Thanksgiving in Los Angeles comes and goes without a single leaf falling from a tree. The grass is the greenest it'll be all year, and the palm trees don't look as thirsty as they did during the six-month summer. Angelenos mark the change of season by the departure of daylight saving time and the sudden flurry of activity at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market that signals the arrival of new fall crops. And the day the market is at its busiest is the day before Thanksgiving.
In his two-story postmodern house in Santa Monica with sweeping views of the Pacific, Lee Hefter has been awake since 5 a.m.he hates mornings, but not this oneprepping the ingredients he scored yesterday. His kitchen counters are stacked with wild mushrooms, kabocha squash, cipollini onions and brussels sprouts. His wife, Sharon, is up early too, rolling out the biscuit doughand she's got gooey Georgia-pecan pies to bake before Lee's big, fat turkey goes into the oven. Hefter grew up on the East Coast, where autumn felt like autumn, and today he's determined to share his favorite season with his friends. "Even though it's 70 degrees in L.A., I still want Thanksgiving to reflect the traditional fall harvest," he says as he stuffs his bird.
Hefter is the chef and a partner at Spago Beverly Hills (and an F&W Best New Chef 1998). His passion for cooking started in high school when he took a job at a Chinese restaurant near his New Jersey neighborhood because he wanted to know how Chinese food was made. He later found his way to Barbara Tropp's renowned (now closed) China Moon Cafe in San Francisco, where he was discovered by Wolfgang Puck, the celebrity chef who owns Spago, and recruited to L.A. That was 11 years ago, and he's been with Puck ever since. For the past nine years, Hefter's opened his house most Thanksgivings to all the strays he works with, those who either can't make it to their families' home or have nowhere else to go. Or at least that's the way it began. Nowadays, Hefter's Thanksgiving is often the feast of choice.