Thanksgiving has come and gone, and for many tired hosts, sighs of relief breeze through the nation. As someone who has never known a small Thanksgiving (less than ten guests), I’ve always understood the stress involved in organizing a large Thanksgiving (15-30 guests) — what’s basically a small wedding every year.
Whether it’s “where do the aunts/uncles/cousins stay?” or “who will be around for the night before, and how many pizzas should we order?” (being from Chicago, it became a family tradition to have Chicago-style deep-dish the night before the big meal, to entertain all the out-of-town family members, for whom it was a once-a-year novelty), followed by the equally pragmatic, “is 10 pounds enough potatoes?”
These are, no doubt, questions that befall every household during every major holiday– or gathering of any kind, for that matter. For Thanksgiving in particular, the specifics in my house frequently came to how the main dishes were going to be prepared: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, pie, green beans, rolls, and a litany of other T-Day staples I’m sure I’ve left out, all of which are individually planned.
Once I started cooking professionally (by which point, certain routines were already well-oiled machines), my mother (the Executive Chef of the Thanksgiving show) was always very respectful of not asking me to do more cooking than I was willing to, in that, for me it was a “busman’s holiday”, as she called it. But she would ask my “expertise” on things like gravy, stuffing, and “Okay, for a 14 pound bird: how long would you cook it?” These are things I never minded answering, and I usually wound up doing a little more cooking since I volunteered. But it never failed as to what the largest source of contention was, and I happen to think that’s the case any time a person tries to entertain a large group of people in their home.
Recently, my fiance submitted a polite request for me to get some food started for dinner while she was on a business call. The requests were simple, and I hadn’t a complaint at all complying with all of them. But there was the unavoidable logistical problem of the cooking time and temperatures of each item: “Item 1” needed 25 minutes at 375F. “Item 2” needed 12 minutes at 300F, and “Item 3” needed 16 minutes at 425F. And like many other homes in the country, we only have one oven.
Now this wasn’t my fiance being a pain. No more-so than it’s a pain to expect turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans and gravy to all be hot and on the table at the same time. It does, however, underscore an issue that is very common when a host tries to coordinate all of the things that go into hosting a meal for 15-20: a kitchen (be it home or professional) can only produce the particular food as the space and equipment allows.
In any professional kitchen, space and resources are already at a premium. I’ve worked in grandiose kitchens with equipment most accurately described as royal; however in hindsight, I prefer working in the tight (what many might call “cramped”) kitchens where everything is within arms reach and a step and a half away. That is, until you’re asked to do a private event or party — anything asking you to up your production, without any kind of increase in man-power or resources — in addition to regular service. In cases like these, it’s almost immediately clear that you’re ill-equipped to perform the task at-hand. The problems are imminent and there always ends up being a Chef or Sous Chef saying/yelling, “Just fucking make it happen!” You find a way to make it work, but throughout a career of facing these types of tasks I’ve found myself pushing to make the improbable possible, all the while asking myself how I would have done it differently. This is where the home cook comes in…
Most party-planners only think of the menu and what they can bring to the table (figuratively and literally) to impress the guests. Very rarely does the host think about the logistics of serving lobster over fettuccine alfredo, with a side of seared brussles sprouts. Seems like a decadent, yet simple and steadfast menu, yes?
Well that very menu requires five burners (most home stoves have four), two large pots for water — one for lobster and one for pasta (very few home kitchens have even one pot large enough to cook a whole lobster). We’re also now assuming you’re doubling the pot of water for pasta to blanche the sprouts. Hold on, there are chemical issues (the starch from the pasta or the chlorophyll from the sprouts taints the water for whichever goes second) to take into account there, but let’s assume you’re all over that. Now you need to free up another burner for the pan to sear the sprouts, and also make this alfredo sauce. That can be made somewhat easily, but keeping it hot without breaking or burning it (referred to as “holding”) is another story entirely.
By now, you should be uncomfortably aware of this untenable situation you’ve found yourself in, not unlike that of a Thanksgiving dinner. Obviously, Thanksgiving dinners are pulled off all the time, with relative success — as are intimate lobster/pasta-alfredo dinners at home. But neither are done with precision and accurate timing, resulting in simultaneously steamy and tasty results, or at least not to the extent as elegantly depicted on the Hallmark channel.
While I’m not suggesting you have to create an itemized timeline, breaking down prep tasks and cooking tasks, it might not be the worst idea. Most times when you find yourself in the midst of a logistical crisis, you immediately think of an easy way you could have avoided the problem entirely, with just a little pre-planning. But sometimes, you just have to embrace your inner professional cook and, “just fuckin’ make it happen!”
One thought on “How to Make It Happen Before “Just F*** Make It Happen!” Happens”
I love your recipes. I’ve moved a lot of them to Pinterest. I’ve been cooking since 1965! As a new bride;!I only knew how to bake but not make a meal with real food My mom was an excellent cook and everything was delicious.
She didn’t want any of us (7) in the kitchen with her. She relented when it came to desserts. She made everything from scratch and so do I.
I still can’t make gravy or poached eggs. I’ve become an excellent cook myself after all these years. When we had potlucks at worrk , they all waited to see what I brought. I did win our chili
🌶️ cook off one year.