Even when it’s served at a restaurant, the “family meal” is down-to-earth.
A family meal is typically dished up before or after the lunch or dinner rush. The free meal allows staff to refuel and reconnect, much like a family who sits down to a meal around the kitchen table when the day is done.
The food served is typically rustic. Dishes might be fashioned from scraps or leftovers. Sometimes a cook will share an ethnic recipe or a recipe still in development for the menu.
Common family meals feature tacos, meatballs, lasagna, stews, casseroles and other one-pot dishes that nourish but are less complex or showy than the restaurant’s signature dishes.
The restaurant version of a family meal has spawned a number of cookbooks in recent years, including “The Family Meal: Homecooking With Ferran Adria” (Phaidon; 2012). The compilation features recipes for everyday meals the chef served to his El Bulli staff — and quite a departure from the mind-blowing 30-plus-course culinary performances that made the remote Spanish restaurant world famous.
The family meal is making its way into pop-culture movies, too. In “Burnt,” Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) is a recovering drug addict and temperamental chef striving to reach the pinnacle of his profession by earning a third Michelin star. The family meal is used to depict a way to level the playing field: When Jones is willing to sit down with his cooks, dishwashers and maitre’ d, the audience sees that he is on the way to conquering his demons.
Like the family meal, Thanksgiving meals at home are designed to feed the soul and body. Unlike a professional chef, however, most home cooks aren’t accustomed to cooking for a crowd.
It helps if you can get into the Scaglia family’s mindset. Jo Marie Scaglia, the owner of the Mixx, a fast-casual salad and sandwich shop with three metro locations, grew up in an Italian restaurant family who treated every Sunday dinner as if it were a Thanksgiving feast.
Scaglia says the secret to a successful — rather than stressful — family meal is simply going with the flow. There are never too many people at the table, nor is there too much food. If there are leftovers, neighbors are invited to enjoy the bounty.
Chris Matsch of Ibis Bakery in Lenexa also celebrates with large gatherings that include family, friends, employees and acquaintances. “I feel like I’ve never had a Thanksgiving with my immediate family,” he says.
But he’s not complaining: “It’s cool to be able to share it with others.”
The Matsch menu is “pretty classic,” although I thought it was odd when he told me he had never considered shifting from pie to stuffing duty. Turns out, Matsch was too polite to tell me he doesn’t like stuffing. Yet, tasked with developing a recipe for The Star, he grabbed his trusty cast-iron skillet and a loaf of country bread and proceeded to create a savory stuffing that could feed an army.
“My big thing is mashed potatoes,” Matsch sheepishly admits. “Half of my plate is devoted to mashed potatoes.”
I’m hosting 21 people for Thanksgiving dinner, but there will be no fancy feasts. I’m letting wine expert Doug Frost help me with wines to match each chef’s recipe), and I’m lining up an army of friends to help cook. I figure sharing the load means more participation, and that’s more true to the spirit of the family meal.Tyler Fox's Shiitake Mushroom and Brandy Gravy