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A Chef's Incredible Winter Picnic

When Boston chef Ken Oringer cuts down his Christmas tree, he turns the outing into a party, bringing along a caravan of friends, lots of great wine and cider and a portable grill for making warm Cuban sandwiches.
Christmas Winter Picnic

© Keller & Keller

Ken Oringer needed a rock. He tramped through the snow at the Christmas tree farm in search of one that was large but not too heavy. With the temperature hovering near 20 degrees, he moved quickly. Soon he found what he wanted: a stone he could set on top of sandwiches filled with shredded pork, ham, Gruyère and sweet tomato jam, pressing them down on a portable grill to make warm and crisp cubanos.

Such are the challenges of a winter tailgate on a frigid New England day. "You want to party," says Oringer. "But you want the party to start immediately and end promptly."

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Over the years, Oringer, who owns six restaurants in Boston, has gotten his tailgate routine down pat. First, he packs his truck with food that travels well, like a creamy artichoke dip and cubanos wrapped in foil and ready to grill. He leaves the city in the morning, leading a caravan of family and friends. Once everyone arrives at the farm, he hands out cups of hot mulled cider. By noon, he serves lunch; sandwiches, he's discovered, are easy to hold in mittened hands. By 1 p.m., he leads the group into the woods to find the perfect tree—fragrant and full and not too tall to be tied to the flatbed. Then everyone congregates in the parking lot for dessert before driving home.

Christmas Winter Picnic

Ken Oringer. Photo © Keller & Keller.

Oringer's tailgate menus can be inspired by any of the cuisines he's obsessed with. The chef first fell in love with French food, which he showcases at his flagship restaurant, Clio. Next came a sashimi bar, Uni; a tapas bar, Toro; a taqueria, La Verdad; and an American steak house, KO Prime. And this fall, Oringer debuted a Roman-style trattoria with a locavore bent called Coppa, serving things like pasta tossed with eggs and house-cured prosciutto.

One of Coppa's hams made it into the cubanos at the tailgate, accompanied by other Latin-inspired dishes: a hearty black bean–and–quinoa salad and a surprisingly refreshing salad combining avocado, hearts of palm and pink grapefruit. For dessert, Oringer baked pans of gooey caramel-pecan bars, borrowing an idea from his mother-in-law. For a chef-y twist, he added a pinch of curry powder to bring out the flavor of the salty, buttery caramel.

The pans of pecan bars signaled the end of the brief but invigorating party. "It's cold out," Oringer admits. "But you see friends. You get a tree. You get great food. It's not hard to find people to join us."

Jane Black reports on food for the Washington Post. She was formerly the food editor at Boston magazine.

Published December 2009
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