Stuart McLean on Dave Cooks the Turkey

If you’re Canadian, then Stuart McLean needs no introduction. You likely know him as a best-selling author, award-winning journalist, and host of the popular CBC Radio program The Vinyl Café. Yes, there are a million reasons we’d want to catch up with McLean (a new CD, his cross-Canada Christmas tour) but given that the holiday season is upon us, we really wanted to ask McLean about the back story on his iconic seasonal favorite, Dave Cooks the Turkey!

Our fixation on this Christmas tale started with a group musing here at Better Together, that got us all thinking about holiday traditions and the most-memorable meals we’ve experienced. We kept coming back to the Dave Cooks the Turkey story. In a world of holiday perfection-seeking, this story really speaks to those of us who’ve had some less-than-perfect holiday moments! Our general consensus is that lasting memories are often built upon the biggest mishaps.

McLean’s Dave Cooks the Turkey story begins with an ill-fated Dave, who offers to take some of the pressure off his stressed-out wife one Christmas saying, "I'll take care of the Turkey this year."  When she reminds him on Christmas Eve to take the turkey (that he never bought) out of the freezer, the story spirals out of control from there, with Dave frantically trying to locate a turkey in the middle of the night, and finally checking into a hotel to have the ‘abused-looking’ bird he finally buys, cooked professionally.

The charm in this tale lies in Dave’s good intentions, and the hilarious storytelling. When we reached Stuart McLean by phone, he gave us what he says is  ”the most detailed” back-story ever on Dave Cooks a Turkey! Enjoy!

SM: “This is one of the rare stories I tell that is based on events that have actually happened. Years ago when I first started working at CBC, I lived in a house with seven people. One Thanksgiving we decided to throw a dinner, did in fact buy a ‘grade B’ turkey, did have a hard time thawing it, and the oven did break down. We whipped the turkey over to a friend's apartment [which didn’t pan out] and then someone had the idea of taking the turkey to a hotel.”

BT: Any major differences between your experience and Dave’s?

SM: “While Dave’s wife was out for the day, our guests were sitting in the living room watching as we took a door off its hinges to move the hot turkey in and out of house!”

BT: That sounds even more calamitous than the fictional story! So, that must be the most memorable turkey you’ve cooked?

SM: “Actually, I’ve had another turkey cooking mishap. I was home with my parents, in Toronto, who by the way, were not very generous in terms of letting me take leadership in the kitchen as a young adult. One year, I insisted I was going to cook the Turkey. I made a Pierre Burton recipe which called for a pate out of flour and water which I patted on to the turkey, at the onlooking dismay of my parents. According to Pierre Burton, the bird wouldn’t require carving, but when it actually cooked, it was a gooey, floury, watery, papier mache. A bit of a disaster- but memorable!”

BT: So, do you tend to cook a lot at home? What’s your cooking style?

SM:  “I actually like things to be clean and neat while I’m cooking. And typically things proceed really beautifully all along but somewhere in the last 10 minutes something goes wrong. My cooking style is Zen but then at the last, everything goes to hell.”

BT: What’s your favourite meal tradition?

SM: “Every night before we do a show at the Vinyl Café, the entire cast and crew- everyone from the people that sell the merch to the bus driver- we all sit down and break bread together. Coming together to eat and share food is a great way to be together, and it strengthens the unit, like a family.”

Thanks Stuart McLean, for giving us the inside story on Dave- and your life! It was great connecting with you. For our Christmas prize, we'll be giving away The Vinyl Cafe Christmas Collection. To win, upload a recipe to our site by clicking here or share your own holiday meal mishaps with us by commenting on this page! Have a wonderful holiday season!

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