Disaster has struck. Your entire Thanksgiving meal has gone to the dogs, and you've got to whip up an alternative in a couple of hours. That's the scenario we pitched to three intrepid area chefs:
It's noon, and the holiday company is coming at 2. The turkey is still a block of ice, the pumpkin pie a smoldering ruin, and the last of the stuffing is being lapped off the floor by a fat beagle named Bubba. The guests called to say they're bringing extra guests. And oh, by the way, they don't eat meat/dairy/fat/carbs or anything orange.
Happy Thanksgiving. You're in big trouble.
So what can you make (short of reservations) when last-minute holiday havoc strikes? We put three nightmare Thanksgiving scenarios to three of the area's most resourceful chefs.
Gillian Clark turns out an ever-changing menu of homey American food in her tiny Colorado Kitchen restaurant in Washington's Brightwood Park neighborhood. There are SUVs bigger than the cooking space she uses, so she keeps things simple and cranks 'em out fast. The setup we proposed to her: It's Thanksgiving Day and all the food you've carefully prepared is ruined. In short, you have two hours to cook a completely new holiday meal for six.
Nora Pouillon, of Restaurant Nora in Dupont Circle, is the stylish queen of gourmet organic cooking and a woman who, after two decades in the restaurant biz, can easily juggle 16 tasks at once. In high heels. To her we gave the following crisis: You've prepared Thanksgiving for six couples, but two hours before they're to arrive, you discover that half of them are strict vegetarians or vegans. You could hide the cans of chicken broth, but that wouldn't be right. You need to cook a nonmeat meal for the six of them.
Gian Piero Mazzi, of Elysium restaurant in Alexandria, is a chef without a menu. Every night he asks his guests to tell him what ingredients they like, and then he fashions a seven-course meal
created personally for them. This kind of cooking without a net seemed like the perfect training for our third holiday hair-raiser: You've planned an intimate family Thanksgiving when your son calls and says the Italian soccer team was stranded at the airport, so he's bringing home six players to share the holiday feast. That won't be a problem, will it?
As if all this weren't enough, we also told our chefs they couldn't spend more than $100 apiece on their meals.
Could they do it? As you'll see on the following pages, absolutely. Not only did they all come in under budget, their terrific recipes are easily duplicated by the harried home cook. Granted, as professional chefs, they cook fast. They know how to do six things at once. What they whipped up in a couple of hours might take you twice as long.
But it's still early. If you haven't begun your Thanksgiving meal yet, what are you waiting for? Start cooking! (And if everything's under control today, the recipes will work just as well at Christmas.)