With Kristen foraging our lead, the hunger games commenced. I was loaded up like a pack mule carrying the turkey, wrapped up in a foil tray, a bottle of wine, two glasses and Kristen’s purse, I believe, while she made her way to the dumpsters. Once that nutty, buttery smell hit her, she turned to me, slack-jawed and raised her eyebrows. I gave her a look of I know, right? I was glad she got to really take it in. We both summoned an image of a juicy, brown, buttery turkey,
and the scent motivated us, like predators on the hunt. Kristen rounded the corner so hard she slammed the door against the wall with a bang and sloshed some wine onto the dumpster. I was afraid, we’d blown it with a sloppy entrance, but, the boys weren’t there. The table bore only one lonesome throw-away foil tray, a used vinyl glove turned inside out and a pair of oily tongs. The vat wasn’t bubbling anymore, but it was still warm. We walked around a bit, saying “Hello?” “Hey guys?” and Kristen even belted out a “It suuure smells good out here!” I shirked around behind her to check the level on the propane bottle and the temp on the oil vat, thinking, if need be, I could crank it up and drop the turkey myself. Better to ask forgiveness, right? But there was one door by the table that we had yet to open. I lightly tugged on the handle. It would open, but I could feel some resistance and didn’t believe a hard jerk was in order. Kristen apparently felt otherwise. She came up behind me and belted a “Hey boys!” as she jerked both doors wide open. I scooted back behind one of the doors, tucking both wine glasses behind me like I was stealing from the liquor store.
Kristen stood before the open doors, dumbfounded, as if she were staring at a man on the pot with his pants around his ankles.
She immediately started apologizing, fumbling, stuttering and tucking hair behind her ears. I really thought she’d opened up the door on something slightly obscene. The smaller of the two, Guy Harvey, came out. Eyed us both and asked us “Nice ladies” what we were “in need of?” Kristen struggled and apologized, and just started snickering. I didn’t think the skinny jeans were going to carry the day at that point, so I just blurted out “Turkey.” He looked at me.
“Turkey.” I said it again. I don’t know why. “We would … ” I fumbled. “We were wondering if you would help us … if you’d like to … fry up our turkey.” I let the question linger because I didn’t know what else to do. The wine glasses came from behind my back almost instinctively, slowly as I extended them towards him, a hopeful, pathetic look on my face, and apparently that sealed the deal. “Sure, he said. You ladies bring some more drinks down, and we’ll throw the bird in.” Score one for the skinny jeans. We were getting our turkey fried!
And, here’s the real kicker, Guy Harvey, known locally as Frank Schmancy, turned out to be the head chef at a fairly new restaurant there at The Wharf — The Louisiana Pantry. And, the larger guy (the one who had given up on us during the ‘elevator conversation‘ – again, I can’t blame him), was none other than celebrity chef Tom Wolfe.
Rising Star Chef Tom Wolfe
Wolfe’s of New Orleans
7224 Pontchartrain Boulevard
New Orleans, LA 70124
Frank told us Tom had studied under Emeril Lagasse and opened up a restaurant in New Orleans — Wolfe’s of New Orleans — before making his way over to The Wharf. He was actually standing there texting John Besh while Frank injected our turkey. John Besh … My total celebrity chef crush. Little did he know. I actually had the privilege of meeting the infamous Besh at a book signing he did in Pensacola for his latest cookbook, Cooking From the Heart, and I, in typical Annie style, acted like a completely smitten, love-sick teenager – a total goober – the entire time.
Got a first edition ready for Besh himself to sign? CHECK!
Rocking the stiletto boots to be sure to get his attention? CHECK.
Ahhh … Annie Besh … Sure has a nice ring to it.
Why, Mr. Besh … you, you … certainly do look stunning in that button-down.
Phillip? … Phillip who?
Oh THAT Phillip … Okay, I guess he can be in the shot.
In all seriousness, though, we do love the book, and have cooked up some seriously delicious dishes from it. But, Besh?!? This guy – Wolfe – had studied under Lagasse, owned a restaurant in New Orleans, and knew Besh personally? This is the guy who was going to be frying up our turkey behind some dumpsters at The Wharf? Ain’t it funny where life takes you some times.
But, Frank dropped her right in, regaled us with tales of learning the great southern dishes (collard greens, grits, etc.) from an old black cook at his grandmother’s restaurant in Mississippi. The key, he said, is to use as much fat as possible. Go figure. Perhaps he did the same with our turkey, but we all agreed it was the best darn turkey we had ever had the privilege of eating. I mean, the thing had brined overnight in our complex trash bag/cooler set-up all night, then Guy Harvey injected it, and he told us it was the last turkey he could fry that day because the oil was getting “too dark.” But, ‘dark’ apparently did the trick. That turkey was incredible.
After we saddled up with the poor chum at the fuel dock who preferred to refer to me as a dude, we headed over to our slip at The Wharf to tie the boat up, secure her for the night and let the ole’ Rest rest.
