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How To Throw A Last-Minute, Subversive New Year’s Eve Party

Chef Gabe McMackin

How do you throw a last-minute, subversive New Year’s Eve party? Award-winning Chef Gabe McMackin (pictured) has thoughts. And he knows a thing or two about defying expectations. For example, after his acclaimed Brooklyn restaurant The Finch won a Michelin star, did he rush to open another in trendy Brooklyn or moneyed Manhattan? He did not. Instead, he went on to become Executive Chef and Culinary Creative Director of Troutbeck. The restaurant is located in Amenia—in New York’s ever more foodie-friendly Hudson Valley. There, he continues to honor local food producers with his simple yet surprising preparations.

Troutbeck

Meet the Man with the New Year’s Eve Party Plan

Between shuttering The Finch after five years in 2020 and refocusing his efforts on Troutbeck, McMackin has been in a state of transition. And he says the same is true of his sense of style. “I’m in a bit of flux these days,” he admits. “I think I dress fairly utilitarian, but still sharp. I have to go from the kitchen to the dining room, I have to look sharp but not be afraid to get dirty. So it’s a delicate balance of wearing what I love and not wanting to wear out what I might beat up. I’m drawn to things that are elegant and crisp but also timeless. Things that are fun, but not showy. Functional, versatile and exciting.”

Not in flux, however, is McMackin’s appreciation of New Year’s Eve. He says the holiday has long been high on his list of favorites. However, he’s not necessarily looking to for the type of blowout often associated with the occasion. “Things get really, really messy,” he warns of more traditional methods of celebration. “That can be fun, but it hurts. It hurts a lot. Going huge, spending big, wearing the wrong clothes to stand outside in the cold—it’s not the way.” 

So then what does McMackin look for when it comes to the big night? “I love mellow New Year’s Eve nights full of reflection, sitting in front of a fire,” he explains. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be going to bed early. “I love the long nights with every bit of fantasy rolled together, seeing friends and maybe getting in a bit of trouble that I may or may not remember. The fullness of that night is intoxicating, though, whether as a reflection or an explosion of energy”

Troutbeck

McMackin’s Guide to Throwing a Subversive New Year’s Eve Party

So what inspired McMackin’s concept of throwing a subversive New Year’s Eve bash instead? “The anticipation of New Year’s Eve is hard to live up to. It’s an incredible moment that so many people share, but we pack all these expectations on the night,” he explains. His alternative includes “having some great friends together, finding ways for each person to share something about what they remember of the year past and what they hope for in the year to come.” He points out that too many people just can’t seem to stay ‘in the moment’ enough to appreciate it. “Being there fully to experience that moment is special. Making sure we’re present with each other, marking time together at the change of the year—or any other day—feels slightly subversive.”

When it comes to clothes, McMackin suggests going the festive but comfortable route. “Corridor has made some fantastic hand block dyed shirts that I love,” he suggests. What else could he see himself wearing? “I end up in the same pair of A.P.C. jeans that I’ve been wearing and repairing for years, a pair of Kapital boots that are super slick and super comfortable. I could also very easily end up in a white jumpsuit and white Air Jordan 1s.”

And what music should greet guests? “Psych/disco/funk – something that’s going to move people around but still let people talk to one another,” recommends McMackin. “I think Khurangbin is right for just about every mood, but there are a few tracks on the Mordechai Remixes record that are amazing—the ‘Time (You and I)’ is out of this world.” He also enthusiastically recommends “Want You to Remember” by Discotron. McMackin loves creating mood-setting playlists—both for parties or for playing at Troutbeck. “Making sure the vibe of the music is a little bit aspirational, that it matches and then boosts the mood just a little bit, then boosts it a little more: it’s a lot of fun.”

Oysters at Troutbeck

What to Eat and Drink When You’re Subverting

There’s at least one New Year’s Eve tradition that McMackin’s embracing: bubbles. But he’s not married to traditional champagne. “For bubbles, there’s so much to love,” he offers. “Right now, I’m super excited about Martha Stoumen’s Solera Sparkling Chardonnay. She’s an amazing lady, and I love everything she makes. I’m also loving the Croatian wines that one of my favorite people in wine, Kreso Petrekovic, is making called Podrum Franjo. The rosé he makes is dynamite. It has a little bit of fizz, it’s crushable, it’s amazing. Great, great party wine.”

And if you were expecting a call for a complicated menu from our chef, think again. McMackin’s suggestions: “Vegetables! Simple things. Nothing complicated for parties. Elegant, graceful, but simple,” he says. If you’re serving a full dinner, he recommends something “easy to share, warming, filling but still light. Even if it’s a dinner party, it’s still a party. I don’t want to weigh anyone down too much.”

That said, there are a few famously delectable treats McMackin recommends incorporating into a subversive New Year’s Eve party. “Pop your own oysters,” he recommends. He would also serve up “caviar from our friends at Pointy Snout, but just with a spoon. Maybe some potato chips. The cauliflower and apple soup that we make at Troutbeck is fantastic with caviar. I also love caviar with sunchokes and lightly roasted brussels sprouts. But very simple.”

Celebratory Meal

The Chef’s Table and the Big Moment

But what about what’s on the table that’s not edible? “The table is very simple. Lots of candles, a few gnarly looking squash that are easy to move out of the way when food goes down,” he suggests. And don’t forget that the right dishes can add more to the decor. On McMackin’s New Year’s Eve party table, he says, “All the plates and platters are special, have a story and a beauty of their own, but they’re meant to be used. My grandfather was a sculptor and ceramicist, and made beautiful, beautiful things that were meant to be used. The things our friends Jane Herold, Jono Pandolfi or Colin McGinn make are amazing, beautiful and usable pieces.” However, he says, you might want to think twice about which glassware to use. “Stems? Maybe. Maybe not. They’re a little hard to wash up after.”

As for the big moment when the clock strikes 12, staring at a TV and watching the ball drop in Times Square is the furthest thing from his mind. “We’re outside, there’s a huge fire—maybe we’re on the beach—and it’s a clear night and everyone’s having a marvelous time,” he says. You might be having such a good time, he suggests, that the new year may arrive unheralded by any of the usual counting and shouting and kissing. “Countdown isn’t a thing. We meet the new year in stride,” he suggests. “It’s a group of friends, just being together, celebrating time.” Now that’s a tradition to which we can all raise a glass.


Paul Hagen is a writer and editor for aspire design and home magazine.

Photography for this piece is by Christian Harder.

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