You could call it the first Thanksgiving. And in many ways it was for 42-year-old Barbara Lynch, the chef at Boston’s elegant No. 9 Park, in Beacon Hill. Lynch had been eager to prepare her own version of the holiday meal, but she felt compelled to wait. First she needed to wait almost a full year to finish remodeling her Winchester house and installing her high-tech dream kitchen, complete with a built-in pasta cooker, an induction stove and a professional convection-steam oven. And she waited a respectful two years after her mother, Barbara, passed away, before she felt comfortable updating the old-fashioned Thanksgiving menu, which included celery sticks with cream cheese and pickled pearl onions from a jar. "This year," Lynch says with a hint of defiance, "I’m making my own traditions."
But not everything is changing. Lynch’s menu, combining French technique with an Italian respect for ingredients, will be refined but simple, following one of her two entertaining rules: Never let the food overpower the party. "The conversation shouldn’t be dominated by, ’ Oh what is this? This is so good,’ " she says. "You should be able to sit and chat and laugh and have fun." Many of the recipes are also an homage to her mother. The traditional cheese-and-cracker plate has been replaced with a quick, caraway-tinged Gouda fondue. The pickled onions have morphed into a luscious, creamy pearl onion gratin. And instead of classic stuffing, which her mother made with celery and carrots, Lynch mixes whole wheat bread with three kinds of wild mushrooms—chanterelle, oyster and hen-of-the-woods—which give the dish an earthy complexity.
As the guests arrive, Lynch pours each a glass of Aubry Brut Rosé Champagne, one of her favorite sparkling wines. She’s prepared much of the feast ahead of time, following her second rule of entertaining: Never design a meal that requires you to slave in the kitchen while your guests enjoy the party. And if you do have to slave, put your guests to work, too. Friends who linger in the kitchen too long are put to work on finishing touches. For the fondue, Natalie Carpenter, who owns the trendy Lekker Unique Home Furnishings shop, grates a hunk of aged Gouda that her mother smuggled in from Holland especially for Lynch. Annie Copps, a food editor who cooked with Lynch at Todd English’s first Olives restaurant, sets up in front of the Vita-Prep, a restaurant-quality blender, to puree batches of sautéed celery and shallots for a creamy soup, which Lynch will finish with fresh-from-the-boat Nantucket bay scallops. "I’m just making what I want," Lynch says as she chops four varieties of squash, which she’ ll later roast and serve with sage-infused cream. "My mother used to serve us Birds Eye frozen squash with nothing added to it," she recalls. "When I was a kid I’ d go behind her back and throw cinnamon in it, just to jazz it up. She hated it when I touched her recipes like that. I guess now I just go to the extreme."