Then we started snatching and grabbing everything on the boat that could use a good washin’ (which was just about everything). I seriously debated taking down the curtains. Like I said – eight days at sea. We had sack fulls – clothes, trash, bottles, you name it. Phillip and his eskimo sidekick looked like a ratty bag couple hauling all of our junk off of the boat. We felt kind of sorry for Phillip’s folks when we kindly knocked on their condo door asking ever so politely to use their facilities.
I mean, were we really going to barge in, start washing every stitch of clothes we brought with us and eating everything in sight?
Of course we were! “Pull up a chair Irene.” (Although I have to admit, I have no idea if her name was really Irene. It seems fitting, but Cousin Eddie shone so brightly in that bit, I don’t think she was ever even anointed with a name – at least not one anyone would remember).
We started running the washer immediately, tore into the fantastic spread that was laid out on the bar and started jockeying for position in the shower line-up. While we had heated some water on the boat and enjoyed a nice warm rinse-down several times during our trip, those “showers” had been brief (water conservation is always a concern) and a little cramped in the stand-up shower stall on the boat. Now, with the full use of a regular-sized bathroom at our disposal and an endless supply of hot water on our hands (or so it seemed). Phillip and I each took our turn and gave ourselves the royal spa treatment from head to toe before curling up in the main room to regale the groupies with our tall tales at sea.
Ahhh … that’s better.
We decided to get out that night and catch the new Catching Fire movie at the theater at The Wharf. For the holidays, they put on a light show every night where the lights, which cover every inch of the palm-tree lined main drag, pump and pulse to holiday music, and that was pretty awesome. Or, psychedelic at least.
But, the best part was the complimentary movie! Or so we thought. As we started to walk into the theater, the ticket booths outside were all empty. No lights were on, no tellers were standing behind them. There was no one there to whom we could tell which flick we wanted to see and pay them for the appropriate ticket.
“One for Catching Fire, please.”
A little stumped, we walked into the theater and, again, there was no usher standing at the little podium by the door, asking for our ticket to inspect and tear. We started to look around and wander, but there was even a second podium before the entrance to the west bank of theaters with, still, no usher, no teller, no one in sight. Phillip started to saunter toward the red sign reading Catching Fire 7:15 and we all kind of made a collective decision to saunter along behind him and not say a word. And, so we did. And, we walked right into that theater and sat our happy selves down for a complimentary movie, deciding they must have just decided to allow free showings for the holidays. Lucky us!
Until Phillip’s sister, Kristen, came rumbling in. We had apparently lost her during our saunter to the smell of butter, salt and the melted yellow plastic they drizzle on the tortilla rounds they call nachos at the concession stand. She was loaded down with two nacho packs, the BIG BAG (patent pending) of popcorn and two large sodas as she shuffled and crinkled her way toward our seats. She chucked a few popped kernels back and mumbled, “Man, these movies are expensive,” to which we all responded with raised eyebrows. Expensive? Kristen looked back at us with an equal stare of confusion. “At the concession stand,” she said. “They charge you at the concession stand.” Whoops. Figuring we’d settle up later, we curled up to enjoy us a mighty fine pitter show.
And, after the show, we went immediately to the concession stand to pay for our movie. Naturally. What kind of people do you think we are??
When we got back to the condo, Phillip’s mom started rushing to the back porch to get at the turkey. Earlier in the day, Phillip and his mom had dunked the turkey in a cloudy bath of salt and spices, sacked it up in a Hefty trash bag in an over-sized Igloo and set out on the back porch. Phillip said we were “brining it,” which I had never heard of before. Growing up, our Thanksgivings involved the thawing of a pre-cooked turkey and a Wal-Mart run for a jar of jellied cranberry sauce, the kind that sloshes out onto the plate with ring imprints on it, an exact replica of the can it came from. Phillip’s “brining” looked, to me, like he was baptizing the turkey in a bath of murky salt water and Joe’s seasoning, but, with my canned-garnishes background, I wasn’t one to judge. I was along for the ride either way. But, apparently, they hard forgot to take the gizzard and some other little bag of giblets out of the turkey before baptizing it, so Phillip’s mom engaged in a rousing bout of what I like to call turkey wrastlin’ which I, naturally, filmed for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!
Video here. And, you gotta love Paul’s comment at the end: “Now, Mary, go wash your hands.” Priceless!
With the turkey officially violated, we set her back out on the porch to continue brining for the night and Phillip and I curled up on the sofa bed in the living room (agreeing through whispers that our v-berth was far more comfortable), but we knew we’d soon find ourselves back on the boat. So, the sofa bed it was.
We woke Thanksgiving morning to a beautiful sunny day. We decided to get out and putter around in the dinghy a bit and check out some of the boats in the marina at The Wharf.
