Before those New Year’s resolutions kick in, it’s good to cherish good food and drink on New Year’s Eve and Day. While it may be difficult for some restaurant pros to celebrate these busy holidays today, many still have fond memories and traditions from their youths.
Industry pros share their New Year’s food traditions
Charlie Berg (Michael Mina Bourbon Steak DC, Washington, DC): Thinking back, we never really did that much for New Year’s when I was growing up. Somehow my parents found it difficult to fit in midnight Champagne celebrations in rural southwest Virginia, surrounded by a brood of snotty nosed kids. Now, however, New Year’s Eve is a very important celebration in my house. My wife is Russian, and every good Russian knows that New Year’s is the absolute biggest chance to party all year (with the possible exception of the 9th of May)! So, she and I usually spend the first part of the day making oliv’ye, selyodka pod shuboy, deviled eggs, and vinaigrette, while drinking Champagne (or at least a good Cramant de la Loire). Then after work, do a Champagne toast, kiss Anastasia (my wife), then clean up, go home and eat the aforementioned Russian delicacies. It’s a big day/night.
Adam Seger (HUM Spirits Co., Chicago): I have worked New Year’s Eve for the past 20 years. It is the official night of well-done steaks, White Zinfandel and overindulging amateur diners being price-gouged. Needless to say, not my favorite holiday. New Year’s Day is. It is my and all my industry friends’ holiday as we all worked the night before and are off work to enjoy it. So, I throw a BIG party every year. My sister and brother-in-law go pheasant hunting each fall, so on New Year’s Day I throw “she kills it, he cooks it, BYObubbly.” We have pheasant gumbo (my dad taught me how to make a roux) and everyone brings at least one bottle of really good Champagne. So, we drink bubbly and eat pheasant gumbo all day, then as is tradition for the last seven years, around midnight we throw my Christmas tree out the window. One year, we peaked at 110 people in a two-bedroom condo. Quite the rave to start the year.
Jimmy Bannos (The Purple Pig and Heaven on Seven, Chicago): New Year’s Day was my grandfather’s birthday. Every year, we went to his house and my grandmother used to make Greek bread and put silver dollars in it for every grandchild. She’d cook a huge feast for us and we would hang out and watch football all day.
Jeremy Kittelson (Denver): When I was young, we would always watch the ball drop and have a lot of finger foods. As I got older, I would go party and then I started cooking. So basically I’ve worked every New Year’s since 2000.
It is the official night of well-done steaks, White Zinfandel and overindulging amateur diners being price-gouged.
~ Adam Seger, Hum Spirits Co., Chicago
Toni Roberts (State and Lake Chicago Tavern, Chicago): Every house in my town would cook a crock pot of pork and saurkraut. The day was spent visiting friends and eating. I’ve continued this tradition here with friends.
Patrick Fahy (Chicago): Always Champagne. The food always changed. Now? Hah! We all work that day in the restaurants.
Rob Levitt (The Butcher & Larder, Chicago): My family didn’t [have a tradition], but Allie’s family did. They would have brunch with their neighbors, which included, among other things, eggs Benedict. Allie and I started doing a late afternoon New Year’s Day party at our apartment a few years back, something we wanted to become a tradition with our industry friends and family. We found it hard to muster the energy the last few years, but who knows? Maybe we will start the tradition back up! Anyone want to have a buffet-style late brunch at the Levitt’s on New Year’s Day?
Carrie Nahabedian (NAHA, Chicago): For a number of years in my twenties, I was known for my New Year’s Day bash. It was an invite-only themed event of massive amounts of food and drink while watching football and nursing the aftermath of New Year’s Eve dinner service. I generally cooked Creole; not my specialty, but one year I decided I was going to learn it and I really made a big spread and that was my theme for many years. My friend Jeff Jackson at Torrey Pines in LaJolla, CA, is from Oklahoma, so we always had black-eyed peas for his tradition on New Year’s Day. I always start and end the year with Champagne, since it is the most festive drink you can have. In the past, we have generally gone to Bacchanalia for New Year’s Day supper with lots of friends. We have a big Italian feast, bring bottles of wine and celebrate friends in an old school setting. Currently, I don’t have a tradition except that we always start our weeklong holiday from NAHA following service on New Year’s Eve!
Susan Goss (West Town Tavern, Chicago): My mother was born in Scarsdale, NY, and we always had New England boiled dinner on New Year’s Day. This was basically corned beef and cabbage, simmered together with potatoes and carrots, served with horseradish sauce. When I was a kid, I would only eat the potatoes and horseradish. Gradually I grew to like the corned beef and the carrots, but it took several years for me to eat the cabbage. I love the idea of tradition, but that heavy a meal doesn’t fit my lifestyle anymore. Drew and I are more likely to order in some oysters and stone crab claws to eat. A bottle of bubbly, a roaring fire in the fireplace and some football fills the day!
Jill Barron (MANA food bar, Chicago): My family loves grazing, so we would eat snacking foods all day long; sandwiches, brownies, beans! As a lover of small plates, I think this is the best way to spend New Year’s Day, especially for anyone who works in the restaurant industry.
Paul Fehribach (Big Jones, Chicago): When we were young, the kids would stay home with a babysitter while mom and dad went out on the town. New Year’s Day, there was a big breakfast with eggs, salt pork, and potatoes. We never got into the New Year’s superstitions about eating certain foods. I long ago left the traditional celebrations of New Year’s in the dust bin, since I’m always working, but when I used to occasionally have NYE off, I was partial to throwing lavish dinner parties with great cru grower Champagne and other favorite wines of the year. We’d eat well and drink well and settle in for conversation while listening to everyone’s contribution of their favorite album of the year. It always made for great camaraderie. I never made pledges or used good luck charms, believing them to be destined to fail and start the year off badly. Instead, I would dedicate myself to making sure my office, finances, and friendships were in good order for the year to come. I don’t believe in pledging or wishing for success, I believe in setting yourself up for success.