Nabeel Chollampat: A Food Network Thanksgiving (or how I'd imagine it to be)

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Monday, November 13, 2017 - 5:04pm

Disclaimer: OK, look. At this point, everyone just needs to get over it. Clearly this isn’t an actual, profound, biweekly treatise on food and the culture surrounding it. Clearly I’m not qualified for this (but who’s qualified for anything, really?). And, clearly, I’m just using this “food column” as a pretense to write about nebulously food-adjacent things I find interesting. Let’s all just accept this and move on.

With that being said, here’s a hypothetical scene of Thanksgiving at the Pioneer Woman’s house. For those of you who aren’t Food Network-heads (boo), have fun hanging out with Ree Drummond, Ina Garten, Chris Santos, Marc Murphy, Scott Conant, Geoffrey Zakarian, Marcus Samuelsson, Alex Guarnaschelli, Giada de Laurentiis, Bobby Flay and Guy Fieri. Apparently there are those out there who don’t know who these people are.

The boys are outside cleaning up with Ladd. Paige and Alex are inside doing each other’s hair. The kitchen smells of butter and heavy cream and vaguely ethnically inspired foods. It’s Thanksgiving, and Ree Drummond is happy.

It’s been so long since I’ve felt this feeling of … warmth, she thinks, for a fleeting moment, before she’s interrupted by the doorbell. The guests are here!

What enchanting, bewildering fun. Entertaining has always been a staple of Ree’s lifestyle; thank God Ina let her host this year. Ree puts down her copy of Mrs. Dalloway and rushes to answer the door.

Speak of the devil: It’s her.

“Oh hey, Ree!” she exclaims with feigned excitement. They hug as if they actually like each other. Ugh. “Jeffrey will be here in a bit. He’s just going to find parking.”

“Well, you can just park anywhere in the field,” Ree says. “We’ve got so much open space.”

“We just wanted to find a…parking lot,” she replies. “The ranch is gorgeous, though!”

Ina walks inside and sets down her dish wrapped in tinfoil. She looks around before placing it in the warming drawer beneath the oven. Ree knows what it is — she just can’t believe it.

The stupid lemon chicken. A simple mixture of herbs and olive oil, lemon wedges and slices of onion covering the width of the chicken, all roasted in a pan — and for what? The insipid taste of lemon and garlic infused in a dry slice of chicken? There’s already a turkey. Ree plots to “forget” the dish in the drawer. Take that, Barefoot Contessa.

The bell rings again. Ree can hear too many voices at the door, so she knows who it is: The Chopped Boys. She laughs at the thought of their group tattoo, which is actually spelled Chopt Boiz, but that wouldn’t fly in Oklahoma.

She opens the door and laughs; it’s always great to see the boys. They might air back-to-back, but they never can seem to find the time.

Chris, Scott, Aaròn, Marc, Marcus, Geoffrey and, of course, Alex. She always was the outsider. Ted didn’t come, though. No one on that show likes Ted.

“Hey, Aaron, brought anything good this year?” says Ree.

“Ree, mija, you know it’s pronounced Aaròn,” he replies. They all laugh and hug each other.

Except for Scott, of course. Scott never laughs.

It’s a warm and inviting atmosphere, and Ree is in a good place. The kids have been great, of course, and Ladd is still such a great and stoic rock for her, but… It’s been so long since Ladd has shown her any affection. Sometimes, she thinks, this whole rugged, country lifestyle might be getting the better of their marriage. Would it be better if they left? Would the boys still be men and the girls still be ladies? Would “The Pioneer Woman” still be a brand? Ah, well. Thoughts for another day, she concludes.

After the big shots arrive — Giada, Bobby and, yes, Guy — it’s time to begin the feast. The boys run back inside and Paige and Alex come downstairs. Bobby ruffles the boys’ hair like a proud uncle. It truly is a family at The Food Network.

Ree has made her specialty: meatloaf. Some people might laugh, but there’s nothing that screams Oklahoma more than a thick, sweaty slab of meatloaf. Douse that in ketchup and you might as well be yelling “Boomer Sooner” in Norman! Ree chuckles to herself as she places the dish on the table. It jiggles as she sets it down. Yum.

Aaròn has brought maíz tortillas to fill with a beautifully grilled skirt steak and chimichurri, courtesy of Marcus. (Ree catches Ina mouthing the words, “store-bought” to Giada on the side of the room.) Chris hasn’t brought food, but, as always, he’s brought his guitar — he’s the post-dinner entertainment, always has been.

Bobby and Giada have collaborated (not for the first time, Ree thinks to herself) on a shitty bowl of pasta with a “Southwestern twist!” Great job, sellouts. Ree tries to obscure this with her immaculately constructed centerpiece.

Geoffrey and Scott procure, seemingly out of nowhere, a fully cured ham. It’s been sitting in Scott’s basement in Great Neck for months, apparently. Ina shoots him a  “Great-Neck?-It’s-No-Hamptons” look as he explains. Geoffrey pulls the finest switchblade, made in Switzerland, and shaves it in the finest slices known to man.

Finally, they let Guy bring out his famous “Bloomin’ Onion, Guy’s Way.” It’s just a Bloomin’ Onion he bought from Outback Steakhouse that he put in a deep fryer again. They let him have this, every year. It makes him feel valued.

Ree makes everyone sit down quickly and smirks at Ladd — he knows she’s just negged Ina, HARD. They squeeze hands under the table. This feels right.

“Oh my God, guys, no,” says Geoffrey. “We forgot to invite Ayesha!”

There’s a moment of silence before they all burst out into laughter. Always the comedian, Geoffrey.

But then Ina makes a motion. Of course she does.

“Wait, guys!” she exclaims, her exasperated hands waving. She rushes over to the oven and pulls out the dreaded lemon chicken. She rips off the tinfoil and places it right in the center, for everyone to see. Bitch.

And then Ree sees it. A smile creeps onto her face. The Contessa has no idea what’s about to happen.

“Are those… are those red onions?” Scott trembles at the sight before him. Geoffrey’s face turns gaunt. Alex turns to the rest of The Chopt Boiz and screams.

Geofrrey grabs Scott by the face and turns him. “Scott, no,” he whispers. “You can fight this. You are stronger than this.”

Scott’s face is now an unrecognizable shade of red. Ree is scared, but secretly happy. She steals a glance at Ina’s confused, horrified face. It’s glorious.

“THE ACIDITY!” Scott screams. It’s a lost cause now. “RAW RED ONION IS TOO ACIDIC FOR MY PALATE!”

He flips the table with seemingly unknown force. Everything falls to the floor. He rips off his shirt. Ree notices he’s surprisingly jacked, but makes sure to comment on that at a later time.

“TAKE IT AWAY FROM ME! CRUCIFY THAT BANSHEE! THAT EVIL HAG! BANISH HER FROM OKLAHOMA!”

Ina is terrified. She begins to apologize, but Jeffrey puts a finger to her lips. He grabs her by the arm and the two of them sprint out.

Ree surveys the scene. Geoffrey massages Scott’s back as he crouches on the ground, panting. The worst is over for now. Alex and the rest of the gang are crying. Bobby and Giada are nowhere to be seen, but a thumping sound is heard from the upstairs bedroom. Guy picks at a tortilla fondly.

Ree turns to Ladd and plants a kiss right on his mouth.

“I love Thanksgiving.”