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The Omelette Surprise—otherwise known as the “Omelette Norvégienne” or the “Baked Alaska”—is a savory dessert that the Hotel Waldhaus Sils served when it first opened in 1908. After a brief time in which the dish was no longer prepared, the kitchen staff decided to resurrect the Omelette Surprise during the hotel’s 111th anniversary. Now offered at the Chef’s Table, the Hotel Waldhaus Sils creates the Omelette Surprise fresh for its guests to enjoy.

Consisting of a sponge cake, ice cream, and meringue, the Omelette Surprise is an exhilarating experience for any fan of the culinary arts. It is also a fairly historic dish, although most historians today are unsure as to its exact origins. Most tales start with the International Exposition of 1867, which was organized in Paris by Emperor Napoleon III. When a delegation of Chinese aristocrats reserved a block of rooms at the Grand Hotel, its own head chef decided to create a magnificent dessert as a way to impress them. Furthermore, the chef endeavored to have the dessert act as a tribute to science. The chef subsequently looked to the culinary experiments conducted by Benjamin Thompson, who established the modern theories of heat convection while studying abroad in Bavaria earlier in the century. A lifelong friend of Thomas Jefferson, Thompson discovered that heat moved as a series of small molecules that were often influenced by varying degrees of density. He demonstrated his point by showing that egg whites beaten in meringue behaved more like an insulator. As such, culinary items like ice cream could endure temperatures well beyond the point of freezing without melting.

The chef at the Grand Hotel ultimately decided to make a dish that would commemorate Thompson’s use of food for his scientific experiments. As such, he conceived of a dessert that would use vanilla ice cream surrounded by a lightly baked—then flambéed—meringue. The egg whites in the meringue would prevent the ice cream from melting in the oven, just like in Thompson’s earlier demonstrations. When the chef finally presented his creation to the Chinese delegation, he christened the dish as the “Omelette Norvégienne” or the “Norwegian Omelette.” In his speech before the diners, the chef commemorated the dessert in Thompson’s memory. But when the chef explained that Thompson had conducted his experiments in Bavaria, he mistakenly placed the region’s general location in Norway, hence the name! (Interestingly, the Norwegians now refer to the dish as the “fransk isbombe,” meaning the “French Ice Bomb.”) The Omelette Norvégienne became an overnight culinary sensation across the continent, as chefs in every country attempted to mimic the original recipe. Yet, the chef to truly make the dessert a staple on many European menus was Jean Giroix, who made the Omelette Norvégienne a leading dish for the renowned Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo. The Omelette Norvégienne also established itself on the other side of the Atlantic in America, specifically at New York City’s celebrated Delmonico’s Restaurant. Yet, the chefs inside the venue opted to call the dessert the “Baked Alaska” in honor of the newly acquired territory—and future state—that had joined the Union shortly after the American Civil War.

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