The guests who attend classically trained home chef Kathy Crocker's annual Thanksgiving feast have much to be thankful for.
PHOTOS BY JOHN STURDY
When decorating her Shorewood home, Kathy Crocker had two concerns in mind. One was her beloved chocolate Lab: “It’s not a coincidence that the dining room rug is rich brown,” she says, grinning. The other was her love of entertaining.
For the last 20 years, Kathy and her husband, Randall – president and CEO of the law firm von Briesen & Roper – have called a 1920s English Tudor home. And for about 12 of those years, Kathy has been hosting a big Thanksgiving bash.
The annual gathering really took off when Crocker, who served on the board of the Milwaukee Ballet for years, started inviting ballet dancers new to the city over for Thanksgiving dinner. She had cooked her way through every class offered at Mequon’s late Ecole de Cuisine and wasn’t daunted by the idea of cooking for a small army of hungry dancers. “You just need to stay organized,” she says. “Think about everything that needs to be done, and when. And write it all down.”
Last year, she cooked nearly a dozen dishes for 30 of her closest friends and relatives, executing the evening with military-like precision. Adding her own spin to the traditional feast, Crocker started the evening with what she terms “deconstructed Thanksgiving.” Served as pass-around appetizers, her cheeky takes on classic dishes included oysters Rockefeller in lieu of oyster stuffing, mashed potatoes piped into martini glasses with a drizzle of truffled gravy and “turducken” sliders served on pretzel knots with brie and cranberry-orange marmalade.
For the sit-down portion of the meal, Crocker served a Mason jar salad, an elegant duck confit dinner and homey sides like maple-roasted Brussels sprouts.
Crocker plans to reprise these recipes this year, along with two of her grandmother’s signature pumpkin pies. Because a classically inspired, multi-course meal deserves a sweet finish. ◆
Kathy Crocker’s Foolproof Party Tips:
1. CREATE A PLAN!
Prepare a detailed timeline working backwards from serving time to prep and shopping. Things like homemade stocks and pie crust can be prepped weeks ahead and frozen.
2. MISE EN PLACE
This French culinary term means “everything in its place.” The day before the party, prep, measure, peel, chop, grate and slice everything you can. Organize and set out all the tools and equipment that you will need.
3. ENGAGE AN EXCELLENT KITCHEN BRIGADE (friends and family who love to cook and know your kitchen well).
Delegate. Have a detailed list of jobs that they can choose and check off as they complete them, presumably with wine in hand.
4. MAKE PAPER COPIES of all recipes.
Ruining a sheet of paper is better than ruining a big cookbook or iPad. You can temporarily tape copies on a wall or cabinet to save counter space, too.
5. PLAY GREAT MUSIC
Bossa nova. Chaka Khan. Michael Jackson. Have fun!