At lunch hour on Tuesday, New Haven residents bought raclette, a cheese-based dish native to Switzerland, from America’s first raclette tricycle-cart.
Owner Adil Chokairy, who also owns the restaurant and food cart Crêpes Choupette, and his employees served plates of roasted potatoes, ham, bread, white pearl onions and pickles covered with melted raclette cheese on the sidewalk near College and Grove Streets for the cart’s grand opening. Called “Raclette Les 4 Vallées,” the cart sells the Swiss dish for six to seven dollars a plate.
“The idea was only an idea, but it’s thanks to Yale students and Yale faculty members that we’re able to operate,” Chokairy said.
Though a large share of Chokairy’s crêpe cart business is made up of Yale-affiliated buyers, the raclette cart still needs to build its own customer base. On its first day, the cart brought a lot of curiosity from students, but since many were unfamiliar with the dish, few people purchased plates, said employees working the cart around 1:45 p.m.
The inspiration for the tricycle-cart and restaurant combination of Raclette Les 4 Vallées stemmed from Anthony Chokairy, the owner’s nephew who moved from Valais, where he used to live with the rest of his family, to New Haven last year.
“Every weekend, I went to my grandmother’s house, and we ate raclette,” Chokairy said.
Now, Chokairy wants to share this cultural aspect from his upbringing with New Havenites.
Unlike Chokairy’s crêpe cart, many students do not recognize the type of food Raclette Les 4 Vallées serves. Out of 10 Yale students surveyed in Bass Café, nine were familiar with crêpes but only two had heard of the dish raclette.
One student, Thomas Gmür ’18, shares a home with raclette: the Swiss Canton of Valais.
“There’s a festive aspect to it, people enjoy having it together,” Gmür said of the dish.
Authentic raclette cheese, which Raclette Les 4 Vallées serves, is produced from cows that live in the pastures of Valais, Gmür explained. The semi-soft cheese liquefies easily, so it is melted with either a raclette machine, the method used by Raclette Les 4 Vallées to melt its cheese, or a wood-burning fire.
According to Gmür, when eating raclette, people avoid drinking carbonated drinks since the cheese is “pretty fatty.” At Raclette Les 4 Vallées, a traditional accompaniment, hot tea, will be available for purchase at the cart, Chokairy said. Eventually, Chokairy plans to serve white wine with the raclette, but he will only serve that at the upcoming Raclette Les 4 Vallées restaurant.
The restaurant will be located next door to Crêpes Choupette on Whitney Avenue and plans to open by February of next year. On Oct. 21, Chokairy signed the lease for the building, which was previously occupied by Tony’s Orangeside Donuts.
The raclette cart is the latest addition to Adil Chokairy’s businesses in New Haven. The Paris native started in June 2014 with his crêpe cart and after much success, opened the permanent location on September 2015.
A wheel of raclette cheese weighs 13 pounds.