They are the gourmet pilgrims and they've been out in full force this week, shopping for low-cholesterol Thanksgivings, kosher Thanksgivings, vegetarian Thanksgivings, pre-prepared/takeout Thanksgivings and yes--here and there--the traditional turkey-dressing-and-cranberries celebrations too.
In Los Angeles, many such seekers eventually wind up at Beverly Center's Irvine Ranch Farmers Market, which is to most grocery stores as Neiman-Marcus is to K mart. It's a gastronome's New World, where half the customers resemble celebrities. And some of them actually are.
Stalking the Prey
Those combing the aisles early in the week weren't wound up to the fever pitch that probably will prevail today, but there were plenty with the bright-eyed, intent look of ferrets stalking prey--and a number of supershoppers in the preliminary planning stages for gargantuan feasts.
Donna Hamner, a model who occasionally caters office parties, spent about $600 for food for a Thanksgiving office party at Mortgage Capital Group in Beverly Hills. "This is nothing compared to what I've already been doing," she said, "I spent about a $1,000 on produce at the West Central Market."
None of her expenditures were for turkey. Hamner was planning to serve an assortment of pastas as the main dish, among them Cajun pasta, red snapper pasta and garlic chicken pasta.
She was hardly alone in shopping for a less-than-predictable feast. A couple who requested anonymity revealed they were planning on "turkey breast Jambalaya" and pumpkin pie without whipped cream, in an attempt to create a low-cholesterol meal. And textile executive Sherry Lowy, a former nutritionist, and her husband Allan Lowy, a real estate developer, were carefully selecting foods for a kosher Thanksgiving dinner.
Many customers, such as Beverly Hills hairdresser Rona O'Connor, had not even thought about what they would be preparing for Thanksgiving; their carts were filled with ingredients for that evening's meal. "I might make the stuffing if I can get the recipe from my mom," O'Connor mused, adding that she would be attending a family celebration for which she had no cooking duties.
Two hundred customers, however, had not only thought about Thanksgiving, they had signed up for perhaps the most outrageous Thanksgiving feast of all: a completely pre-prepared turkey with corn bread stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce prepared by the market's deli department. The $39.50 instant Thanksgiving dinner is designed to feed "13 people, with leftovers," according to Irvine Ranch assistant manager Wally Warren.
By Monday, the market had to stop accepting such orders. Its oven-space was fully subscribed. "A lot of people have asked us how the turkeys are being prepared so they can pretend they made them themselves," volunteered Mitchell Mann, the assistant deli manager who took many of the orders for the Thanksgiving-to-go feasts. "They said their families would kill them if they knew they bought takeout food."
To many customers, a trip to this Beverly Center market is an event in itself. Valet parking is available. So are exotic flowers, at up to $16 a stem. Autographed photographs of famous vintners line the walls of the wine department. Lobsters are housed in a nearby tank. And the produce section is where you'll spot connoisseurs cornering such delicacies as seedless avocados or holding yam inspections (to check if the vegetables are dripping at the end, an indication of sweetness).
Of course not everyone appreciates the price tag for this staggering variety. A few steps away, a West L.A. matron accustomed to clipping coupons and shopping at more conventional markets, was shopping for her son, an attorney given to eating elaborate salads.
"It absolutely kills me to pay the same price for one onion here that I pay for several onions," she lamented. "But he's talked himself into thinking this stuff is better. . . . Romaine lettuce is $1.29 here. It's 39 cents at Hughes."
Others accept the rarefied atmosphere, and dress for it. Culver City based pediatrician Dr. Margo Russell was decked out in an off-the-shoulder black jersey dress--a few inches of black crinoline peeking out from the hem--as she prepared for a meatless holiday feast, with stuffed fish as the main course.
Those who aren't attired up to the prevailing standard may find themselves apologizing for it. Bonnie Parker, wife of actor Jameson Parker of television's "Simon and Simon," excused her outfit (gray leggings, plaid shirt and rhinestone-clad sunglasses); she had just been hiking in Griffith Park.
"When this bill comes I'm going away for a weekend," she proclaimed, as she had a couple of bottles of Chateau Mouton Rothschild wrapped in red cellophane and asked the market's wine pro to recommend a port for use in a venison recipe.
Parker was picking up assorted essentials, including a 25-pound turkey, for an all-out, Southern-style Thanksgiving dinner for 14 people. While she was out shopping and hiking, she said, her husband had been home baking pies.
"We've got our pie thing down to a science," she explained. "We make the best pumpkin pies. That's because my husband says they have a pint of bourbon in them."