Critic-Turned-Cook Haunted By Ghosts of Christmas Parties Past
I recently went to my first frat party. Woo-hoo! Where's the beer pong?
Okay, it wasn't that kind of party. It was a Christmas party thrown by the guys of Alpha Sigma Phi for parents and alumni. There was a massive roast beef at a carving station, a raffle, and well-dressed folks bidding on auction items.
I didn't stay long, though, because the holiday merriment sent me straight into a "Bah, Humbug"-like funk, dredging up the ghosts of Christmas parties past.
The Good and the Bad
It seems impossible to believe that just a year ago the staff at The Seattle Post-Intelligencer gathered for many cups of cheer, no clue that just weeks later the ax would fall. Somebody probably should have seen the scribbling on the wall—Hearst, the corporation that owned the newspaper, was bleeding money and begged off hosting the Christmas party. Last year's was a low-key DIY affair organized by staffers.
I'd have to turn the clock back a few years to tap the warmest memories. My favorite editor of all time, Chris Peck, used to dress up in a Santa suit and hand out gag gifts to the staff. He'd sing silly songs he had written while playing his accordion. We laughed. We groaned. We ate too much and drank too much.
Having Fun Preparing Food for a Party
Over the years, the food at those holiday parties kind of melted into the background. Banquet food has got to be the most challenging fare to prepare well. The image of blah bites on steam tables prevails, but it doesn't have to be that way.
Last spring, I got a taste of how fun it could be to cook for a huge crowd while working in the catering department at Tom Douglas restaurants. At an event called Baconopolis (yes, it was exactly as the name implied, a bacon tasting fiesta featuring the bacon from around the country), catering chef Chris Field was the picture of grace under pressure when he had to switch things up at the last minute to accommodate the sold-out crowd. His powers were practically Biblical as he stretched those crispy bits like they were fish and loaves. I've been to many tasting events, but I don't think I've ever seen a gathering where people were so darned happy and well fed.
Are there more warm and fuzzy parties in my Christmases yet to come? I'm no Scrooge, so I'm absolutely certain I'll celebrate the season, even if it only means I'm part of a crew cooking for merry makers. It might be corny and cliché, but there's no better time than the holidays for getting together with friends and family and colleagues. And food is the bow that completes the pretty package.
So, let's put on a Yule log, grab a cup of wassail, scoop up some figgy pudding and cue the accordion: "Chestnuts roasting on the open fire..."
About the author: Former Seattle Post-Intelligencer restaurant critic Leslie Kelly has been working in professional kitchens since the newspaper folded in March and chronicling her culinary journey from pen to pan for Serious Eats. She also blogs at LeslieKellyWhiningandDining.blogspot.com and recently launched a story-telling project for Northstar Winery following one wine from the vine to the table.