Sam Monsour now lives in Los Angeles, but that’s not stopping him from continuing to collaborate with Mark O’Leary, now executive chef at Shojo, on their Future of Junk Food series. In fact, Monsour will be back in town shortly so that the duo can hold their sixth and final event in their partnership with Kitchensurfing. Dubbed Christmas in America, the dinner will be held at Shojo this Sunday, December 14 at 7 p.m., and tickets are going quickly, so snag one right now. ($85 with alcohol or $65 without.) Dinner will be five courses, with plenty of surprises.
While not everything will be strictly Christmas-themed, each course "has some holiday connotation to it," says O’Leary. "Even if it’s not literal, there’s always some sort of allusion. For example, for Sam and I, we both agree that after Thanksgiving and around Christmas, families go to the movies together a lot, so we have a couple surprises as far as that goes. A little popcorn shrimp, a little ode to the movie theatre trip with the family. It’s not necessarily exactly Christmas cuisine, but it still has a lot of personal feeling and meaning."
And then there’s the Wonka-esque prime rib dinner, all rolled up into one savory eclair: a wagyu fat Yorkshire pudding eclair as the base with a whipped potato and spinach cream filling, topped with a "frosting" of a "really beefy roasted veal stock glaze," says Monsour.
Prior to their previous local at event at La Brasa back in September, the duo described Lunchables as their "albatross," the one dish they were determined to make but hadn’t figured out yet. Since then, they’ve figured it out, and it’ll be on the menu on Sunday.
"Lunchables itself doesn’t necessarily sound very holiday-y," says O’Leary, "but the spin we’re going to put on it is that while it’s going to be the Lunchables format that you have sort of come to know and love, the flavors themselves will be very holiday-related. We can make something like a ballotine out of guinea hen, maybe stuff it with some duck sausage. Back when I was a kid, I remember my favorite thing was that port wine cheese that you could just scoop out of that little container and eat with crackers and stuff. We’re going try do something similar to that and a few other surprises. Very holiday-y."
"Hopefully something with cherries," says Monsour. "Remember with school lunches or bad TV dinners, you’d get that little side of sour soggy cherries, and it wasn’t good? I’d really like to make something delicious with cherries to accompany this guinea hen and the port wine cheese. It would feel pretty wintery."
"We’re probably now going to spend, like, $1000 on Luxardo cherries. Gotta make something out of that," says O’Leary. "See, that was good. We’re still riffing!"
Developing the menu while living on opposite coasts comes down to being independently wealthy and just flying back and forth a lot, jokes O’Leary. But in reality, it’s just a lot of emailing and chatting and "late-night drunk ideas," going back and forth "until the idea is so asinine that we have to make it." Right before the event, they finally get together to cook "for three days straight," and that’s when the "magic" happens and the vague ideas become a reality. So while the menu is already written, "now the biggest challenge is to make everything as awesome as possible, to make it not just as straight-forward" as it looks on paper.
On the beverage side, Shojo’s Markus Yao will be creating the pairings. "Markus is sick with drinks," Monsour says, "and I’m excited to see what he comes up with. I’m hoping that he pulls in some of those flavors" that O’Leary and Monsour thought about while creating the food menu, like egg nog, hot cocoa, and hot buttered rum, "and ones that we’ve never thought of." Monsour also brings up Coca-Cola: "It seems like they’ve basically copywritten the most charming Santa Claus face you’ve ever seen, so when that Coca-Cola Santa pack comes out, everybody buys Coke. I know I do. It just feels like all of a sudden Coke is the flavor of Christmas."
While Monsour’s briefly in town, his to-do list includes a lot of eating. "He wants to try Shojo so badly it hurts," says O’Leary.
"Seriously, it’s going to be the most epic eating experience," says Monsour. "I definitely first and foremost have to go get my grub on at Shojo, because I need to experience all this great stuff that I keep reading Mark is doing. I gotta check out Jason Cheek now that he took over Sam’s, and I gotta go check out Josh Lewin [at Wink & Nod]. Then, hopefully there’s enough room in my belly to go back to some of my favorite places, like KO Pies at the Shipyard and Alden & Harlow, late-night."
As for the event, "this is going to be the best thing that Mark and I have done together to date," says Monsour. "We’re just going to try really hard, and we’re motivated by the strong following of friends and family and great eaters in Boston. Especially because it’s Christmas, we want to turn this into a little Christmas party for all of our supporters, so we’re going to make this one special."
Past events have included some fun props and surprises, and this one will be no different. "We’ve got a whole bunch of wacky things that we’re going to pull out," says O’Leary. "We’re going to go gung ho for this last one (with Kitchensurfing at least). We’re going to go apeshit with it, really. No pyrotechnics, per se, but there might be some other things going on."
For those who miss the boat on tickets, there’ll be an after-party that is open to the public. "Maybe instead of an ‘ugly sweater’ party, we’re going to have an ‘ugly face’ party, so everybody has to bring their ugliest face," says O’Leary. More details to come, but the doors will likely open around 10 p.m. "Everybody’s going to get drunk and probably go to Peach Farm later, how we do."