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For nearly 28 years, Christmas meant the busy season to me. It meant working longer and harder and serving more meals, office parties, so many turkeys going in and out of the ovens, it eventually felt like bowling; ending, finally, after midnight on New Year’s Eve, me and whatever crew I was working with that year drinking Champagne from the bottle in our food-spattered kitchen whites, maybe a few spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends, preferred dealer of the moment joining us in a toast. That was all the holidays meant, and little more.
I don’t remember ever serving anything particularly wonderful. The requirements of the “special” menu demanded certain sacrifices to the gods of speed and volume. On rare occasions, I might pull off something like a classic French soupe de poisson at Les Halles brasserie in New York City. It was garnished with rouille-laden croutons. But I don’t ever remember eating—or even bringing anything home—all those Christmases, all those New Years spent in kitchens.
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On the rare occasions when I was lucky enough to be working for a restaurant that closed on Christmas, there’d be Catholic Christmas Eve dinner with my then in-laws. A few fish dishes, then a ham at midnight. This was usually accompanied by long-spoiled white wines that my poor ex-father-in-law never quite got around to accepting were undrinkable.