Prepping for the Big Night

As 2013 winds quietly to a close, I once again find myself busily preparing for a yearly tradition around our house: our New Year’s Eve dinner.

Each New Year’s Eve, we gather with eight or ten friends and I make anywhere from seven to 12 courses, depending on how ambitious I’m feeling. It’s my time to let my creativity completely free — I never test anything, and I never make the same thing twice. Usually the dishes are a success, although my friend Jon complained last year of the chewiness and general meaty vulgarity of the Kobe beef tartare “flower blossoms” course. You can’t please everyone.

Last year's Kobe flatiron tartare “blossoms,” quail egg, curried ketchup emulsion, caper & pickled ginger mirepoix and fried parsley — doesn't look that bad, right??

Last year’s Kobe flatiron tartare “blossoms,” quail egg, curried ketchup emulsion, caper & pickled ginger mirepoix and fried parsley — doesn’t look that bad, right??

So also at this time of year, in the days before the New Year, I am consumed with shopping and sourcing. My adventures will take me to stinky grocery stores in Chinatown, pristine palaces of culinary cleanliness in Little Tokyo, various Mexican carnicerias and Persian delis, farmer’s markets and high-end purveyors of wild products. The savvy eye driving through the curves of lower Topanga Canyon might even spot me amongst the trees, harvesting wild nasturtium.

Our table (and my mental capacity) can only accommodate 12 people — maybe 13 if you don’t mind being uncomfortably close to your neighbor. But mostly no one minds, since we’re all close friends and the guest list has remained somewhat constant through the years. Usually, if you get in and don’t do anything too terribly offensive, you’ve got a spot for the following year. Spots do sometimes open up due to relocations, break-ups or debilitating illnesses, but many of the faces have been the same for going on two decades.

Sometimes I give the dinner a theme — recent successful meals of years past have included a Spanish-themed dinner and another that was vaguely Japanese. But most years it’s Seancuisine — creations of my whim that may incorporate tempura, French techniques and Mesoamerican spices, for example, all in the same dish. Often the menu will change significantly in the last two days, as I discover what I can and cannot access ingredient-wise for the dishes I have planned.

In the lab the eve of the eve (watercress emulsion, kudzu chips, Japanese sea vegetables, tomato powder, dried rice cakes…)

In the lab the eve of the eve (watercress emulsion, kudzu chips, Japanese sea vegetables, tomato powder, dried rice cakes, sunglasses…)

And what exactly do I have planned? Present will be many of the rare and expensive foodstuff that have come to define the dinner — caviar, fresh wasabi root, Kobe beef, foie gras. I’ve sketched out a risotto with cauliflower and fried fish bones, a “tide pool” of tempura baby ice fish and other small sea creatures, followed by a “field” dish of braised pork belly and seared Kobe hanger steak with wild mushrooms and rooty things. A deconstructed “latte” will finish the meal — espresso granita, sweet cream gelato, shaved chocolate and a cookie of some kind.

But like I said, all of that could change… Unable to locate affordable caviar, for example, I was thrilled to discover that some small capelin fish I’d purchased to extract the skeletons for the risotto course were filled with golden roe — a perfect opportunity to cure my own caviar! (Albeit capelin and not sturgeon.) Will I find surf clams, Santa Barbara sweet prawns, chervil, sea lettuce, black and white truffles, fresh wasabi… It’s anyone’s guess.

Wishing all of you, my dear readers and intrepid audience, a safe and happy New Year celebration, wherever you may be. And 12 blissful months of soulful culinary adventures ahead.

Next post: How did it all turn out?…

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. georgia + darlin'
    Dec 31, 2013 @ 03:33:23

    ah, man, i want to go to your new year’s eve party! ha! your last year’s dish looks fantastic!
    happy new year!


  2. She is my Princess
    Dec 31, 2013 @ 08:03:46


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