It was more than twenty years ago that holidays were not mine but I still feel so blessed this time of year that I am no longer a chef. That I get to cook for family and friends, not golfers from the north. There was always a little spite in my step as I took our family stuffing recipe and multiplied it by ten, baked it outside the turkeys in hotel pans and kept them warm in the hot box. I also felt a little guilty, debasing the family tradition in this way.
So in an effort to tell the world, “Oh yeah! No Thanksgiving for me and my cooks? I’ll show you!” –– I told all my cooks: “Dinner at my house when we’re off work.”
I called the event, “Thanksgiving for Orphans.” For in a way we were all orphans, or we wouldn’t be working on this blessed holiday. There was Steve, my often bull-headed sous chef and recently separated-from-his-family; line cook Eddie, the apartment-down-the-street-from-the-club-dweller, whose bipolar attitude I always tried to stay on the right side of; Ron, who was like a father to us, whose wife was spending the holidays with her family; a seasonal prep girl from Michigan who drove a giant black SUV; and lovable Fran, a recovering alcoholic whose etched face showed years of drug and alcohol abuse and who liked to, while cooking, sing Steve Miller’s song with his own lyrics: “I Shot the Sous Chef.”
After scrubbing down the kitchen, and making off with pans of stuffing sliced turkey and mashed potatoes, at eleven PM we all were sitting around my dining room table, except for Fran, who was hitting an AA meeting before coming over. The rest of us were heavy drinkers but I had O-Douls in the fridge for Fran. Stephen was home from his shift at the hotel. Daughter, put down in her fairy princess bed after being picked up at the sitter’s. I’d whipped up some shrimp Creole and Lafayette Lettuce –– sautéed grated zucchini and yellow squash with garlic, butter and Creole seasoning –– so our food spread wouldn’t be a total rehash of our work-a-day. We scraped buffet leftovers from the hotel pans into miss-matched casserole dishes and arranged them on the table as if they were fresh from the oven. We ate, drank wine, made crude jokes, made fun of management, drank more wine, ate pumpkin pie I’d made the day before and drank some more. A good time was had by all and Fran drove all the drunks home.
The next morning, those of us at work shared wan hangover smiles. We showed the world, didn’t we.