I consider myself a Thanksgiving guy. It has a special place in my heart as a holiday that's both uniquely American and food-centric as it is affordable.
The average Thanksgiving meal for 10 people costs about $50, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. That's a taste-to-dollar ratio I can get behind.
But when I found out that the Old Homestead Steakhouse in New York City offers a Thanksgiving package that costs more than 1,500 times that — at a total price of $76,000 — I was intrigued to say the least.
"When you spend $76,000 on a Thanksgiving dinner, you're not just buying dinner, you're creating memories," explains Old Homestead co-owner Marc Sherry.
Though the price includes a Thanksgiving "experience" that goes beyond just food (more on that later), Old Homestead's executive chef, Juan "Louie" Acosta, cooked the exclusive dinner for CNBC Make It.
When I arrived to the table, the restaurant's feast was showcased with da Vinci-like beauty.
The dinner — which boasts everything from $475-per-pound imported Japanese Wagyu beef lollipops to gravy infused with $3,300 special reserve Pappy Van Winkle bourbon — features only the best.
"What we focused on is using the most expensive ingredients that we possibly could find from all over the world," he says of his restaurant's over-the-top menu, now in its fourth annual iteration. "Not only will you eat well, you will drink the finest."
At a price tag roughly $15,000 higher than the median household income in the U.S., I guess you'd expect as much. I settled into the back booth and prepared to eat the equivalent of my outstanding student loan debt.
The dinner starts with $100 imported king oysters with an Opus One wine mignonette sauce. At a size that dwarfs your palm, they are the kind of oysters that test whether you are truly an oyster fan.
That experience is quickly followed with a plate of inch-thick, $225-per-pound smoked bacon slabs, cured from an imported Japanese black boar, topped with an orange marmalade glaze made from $75 Dekopon oranges and an $1,800 special reserve bottle of cognac. Why someone would buy a $75 orange made more sense after the sweetness hit my tongue, that is until the saltiness of the bacon took over.
The last of the non-traditional Thanksgiving flavor comes from a staple that the steakhouse has become known for: its prized Japanese Wagyu beef. Bite-size lollipops of the $475-per-pound meat are served with a peppercorn au poivre dipping sauce infused with $4,800 Louis XIII cognac.
"It tastes like butter, it eats like butter. It's like the Fourth of July in your mouth," Sherry says. Why use a rival holiday to communicate the flavor? After the first bite it all made sense.
But those delicacies are not what make Thanksgiving. It's all about the turkey, the stuffing and the potatoes. Needless to say this was not the Butterball I was accustomed to.
The organic, $105-per-pound turkey, sourced from a free-range farm in upstate New York, was basted in $17-per-ounce Italian olive oil and seasoned with spices from the Middle East. Whipped sweet potatoes were topped with $1,600-per-ounce black caviar from the Caspian Sea. Even the traditional mashed potatoes boasted the flair of $455-per-pound imported Swedish moose cheese.
"You could take mozzarella cheese, you could take cheddar," Sherry says, "but that's not what we're doing here, these mashed potatoes are rich."
The same could be said of the stuffing — a mix of $54-per-pound foie gras, the very same Wagyu beef and sourdough that's too good to be from here.
"For $76,000, I cannot chop up white bread and put that in the stuffing, so what we did is we have a $46 sourdough loaf that we imported from the UK," Sherry explains.
My mother imports her stuffing from a box of Stove Top.
Even the cranberry sauce — something not normally even worthy of taking up space on my Thanksgiving plate — had me scooping for more. Its flavors are born from a mash of organic cranberries and a $1,750 French Cabernet Sauvignon reduction. For good measure, the staff adds an extra dash of $1,800 orange liquor.
As I smack the table in sheer ecstasy and have a strawberry dipped in a sabayon cream sauce made with a vintage 1968 Cristal champagne, I begin to question everything I thought I knew about America's beloved holiday.
But is it really worth $76,000? Well, the magic doesn't stop at dinner.
"Not only is this a culinary extravaganza, it's a cornucopia of inedible amenities," Sherry says of his restaurant's over-the-top tradition. "With this great dinner comes some great things."
Each year, those things change. A Thanksgiving dinner in 2015 featured a 2-carat emerald-cut diamond engagement ring hidden in the stuffing at the base of the turkey — which one customer used to propose to his girlfriend at the restaurant. This year's dinner instead features four tickets to Hamilton, limousine service, a two-night luxury suite overlooking New York City's Central Park at the Mandarin Oriental, a $7,500 shopping spree on Fifth Avenue and a watch from Swiss manufacturer Ulysse Nardin that costs more than $20,000.
While a list like that sounds gimmicky, I realize that's not why Sherry finds so much joy in offering the world's most expensive Thanksgiving experience. Like myself, he's a Thanksgiving person.
"I'm in love with the holiday. I'm in love with the creativity of a $76,000 dinner. I'm proud of my staff and the way they put it out," Sherry says, adding that his team spent a couple months putting the experience together last year before seven customers bought in. "I love seeing the people buy this, I love seeing the expression on their face."
As I pushed the final plate away and re-contemplated Thanksgiving as a holiday, I realized something was missing — the faces of my friends and family around the table.
While my mother cooks stuffing out of a box, I look forward to it every year. It's tradition. Just like the tradition of Thanksgiving extravagance Sherry and his brother Greg have created at the restaurant they've co-owned together since taking it over from their grandfather nearly 50 years ago.
And while the whole thing seems expensive at $76,000, I can't argue that the night won't create memories. Nor can I say I wouldn't want to eat at the Homestead Thanksgiving table again if I am lucky enough to have the chance.
Maybe your table, like mine, lacks imported meats from around the world or thousand-dollar bottles of liquor. But that's perfectly fine if you realize — even at the end of the priciest Thanksgiving experience in the world — that sharing the experience with loved ones matters more than the extravagance or the price of the food that rests on top.
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