Stirring the Pot: How Do Chefs Top New Year's Eve?

New Year's Eve dinner service can be over the top...or just overboard for a kitchen crew.
New Year's Eve dinner service can be over the top...or just overboard for a kitchen crew.
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New Year’s Eve is the culinary coup de grace for chefs: It provides them with an opportunity to jump outside of their normal dish development parameters, pull out all the stops and make some special magic for one grand night.

For many years, I'd plan weeks and, at times, months in advance to secure ingredients, test concepts and rehearse execution, ensuring a well-choreographed evening. But regardless of all these proactive measures, we'd inevitably end up in the throes of a frenzied prep schedule that brought both me and my team to the very bell. Still, dreaming up outlandishly decadent plates that tantalize the senses, then bringing them to fruition despite the odds is a big part of the thrill of New Year’s Eve.

This singular night of extravagance and the resulting mania that comes from everyone trying to dine at 7:30 p.m. creates a thrumming, palpable energy that sustains everyone through the revelry and chaos of service. In later years, I toned down the creative push and settled into a rhythm of regular menu hits married with a few special-occasion offerings, because changing the entire script on the busiest night of the year is highly disruptive to the muscle memory you ingrain in your cooks by having them prepare the same things over and over each night.

That repetition fosters a comfort level that aids in deft execution by your crew, who can work their way through an entire shift without skipping a beat...blindfolded. Reinventing your menu for the busiest shift of the year, however, is like being blind, coming home and discovering someone has moved all your furniture around. The context is the same, but everything else is completely different, and finding your way around is that much more challenging, especially when the systems are already being stressed.

Regardless, I do love the passion and excitement of the spectacle that is New Year’s Eve — and would love to yet again live through the raucous night of service from the comfort of my desk. So I’m calling on all cooks, pastry chefs, sous-chefs and chefs to post their best dish pics from the changing of the decade. What was your showstopper? Did it work? Are you already planning for next year?

Thanks for all of your efforts every day, and have a great 2020....

Do you have a question for chef Jamey Fader? Send us a note at cafe@westword.com.

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