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On New Year’s Eve, we might have more in common with our chef than it seems. We’ve both been planning for an indulgent evening involving a multi-course prix fixe, we both know exactly what we’ll be wearing (down to the shoes), and we both wholeheartedly intend to pop a bottle of bubbly at midnight. The difference? Chefs are on the hour while we’re waiting for it, ensuring no one drops the ball when the ball drops, and caring for us before we have to care for post-“Auld Lang Syne” hangovers. On December 31, these men and women in white are the quiet commanders steering the party vessel toward a successful evening, championing celebration from the amuse-bouche to long after the mignardises. To honor their dedication to us, we spoke with seven chefs across the city to learn what it’s like on the most anticipated night of the year.
What does New Year’s Eve mean to you?
“It means I have to work. That’s No. 1. No. 2: It definitely means celebration; it means friends get together. I think it also represents a new spirit of waiting for the new year to come — and with it, a lot of good things. —Laurent Tourondel, Arlington Club
“It means the end of a very long holiday season, and it means we get to sleep the next day! I always feel very responsible for creating the mood for everyone who’s there [that night]. And that’s just always fun.” —Melissa O’Donnell, Thelma on Clinton
“I look at New Year’s as an important time to start fresh and to look at the year past. To see how you can do better, how you can improve.” —Marc Forgione, Restaurant Marc Forgione
What do you experience when midnight hits?
“Success. You finished the whole year, the night is over — it’s always a long night. And you’re ready for a drink.” –Molly Nickerson, Sorella
“There are a lot of different emotions on New Year’s Eve. It’s the end of what is, for most restaurants, the busiest time of year. We just go from Thanksgiving right up to New Year’s, and we are packed. But we know that when midnight hits on New Year’s Eve that we’ve gotten through it.” –Alfred Portale, Gotham Bar and Grill
“I always make sure — even if we’re still open and have guests, even if we’re still cooking and it’s still crazy — I always make sure that everyone on the line has a pint cup of Prosecco. It’s important to toast to the new year. I want to make it as fun for the cooks as possible.” —Leah Cohen, Pig and Khao
“I’ve worked every New Year’s Eve for the last 12 or 13 years, and it usually means a whole lot of work. And it’s crazy, crazy, crazy, and once midnight comes it’s a breath of relief — that the holidays are over and with them, the nonstop working. You can kind of take a deep breath, calm down for five seconds, pound a glass of Champagne, and go right back to work — because the night is still going on.” —James “Mac” Moran, Rusty Mackerel
“The holiday season is very hectic and fun, but when midnight hits, all of that gets released. People are sitting there having dinner, it’s very festive. And after midnight hits, the music changes completely, and then it sort of becomes a free-for-all. People start moving around seats, talking to each other — it just totally relaxes. I guess there’s a sense of hope that people have right after the New Year.” —Melissa O’Donnell
Any memorable New Year’s Eve moments?
“When we bought what is now Restaurant Marc Forgione, we took over the lease at midnight on January 1 — but it was still [a restaurant called] The Deck at that point. We decided to do an impromptu tasting menu [for New Year’s]. We did 75 covers, and as the ball dropped and it turned to the New Year, my business partner and I turned to each other — we each had a bottle of Champagne in our hands — and we kind of just clanked bottles and said, ‘This could hopefully be the start of something cool.’ And it turned out to be pretty cool.” —Marc Forgione
“There was one memorable time when the fish course was a red snapper, and we must’ve ordered 60 pounds of red snapper, and it didn’t come in. So, on a Saturday, we had to scramble to get fish. Another time we were shorted on caviar, and it wasn’t realized until close to service. So we sent a bunch of our runners out all over the city, buying caviar retail — which wasn’t exactly cost-effective, but what are you going to do?” –Alfred Portale
What dish really resembles the New Year to you?
“I always eat caviar on New Year’s Eve, and we always serve it at the restaurant as well. I don’t know what it is about New Year’s, but I feel like you need to eat caviar.” —Marc Forgione
“On New Year’s Day I always eat a cheeseburger. It’s the one time of year I actually eat a cheeseburger and fries. It’s kind of my tradition. So last year for New Year’s Day, I made cheeseburgers and fries for everyone for staff meal.” —Leah Cohen
How do you stay optimistic about working a night when everyone else is out partying?
“I’m totally fine with working on New Year’s. I like having everyone in my place and taking care of them for the holiday.” —Melissa O’Donnell
“I’ve met some of the most amazing people in this business, so although we’re working and running around like our hair is on fire, it’s still fun. They’re like-minded people. And good drinking buddies. —James “Mac” Moran