“Cooking up something good,” Matt Demarco
Dennis, the Chef at Stratton’s, worked hard to develop and execute a top-quality “Continental” menu, using the best ingredients and CIA-grade culinary techniques, but was not particularly interested in creating new dishes, securing a Michelin star, or adding to his 10 hour/6 six-day work week. He carefully guarded his day off, attended every possible Dodger game with his girlfriend Bea, and loved a rowdy night out. So when he lobbied Gene, Stratton’s owner, to open for dinner on Thanksgiving, the restaurant staff was puzzled: Dennis—extra hours, new menu, work on a holiday?
And his proposed menu was complicated: truffled mushroom soup, spinach soufflé, turkey ballotine, dauphinoise potatoes, vegetable tian, and chocolate mousse. Gene, who had been badgering Dennis to open for breakfast, liked the idea of another revenue day and approved the menu. His only request was the addition of his mother’s cranberry relish.
Dennis ordered ten, 15-pound fresh turkeys from Guss Meat and the boning marathon began. I hit my stride at the third turkey, by number seven I no longer had feeling in my fingers, and the last one was a bony blur. But…should the opportunity to bone a fresh, fifteen pound turkey arise, I’m your man.
The cooks boned, stuffed, tucked, whipped, sliced, diced, layered, and folded. The servers leaned on the pass, moaning and whining, trying to avoid Gene’s mother. She found them, marched them into the dining room, and stood arms folded as they centerpieced the tables with pop-up pilgrims, turkeys, and corn stalks.
11:47—the tables are set (despite the server’s protests), the turkeys are ballotined (despite the “that-needs-a-few-stitches” incident), and the wine is decanted (despite the “who’s-the-boss-here” tussle between Gene’s mother and Lennart, the manager)—let the eating begin.
12:15—let the eating begin, any time now.
12:30—must be a late crowd.
1:00—let the eating begin, please.
1:15—two regulars from the condo across the street come in with their grown, bored children.
1:30—the servers are lounging in front of the pass complaining about no tips and sneaking decanted wine from the sommelier’s table. The dishwashers are playing HORSE in the alley with Dennis. Lennart, Linda, and I are sitting on the prep table listening to Prairie Home Companion.
2:00—Bob the bartender sends beers to the kitchen, shots to Dennis, and sherry to Gene’s mother.
2:30—Gene calls it a day, opens the Champagne, and pours it into our plastic 7-Eleven cups.
3:00—Dennis, Bea, and I drive to the Gospel Mission with six turkeys (ballotined), two quarter pans of potatoes, one gallon of truffled mushroom soup, twenty-six ramekins of spinach soufflé, a quart of cranberry relish, and a bagful of paper pilgrims, turkeys, and cornstalks.
Gene Stratton’s Mother’s Cranberry Relish
- 4 c. cranberries
- 2 oranges
- 1 c. pecans
- 1 c. diced celery
- 2 c. sugar
- 1 pkg. raspberry gelatin
- 1 3⁄4 cup water
Grind cranberries, oranges (including peel), pecans, and celery through food grinder.
Dissolve sugar in hot gelatin/water.
Cool, add ground ingredients.
Chill until set.