Men At Work: Turkey Day LA Style

This year was the first in 28yrs that I wasn't home for Thanksgiving. (Hold off on the tissues, Mom, I kept it light). While I missed my family dearly, I finally had an excuse to partake in my friend's family's epic Thanksgiving cook-off. The tradition started 19yrs ago by her father and a few wise men, referred to as 'the Founding Fathers'. Their job is to coordinate and judge a spectacular men-only culinary competition. Starting in the wee hours of the morning with bloody mary's in hand, the men take over the kitchen (garage, backyard, and living room) and create an obscenely large feast for 40+ attendees. The competition is taken very seriously, with tons of thought and preparation beforehand, including step-by-step directions, video walk-throughs, and even the occasional diagram drawn by a well-meaning girlfriend. It should be noted however, that while the day appears to be run by a male oligarchy, there is an overriding female presence - known to some as Jan, others as Mom, but as God to me, for any woman who allows twenty men to take over her kitchen must possess some sort of divine powers.

One of the Founding Fathers:

For the past 10yrs I have heard stories about their family's unique Thanksgivings. There are tales of live turkeys butchered on premise, wild turkeys hunted pre-Thanksgiving, and most famously, baby turkeys accidentally slaughtered by their curious canine. They've had all types of turkey preparations: deep fried, turduckened, brined, roasted. Countless types of stuffings. Endless varietals of spuds. You name it, they've done it. They might be the most practiced Thanksgiving family to date. When my boyfriend and I were invited to join in the festivities and I was told that I could not dress in drag to compete, I knew it was time to get serious about his dish. I may or may not have put my boyfriend through the paces of his dish a few times the week before (I have never eaten so many brussels sprouts). It's not that I didn't trust his culinary prowess, it's just that I don't lose well. I mean we. To say he was a good sport is an enormous understatement. We're already practicing for next year (poor guy). The rules, as I now understand them, after breaking many:

  1. Each year the Founding Fathers deliberate and choose a Master Chef.
  2. The Master Chef is responsible for the main act: Turkey and Stuffing.
  3. To be considered for Master Chef, one must have a college degree OR be at least 26yrs of age.
  4. All male attendees must cook* a dish. No cook, no eat.
  5. All cooking must be on premises. This includes prep work.
  6. All chefs must leave behind a copy of their recipe, to be included in their Ultimate Thanksgiving Cookbook, which I hope to eventually earn a copy of.
  7. No help whatsoever from the women, regardless of how pushy they are.
*cook (kook) v. cookedcook·ingcooks
1. To prepare (food) for eating by applying heat.
2. To prepare or treat by heating.
3. Doing more than arranging the food on a platter.

I wouldn't call myself a trouble maker, per se. I just have difficulty following directions. I doubt I've ever completed a recipe start to finish exactly as instructed. Some call it 'making it their own'. I call it rebelling. I am so badass. When it came to the rules of the day, I struggled with Rule #7. Although it's not entirely my fault. When it comes to holidays, rest just isn't in the cards for my family - it's not in our blood. At holidays past, we've caught my 80yr old Grandmother on a ladder cleaning her gutters before company arrived. In my house you should expect to work harder on holidays than any other day of the year. You can also expect to eat, drink and sleep harder than any other day of the year (and no later than 9pm and always on the couch). It's just how we do it and I would have it no other way. We even coined a term for this particular holiday:

                        - noun 
1.    The American holiday held on the fourth Thursday of November traditionally signified by the giving of thanks, eating of Turkey and being cranky due to staying out too late the night before and being awoken too early to do chores, while feeling less than optimal.

Origin: Huntington, NY circa 1998. 

So you see, it was physically impossible for me not to help this Thanksgiving, even though I got scolded more this holiday than holidays in the past. Luckily I was able to use my rookie status as an excuse for my neurosis this year, as I was constantly shooed out of the kitchen, ordered to 'drop the spoon or else', and banned from the prep area for hovering. Eventually I was quarantined to the side of the house where I was handed bloody marys while I paced in small circles. It's genetic - just ask my brother.

The beautifully lit patio:

The Prep Kitchen:

One of three ovens in use:

Serious concentration:

The dish I didn't help with at all.

The Master Chef in his serious coat:

Caught red handed. (Though this is clearly breakfast, as I'm in my pj's, so it shouldn't really count).

Beautifully presented infused vodkas to keep the ladies at bay.

The final result:

While I haven't gotten my hands on their Ultimate Thanksgiving Cookbook just yet, I can share what we, I mean, my boyfriend cooked for the feast:

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Figs adapted and changed (obviously) from NYT's recipe
(serves 4)
  • 2T olive oil
  • 8 ounces thick cut bacon or pancetta, chopped
  • 1lb Brussels sprouts, stems trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 cup fresh figs, stemmed and quartered (dried can be used if out of season)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2T balsamic vinegar, more to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 375
  2. In a large baking pan, sprinkle bacon in an even layer and cook in a high heat oven until crisp, approximately 10 minutes.
  3. Remove bacon from pan and set aside on a paper towel.
  4. Add sprouts to the pan with the olive oil. Shake to coat. Salt and pepper to taste. Roast for 30 minutes until golden, but not charred.
  5. Add figs and continue cooking until slightly browned on the edges, about 10-15 minutes. 
  6. Crumble bacon on top.
I don't know how, but this cranberry chutney was made ahead of time and showed up to the Thanksgiving table. I had nothing to do with it.

And I made it past 9pm!

Happy Cranksgiving,
- The Heat