It became clear a few weeks ago that we were going to be home for Thanksgiving. It was also evident that going to another family for the holiday was problematic given the Covid-19 risk. Then my wife Claudia and my sister Renee opined that we should have Thanksgiving dinner at our apartment in New York City. The only question that remained; who would cook the meal?
I have always been a guest at Thanksgiving, whether at my parents’ home or a friend’s house. But this year I decided I was going to play the role of chef. I wanted to have the entire experience described by users of the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, which Edelman has promoted for the past 40 years. I certainly know how to feed myself in a rudimentary way, from tuna salad to hamburgers to pasta. I can even grill fish or chicken. But an entire meal for a holiday; this was one small step for mankind, one giant leap for this man.
The Edelman Butterball team set me up for an hour-long tutorial with the head of the Turkey Talk-Line, Nicole Johnson. I got the basics of removing the giblets, folding the wings underneath, filling the cavity with vegetables or stuffing, and coating the skin with vegetable oil. I also got clarity on some of my misconceptions, including the need for basting (not anymore). I wrote down seventeen steps to a perfect turkey.
Then came the rehearsal last Sunday. I went shopping at the local Chinese market, having to ask for Mandarin translations of parsley, onion and eggplant to assure that I was getting the right ingredients. Then with the help of my sister’s friend, Chef Darrel Ganesh Sukhdeo, we made a 15 lb. turkey. We also prepared the stuffing for Thursday. I learned the fine points of chopping, simmering and tasting for spice.
The big day arrived. It was me and my 24 lb. turkey. I chose the vegetarian option for stuffing the cavity, with orange, onion and garlic. The skin was given a coat of oil. Into the oven at 2 pm went the big bird. Then I set out to make cranberry sauce, by boiling the berries with slices of orange. The yams were peeled and cut, then straight into the oven to soften them up before mashing them and covering them with marshmallows to melt as topping. Cornbread was next, with the able assistance of stepdaughter Tamara, adding diced carrots and celery plus spices to the mix before baking. My wife came in for the green beans, done in a wok with olive oil, garlic and onion. Finally, medallions of carrots (that is a carrot sliced in silver dollar sized pieces) and potatoes to roast.
The real drama came three hours in, when I started to quarrel with the oven. Somehow the oven turned off (probably because the timer had been set to a fixed number). I did not realize that until a half-hour of non-cooking had occurred, detected only through my trusty meat thermometer which said the turkey temperature had declined by 10 degrees. This was mission-critical; had to deliver the turkey for an 8pm dinner. So I improvised slightly, turning up the heat to 400 from 350, keeping track of turkey temperature as if a child. The prediction of a five-hour cooking time was nearly perfect, except it left me an hour ahead of time. So, I turned off the heat and kept the bird inside, praying for the moisture gods.
I brought out all of the side dishes. Then the magnum opus, the Butterball Turkey. I have never cut a turkey before. The first side was a bit problematic, with half pieces strewn onto the plate. The legs were stubborn but manageable. Finally, I had the hang of it by the carving of the other breast. Yes, we can do anything if I can put together a Thanksgiving dinner with my family.
It was a moving dinner, with stories of my mother-in-law who passed away three months ago from Covid, and memories of my parents who hosted my family for so many years in Chicago in grand style. I told the small gathering of family that I was grateful to be in America, where there is always possibility and hope, channeling the Pilgrims who made the journey across the ocean to seek religious freedom. I told them that I was also so moved by the incredible response by all of my colleagues at the company, who have done such stunning work for clients in the face of the pandemic and disruption of normal life.
I know that the coming months will be dark and difficult. I believe that we are engaged in a noble cause, providing quality information to the public, on subjects such as sustainability, systemic racism and Covid-19. We are also advising our clients to act on issues such as hunger, diversity and inclusion and using minority-owned small businesses in their supply chains. We will get through this period with empathy, decency and commitment to each other.
Richard Edelman is CEO.