If there is one thing billionaires know it's how to give thanks on Thanksgiving (in my five years of cooking in Los Angeles I have had the pleasure of managing the kitchens of two). Giving thanks typically extends beyond the large, immediate family to include the giant, not-so-immediate family, close friends, someone famous, a holiday-homeless assistant or two, and adopted types-- i.e. "cousins", and people who work out in the gym and have lunch regularly at the house . On average we're looking at close to fifty guests.
By 11:00 AM, Monday, you can forget about parking your car near the service entrance. Floral trucks, Classic Party Rentals, and various other necessary holiday experts will be descending on the property. Gardeners trim whatever "Fall-ness" LA weather can manage and everyone is ramping up for Thursday. As a chef I have menu changes to attend to and last minute menu-meetings with the estate manager, event planner, and of course, The Mr.
There are orders to be filled, chefs to schedule, ovens to check, and prep lists to make-- on top of my regular job. With guests arriving through out the week, there will certainly be a running rush of "spa salads", grilled NY steaks, "quick" pastas, late breakfasts, early breakfasts, an executive lunch, "something sweet-yet-healthy", lattes from the coffee bar, family dinner for twelve, and someone looking for a low-fat cheese stick and a cracker. It's a busy house turned fully-booked Four Seasons hotel and no one is allowed to get sick. NO ONE. All staff is on high health-alert and everyone is downing Counter Attack, Echinacea Forte and Emergen-C around the clock. It's a big week.
I order extra double-door refrigerators (one for pies and one for turkeys) to accompany the already full, four, single Traulsens and two, large "low-boys" in the Chefs Kitchen. I make my list and spend as little time on the road and phone as possible. There are gallons of stock to be made and thirty loaves of fresh bread to be freezed, de-crusted, cubed into one inch dice, dried- out in all five ovens, cooled on a rack and sealed in buckets. And that's just Monday. Tuesday is turkey pickup day with a procession of shopping carts and an army of Whole Foods helpers in tow. My Prius is transformed into a delivery vehicle packed with 12# Turkeys from Heidi's Hens-- plus a "show" turkey. There are ten total.
My boss is known to be generous-- his family excitedly sets the staff a beautiful table in the staff lounge (he personally served the staff one year, pouring everyone a nice glass of Burgandy, before sitting down for dinner). Every family attending gets a take-away bag with turkey, all the trimmings, and a pumpkin pie.
Tuesday is also produce day and the poor delivery guy has to lug a dollie, piled high with vegetable boxes, over cobblestone because the service driveway is a 405 traffic jam of trucks, ramps and workers. My "double-doors" are installed and immediately filled with turkeys and veg and I am in full prep mode. I pray the Apilco is counted for and ready for service...
By Wednesday the green light is blaring GO. Chef Fiona arrives to help and between the two of us we prep for sweet potato ginger souffle, butternut squash soup, Fall fruit salad, roasted parsnips and potatoes, whipped potatoes, chestnut stuffing, cranberry relish, apple sauce, turkey, gravy, marble bundt cakes for breakfast, and various other family food faves. I BB the driver to pick up twenty, 8 inch, pumpkin pies from our trusted bakery first thing Thanksgiving day and remind him not to forget the morning pastries and fifty egg rolls. There are people to feed-- including 12 staff.
The Real Soda guy stocks the house with twenty cases of Fiji water and cases of sodas. The check list is a sharpie nightmare bordering illegibility. By 10 PM the turkey's are cleaned, lightly pre-seasoned and waiting to be trussed. I make my way home and dream of reflexology.
6:00 AM alarm-- I have my aching foot on the pedal by 6:30. By 7:30 chef Fiona and chef Pascal have arrived. On this day, we are the Dallas Cowboys of the kitchen. Pascal is a classic, culinary Frenchie with knife skills that would make Jacques Pepin weep, while Fiona is my psychic, kitchen-sister. We have cooked together since 1997, four of those years on the line-- hence our psychic kitchen connection. She is a bad-ass. A Rock. A kitchen animal. We get to work.
By 10:00 AM the house is buzzing with family and randoms looking for breakfast and attention. Everyone is in a buoyant, holiday mood. The marble cakes, stuffing, and roasted veg rest on a speed-rack as the service-staff rolls in. We scramble some egg whites and roast-off the turkeys. We need ovens at noon-thirty for souffles and reheat, and check on oven temps and space. All the while thanking the heavens for the commercial steamer I hardly ever use. Fiona, side-towel in hand, cranks up the twenty quart mixer and whips pounds of potatoes into a heavenly cloud. It's a damn good day.
Whipped Potatoes ~ Pomme Puree
Salt and Pepper
Clean the potatoes of all skin and save in a large bowl/tub of water. Slice the potatoes into thick, uniform coins using a mandoline (slicer) or a knife. Place coins in water until ready to cook.
Bowl a body of water twice the size of your potato coin yield and season generously with salt. You should taste/smell the salt in the water.
Cook the potatoes on the highest heat without boiling over. The idea is to cook the potatoes quickly; and for each potato piece to cook at the same time-- hence the uniform coin shape. This should help reduce the chances of a soupy/lumpy puree. You will know the potatoes are done when the tip of a paring knife easily slips through the coin. Be careful not to over cook them-- falling to pieces in the water.
~ In a small sauce pan, gently heat one part cream to one part milk and add spoonfuls of butter. Include a bay leaf and a couple of scratches of nutmeg.
Strain them in a large strainer and allow the steam to steam-off as much water as possible. The lengthy steaming should render a dry potato ready for the hot cream mixture above.
When the potatoes are dry and still very warm to hot, push the potatoes through a ricer. This is exhausting but well worth it. The potatoes will not be overworked and therefor starchy.
In a mixer or in a bowl, gently whip in the hot milk mixture and season along the way with salt and white pepper, avoiding over mixing. Keep on the stove covered in a warm place; or bake in a buttered dish until fluffy and a light, golden, crust.