“This is like Top Chef,” I muttered. I was standing with my boyfriend, Fred, in the D’Agostino’s on Hudson Street, with exactly three hours on the clock until we were due to arrive at David Byrne’s office in Soho bearing a turkey-shaped comestible made by me.
I was a participant in the annual Todo Mundo Turkey Competition held by Danielle Spencer, Byrne’s art director, and I had no idea what I was doing.
Turkey competition? Let me explain. A few years back, Spencer ordered this mold off the Internet. “It comes with this recipe,” she explained to me last year, “where you can make it look realistic. You make peach Jell-O and add a little green food coloring and condensed milk, and it mixes into a sickly fleshlike substance. It’s absolutely revolting. The only person who would touch it was David.”
Sign me up, I remember telling her. I’ll totally come next year. I have a billion ideas. Whether or not Danielle believed me, my mold arrived in the mail in October. I was confident I’d come up with the perfect molded turkey—the winning molded turkey.
And while ambition let me dream big, inertia was the more dangerous force. On the nights I had envisioned myself experimenting in the kitchen like Wylie Dufresne, I always found something else to do—a party, drinks with a friend, work. The bird mold sat idly on my kitchen counter. Finally, with our one night of experimentation a flop (What were we thinking with Taxi Turkey—parts of a miniature yellow cab suspended in yellow Jell-O?), I woke up on the appointed day in a sweat.
“How about a wafer cake. You know, we’d soak the wafers in milk, and then we’d mold them to the plastic? And then we’ll just like, stick it on a big pile of whipped cream?”
“You’re not understanding the physics of wafers,” Fred sighed.
“You’re not understanding my vision!” I snapped.
And that’s how we managed to find ourselves in the baking aisle, staring at a row of chocolate syrup, scratching our heads. Inspiration was bound to strike. What about getting mangos and then slicing them into thin strips and creating a sort of gridded-strip mango turkey? Or what about smashing bread crumbs together and stuffing them into the mold? Can you freeze yogurt? Fred went off to gather all the mozzarella he could find. He had vague plans of melting the cheese down in a double boiler, then freezing it in the mold. He was going to call it Turkey Caprese. But what about me?
Were mangos even in season?
The more I tried to free my mind, the more it froze. Cindy Sherman and David Byrne were competing, for chrissakes. I imagined arriving empty-handed or worse—my turkey greeted with an embarrassed silence from Danielle. A wealthy looking couple parked their shopping cart next to mine, and picked up a box of cookies. Sade played over the speakers—and there, just like that, nestled behind bags of cake flour, I saw it: four boxes of marzipan. I snagged them before the couple had a chance—for the world had become my competitor.
My plan was to bake a chocolate cake, whip up some buttercream, and shape it into featherlike sphere. I’d dye the marzipan to a golden-brown color and press it into the Quiggle mold. Then I’d unpeel the marzipan and stick it over the cake. Add some marzipan carrots and various turkey dressings, and voilà! A cake shaped like a turkey.
Did I mention I had less than three hours?
The moment we were ready to leave for the party, every cab in New York was switching shifts (we eventually hopped on a bus, and unveiled our creations to a curious gay couple). I won’t forget jogging through the crush of Soho tourists, platter in hand, praying I didn’t trip and fall flat on my face. We arrived just under the wire, and lined our faux fowl up along with the rest of the thirty contestants. Fred made his Turkey Caprese. I even saw David Byrne pick up a slice of basil, mozarella, and tomato, and take a bite. And my cake passed muster, it actually elicited a few oohs and aahs as it was sliced open with an electric carving knife. Sadly, it wasn’t enough to win; that honor was reserved for the creator of the Gobble Pop, a turkey-size stick of ice cream that, I have to admit, was first class. Where did she find an enormous ice-cream stick, I wondered? And how did she make that smooth chocolate exterior? “I used coconut oil, and it’s a paint stick,” she began, accepting her medal on the temporary podium, surrounded by Byrne’s various art projects. “Shhh!” yelled someone in the crowd. “Don’t give it away!”