All December long, we're bringing you the recipes, tips and tricks you need to Feast your way through the holidays, no matter how you celebrate the season.
Tom Colicchio's new restaurant, Fowler & Wells, is new to the neighborhood but feels like it's been here for years. Just off the Beekman hotel's plush lobby, the dining room's art deco sconces illuminate stained-glass windows and original exposed brick, while industrial pipes hang high above velvet banquettes. It's quintessentially New York, and this month, with poinsettias and wreaths adorning the space, Fowler & Wells is the picture-perfect inspiration you need for a classic Christmas feast.
Departing from his other restaurants, Colicchio is reinventing turn-of-the-century dishes at Fowler & Wells. Think oysters Rockefeller, lobster thermidor and duck à l'orange—just don't look for these iconic dish names on the menu. Colicchio and executive chef Bryan Hunt are riffing on convention and want diners to be prepared to enjoy beef Wellington that might come with venison or a schnitzel with rabbit.
"I know this from seasons of Top Chef. When someone tells you you're getting something and you don't get it . . ." Colicchio starts, without even needing to finish the sentence.
"The space itself dictated where I wanted to go with the menu," he says of the 1890s building. "The food didn't feel like it should be modern. I didn't want to see puréed vegetables swooshed across a plate with microgreens."
Take his porcelet with pork-apple sausage, braised cabbage and roasted turnips (see the recipe), which Colicchio describes as a classic American dish that also happens to be great for a group. Serve this instead of a ham for Christmas, and slice it at the table, the chef suggests. To get even more festive, add a rich, chestnut-filled agnolotti with celery root and black truffles (see the recipe) to the menu, and propose a toast with a cranberry gin cocktail (see the recipe) that embodies the spirit of the season.
The key to winning this Christmas challenge? Remember to prep as much as you can in advance, Colicchio advises.
"I try to get a lot done the day before," he says of his own holiday cooking. "This is one thing that home cooks don't understand: mise en place." It's the French term describing the concept of prepping all of your ingredients before you start cooking. In English, it literally translates to "everything in its place."
For the porcelet, that means braising the cabbage, and roasting the turnips and apples ahead of time, and measuring out all your additional ingredients before you get going. When it comes to making the agnolotti, dice the celery, leeks and celeriac for the sauce first, even though you won't use them until the end.
For Colicchio, who has a long-standing tradition of making the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, it means "mise-ing out" a ton of chopped parsley and garlic, which he uses in everything from fritto misto to a Tuscan fish stew.
"It's become a ritual. I turn on Christmas music, and my son comes to help. Everyone looks forward to it," he says, the anticipation audible in his voice as he goes on to explain the dishes he's inherited from his grandparents—relics from past generations he keeps alive every year, like beets with anchovies and salt cod salad.
Until then, however, he's busy tinkering with old New York at Fowler & Wells. "It's an all-out sprint from now until Christmas Eve," the longtime NYC chef says. "As someone who runs restaurants in New York, [I know] it's a busy time of year. You're at the restaurant, and you hope your friends come in." At Fowler & Wells, they might never want to leave.
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