Holiday meals, round 1, done! I hope your meal turned out better than you expected, especially those of you who e-mailed me for the cheesecloth method for roasting your turkey. You have one more shot at it in a little over three weeks, that is, if you serve turkey for Christmas dinner.
My Thanksgiving was super this year thanks to my friend Jason, his parents, Pat and Bob, and their extended family. The food was amazing, from the delicious dressing two ways (meat and vegetarian) to the greens and pickled green tomatoes to Jeff’s spicy mac and cheese and Sharon’s corn pudding, all the way to Christopher’s carrot cake, pies and a dozen assorted cupcakes from Tonnie’s Minis (my contribution). Thanks again, Carey clan, for welcoming my mother and me to the annual gathering.
We all have a lot for which to be thankful in these trying times, but I am thankful for someone I lost this year. I am thankful for a man whose physical presence and voice commanded respect, all the while exposing that soft spot that lived in his heart for those he loved. He was my godfather, Gilbert Dyer.
Gilbert knew me since I came out of my mother’s womb. In fact, he brought me home from the hospital. It took a strong man to carry my 12-pound, 11-ounce butt home (I was a big baby). Maybe it was at that moment that that bond was created between he and I.
For as long as I can remember, I knew Gilbert loved food–making it and certainly eating it. Whenever I would visit him at home, 9 times out of 10 he was in that hot kitchen with a towel around his neck, either in the process of making something or waiting for it to come out. And when it came out, it was good!
He made everything from good, classic African-American soul food to the finest French-inspired cuisine. He was the one who inspired me to think differently about foods and to try new things, but to always come back to our favorites. My favorite was big, fresh, stemmed strawberries covered in the best dark chocolate. Whenever I arrived, he would pull them out of the refrigerator on a parchment-lined baking sheet with a smile on his face.
While his famous stuffed mushrooms and any of his seafood dishes were the best, baking was his passion. Some would say that he simply loved butter (one pat for the dish, one pat for the chef), others would say that this passion was his business.
Confections By Gilbert started with his famous brownies (my sister Heather and niece Courtney will be trying their hand at his baking), delivering them by request and for purchase to New York City restaurants, lounges and pool halls. As a Harlem native and an active member in the community from his work at Boys of Yesteryear, Gilbert began to build Confections By Gilbert into a full-service catering company, servicing private client events and movie production sets with his savory and sweet dishes.
Gilbert made sure nary a birthday would go uncelebrated, from the themed parties of my youth to the simple bouquet of three dozen long-stemmed roses delivered to my job for my 30th. He took me to the finest restaurants and encouraged me to try new foods. The most significant was my 18th birthday at the Water Club. I thought I was so grown having lobster (I pulled a “Flashdance” moment), caviar and champagne (relax, it was the ’80s, one glass did the trick). These are vignettes in my life that I will hold on to forever, and Gilbert was the star.
In looking for some images for this piece, I came across some photos of Gilbert teaching teenagers how to cook. The picture says it all. On the prep table sits the mise en place with herbs, greens, lemon, butter and “The Chef’s Art: Secrets of Four Star Cooking at Home.” To the left of the table stands an eager student waiting for direction, and at the helm is Gilbert in his chef coat holding a pan filled with some savory deliciousness.
I don’t remember him telling me about his teaching, but it goes right in line with the man he was. He always had faith in young people and young people moving to their best potential. His legacy lives in me, in my sister, in our god sister, Kim, in my nieces and in all the young people he has influenced.
Thank you, Gilbert. We love you, Gilby, forever and always.
Enjoy, get cooking and thanks for reading!
Questions at dinnertime? Chat with me at AskSCHOP, Monday through Friday, 6-8 p.m.
Kysha Harris is owner of SCHOP! SCHOP! is available for weekly service or for home entertaining. Questions? Comments? Requests? Feedback? E-mail kysha@iSCHOP.com.