I think I've mastered the art of Thanksgiving. Sometimes it requires smashing bottles of wine for fun, or buying a turkey out of some lady's garage and letting it brine in a bucket on your porch.
Photo via Flickr user Vince FL
We used to serve Thanksgiving at Beast, and we would just do one sort of seating early in the evening around 5 PM. We only have 24 seats, but we would make three times as much food as we needed. We would make three turkeys, tons of stuffing—just go crazy overboard. We invite everyone in at 5, and the 24 people each pay a lot because it's endless wine and everything. It's totally family-style; we put it all out on the counter so you can take as much as you want. We sent everybody home with a little box of leftovers. It always sold out.
My sous-chef and I lived together then, and we were both single, so we were kinda in our party days. We would invite our friends over after everybody had left, and they would come and eat all the leftovers at 8, basically. Everyone would come and descend upon Beast, and we would have already been drinking for quite a long time.
This one time I remember, it was probably 2010, and everybody had been drinking a lot of Jameson out of the bottle during the evening. There was also lots of wine, and so by the time our friends showed up, they were also plowed because they had all gone to other Thanksgivings, too. So we were just making an insanity fest out of all of the leftovers, and eating off the counter.
I love the sound of breaking glass. I was wasted, so I was like, "That's awesome!" Having drunk a lot of Jameson, I started grabbing wine bottles and throwing them onto the ground.
I remember the first thing that happened was when somebody threw a whipped cream pie in the face of another person. It started this big whipped cream fight, and then someone knocked over an empty bottle of wine that was up on the counter onto the hard, concrete floors. It broke, and I love the sound of breaking glass. I was wasted, so I was like, "That's awesome!" thinking somebody had done it on purpose, and having drank a lot of a bottle of Jameson, I started grabbing wine bottles and throwing them onto the ground to hear the sound.
So, we're in the restaurant and breaking wine bottles onto the ground, and glass is flying everywhere, and somebody got cut, but everybody was fine. It got pretty out of control. It's one of the best memories ever, although I will say that the next morning when I woke up, all the lights in the restaurant were on, the door wasn't locked, I was the only person in there, and I was sleeping in front of the washer in the back. It was 5 AM.
It was quite a hangover with a lot of cleanup to do. Nothing like that has happened since then. In fact, that might've been the thing that made us all kinda slow down a little. That was sort of the pinnacle moment, and then everything got boring after that.
Nowadays, my family really enjoys having a very traditional dinner, having some booze, and then playing cards. Playing Cards Against Humanity with your parents—if you've never done that, you should know that your family must be pretty cool. My mom is pretty proper for the most part, so it's always really hilarious to see how hard she laughs at things. Some of the older family members wonder out loud about what a lot of the cards mean, so drunkenly explaining things to our parents that we never thought we would is hilarious.
My grandmother is from the South, so I like to do cornbread stuffing that has hazelnuts, apples, celery, and other sweet and savory things. I always cognac-brine my turkeys and stuff the inside, under the skin, with black truffle butter. One of my favorite dishes is a fancy riff on a green bean casserole, with a smoked gouda cheese sauce, chanterelle mushrooms, and crispy fried shallots.
To prepare my turkey, I do a 24-hour brine on it. You can put whatever you want in the brine. The only downside to brining your turkey is that you can't make gravy off of the drippings. So what I do is make turkey stock—in fact I basically make turkey demi-glace—by making a stock and reducing it way down, and then a make a gravy off of that.
I just call everybody in and say, "Look how pretty the turkey is!" and then I start fucking with it.
I always get heritage breed turkeys because I do think it makes a big difference. I buy what I call "illegal turkeys," so I go to this lady's garage who had a small turkey farm outside of Portland, and they only raise 100 birds a year or so. The woman slaughters them and brings them in the next day, so they're super fresh, and it's hilarious because they're in garbage bags in coolers packed with ice, just like dead bodies. She has a bathroom scale that she weighs them with, and it's kinda expensive, like 130 bucks a turkey. But, it's really, really delicious. I find that the meat is just a lot more flavorful, and the breast tastes more moist. It's not as breasty. The birds today are raised to be all breast basically, since that's what people like, whereas the heritage ones have more turkey flavor.
So much of Thanksgiving is about that presentation moment. Just like when I make a soufflé, I just call everybody in and say, "Look how pretty the turkey is!" and then I start fucking with it. When it comes to the table, it's already carved. You can get everybody to see it and you don't have to panic about it.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.
This post previously appeared on MUNCHIES in November 2014.