But, we never expected what we encountered on the way back. As Phillip and I were walking back from the boat, the smell captured both of us immediately. We turned to each other in silence, eyebrows lifted and a mischievous grin growing on both of our faces. It smelled like nuts and oil, cinnamon and butter, like pie but more savory. Like a syrupy piece of pecan pie drizzled with rich turkey gravy, a symphonic concoction of scents, like an exorbitant feast of dinner, dessert, nuts, bread, oil and gravy, all laid out at once, a delectable cloud rolling into us. I describe it like it was laid out as an endless bounty, a full Thanksgiving spread with all of the fixings, because that’s what it smelled like, but when we turned the corner, we found only two pot-bellied men, standing near some stained dumpsters and a rusty door that read “Employees Only.” The men were leaning over a white fold-up table, with throw-away foil trays littered about and a couple greasy pair of tongs and were bundled up and staring into an over-sized steel vat of oil, bubbling and sputtering, and emanating that savory, succulent smell that had overwhelmed us.
They were frying turkeys. Although a relatively new culinary phenomenon – I think the whole turkey frying revelation started about 4-5 years ago, it seems quite mainstream now. You drop the whole dad-gum thing into a vat of peanut oil, completely submerged, and let that oily fried goodness soak through every pore of the turkey until it is utterly saturated, unable to hold a single more drop of fatty, peanut-drenched nectar. A fried turkey is the best turkey. Period.
Phillip and I salivated, swallowed, wiped our mouths instinctively and tried to make mindless small talk as we walked by. “So. You guys frying turkeys?” I mean, really? I was even embarrassed by the question. The guys should have responded, “Nope. We’re just standing around a vat of oil on Thanksgiving to fry us up a batch of Ore Ida crinkle fries.” It was one of those “small-talk” questions that you regret later, but you can’t think of anything else to say in the moment. Like when you’re on the elevator with someone you know lives in your building and while you have absolutely no inclination to talk to the person at all, common courtesy tells you have to say something, so you open with, “ Boy, it sure is getting cold out there.” The weather. That’s equivalent to commenting on the obvious. Of course they were frying turkeys.
The larger man gave us a light nod and walked back inside. I can’t blame him. The smell had obviously brought us in, and he wanted no part of the lame elevator conversation that was about to ensue. That left Phillip and I with the thick, stocky, corn-fed boy that remained, donning a long-sleeve Guy Harvey shirt stretched taut around his mid-section and a baseball cap shoved down over a shaggy, dishwater brown mop that fell around his ears. But the guy was friendly, thankfully, and seemingly looking for a distraction. “Yep. We’ve fried up several this morning.” It was a kind answer, a patient one. Phillip and I had sort of stopped, if only to bask for a moment in the nutty aroma, but once the mystery scent source was confirmed, we didn’t have much else to go on, except the weather. So, we gave him one quick “Well it smells delicious. Happy Thanksgiving,” and went about our way. Guy Harvey held up some tongs and said, “Thanks. Y’all too.” We walked just a few steps in silence, thinking the exact same thing. Damn, I wish he’d fry up ours. “Ours” was currently swimming in the Hefty trash bag on the back porch, looking anything but appetizing.
We cracked the lid of our turkey cooler when we got back and stared down at the goose-pimpled skin of our white, veiny bird, trying to conjure the warm, nutty scent. Phillip finally broke first, with what we’d both been plotting since we’d walked by that oily vat, “We oughta ask him if he’ll fry up our turkey.” I hesitated for a minute. Gave him a skeptical frown and shoved my hands in my pockets. But Phillip had an idea brewing and there was no stopping him. “I’m serious. You and Kristen put on some lipstick and go sweet talk ‘em.” I laughed, a little too casually, and wondered if Kristen had heard him. Then, from down the hall, I heard a “Oooh, I’ll wear my skinny jeans too!”
My eyes widened as a sly smile spread over Phillip’s face. This was happening. I gave Phillip a quick wink and headed back to hustle up Kristen and all her accouterments. I found her squeezing into a pair of dark, midnight denim pants and slipping a soft, purple cashmere sweater over her svelte figure. She whirled around to face me with a devilish grin. “What do you think? Wait … what are we doing?” I loved it. The girl had no idea what we were about to be hustling, but she was ready regardless. And, she looked flawless. Thick, chocolate brown hair cascading around blue eyes and porcelain skin. “What am I asking for?” I couldn’t help but laugh. It was clear Phillip had sent her on many a-similar errand and she easily jumped to the task. But, she looked impeccable. I started to think we stood a chance. If she could entrance the two corn-fed boys near the oil vat long enough for me to blurt the request in or, if need be, throw the damn turkey in myself, we were going to be in business. She looked at me with a frown, though. I was still semi-eskimo, bundled, my hair having been smashed under a toboggan all day and donning jeans, a work shirt and still in my rubber rain boots.
Kristen had her work cut out. She started in on me, throwing a sweater on, ratting and poofing my hair and smudging several different pink, powdery substances on my face. I had to chuckle as I watched the rest of the clan stand around us, salivating and admiring Kristen’s handiwork. The masses were hungry and she was making me over like Katniss herself to win over the boys at the Vat Capitol. We were catching fryer.
Phillip packed up the turkey for us and a bottle of wine, intended as an easy sacrifice if needed to seal the frying deal, and sent Kristen and I out the door with a mischievous “And may the odds beever in your favor!”