise and use the back of a knife to scrape out the seeds.
2. Mix cream, milk, vanilla seeds, and 4 tablespoons sugar in a heavy pot. Bring to simmer. Be careful not to boil. In separate bowl, whisk together egg yolks and additional 4 tablespoons sugar. Slowly add 1/2 cup simmering milk mixture to egg mixture, whisking constantly. When 11/2 cups of milk mixture have been added to egg mixture, stir back into the simmering pot of milk. Do not boil. Simmer fondue mixture until desired thickness. Fondue will thicken additionally as it cools. If using vanilla extract, add now, incorporating thoroughly.


Inspired by her new culinary heroes, and steadfastly refusing to “rough it” anymore, Managing Editor Deb Gelet hopes to have perfected a sublime picnic by summer’s end. 



This article appears in the Summer 2004 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.