Family's 'Small Plate Throwdown' A Competitive Christmas Tradition

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When we asked about what you eat on Christmas, we didn't expect to discover that one family prepared for dinner the way athletes train for a big game. Jean Van Etten of Fairport, N.Y., was tired of making Christmas dinner for her extended family by herself, so she decided to turn it into a competition called the "Christmas Day small plate throw down." Big sister Maureen Zupan joins her to talk about it.


But how might that kitchen computer chef make out in Fairport, New York, today? In the Van Etten home, where it's sister against sister, against nephew against cousin, against uncle, you get the point.


SIEGEL: It's called the Christmas Day small plate throw down. Here's Jean Van Etten to explain.

JEAN VAN ETTEN: It's a day, just like you should have on Christmas, of competition. And all the guests bring a dish that they've created, and we critique, we enjoy, and sometimes we don't enjoy what has been presented.

MAUREEN ZUPAN: Jean actually decided that she wasn't going to make dinner anymore.

SIEGEL: That's older sister Maureen Zupan, now pressed into kitchen duty because Jean got finally fed up doing Christmas dinner all by herself. Maureen is a fierce, if unskilled, competitor.


SURVIVOR: (Singing) Rising up back on the street...

SIEGEL: But last year - between the shrimp and chorizo, the squash soup and the rock-hard Swedish meatballs cooked in grape juice - Maureen, with her array of tiny desserts, mini apple pies, little banana splits, did not win. Jean's son, a professional chef, did.

ETTEN: And then the grumbling started...

ZUPAN: And it was - Jean, it just wasn't fair. First of all, it was in her house.


ZUPAN: It's her son, and he wins. So we decided that her son, Brian, had to get a handicap this year. So taking a chapter out of the Food Channel show "Chopped," he is going to be presented with a box.

ETTEN: And we've selected a few ingredients, and we're hoping he can something wonderful out of them. We have a nice cod. We have a very alien-looking vegetable called romanesco. We have a star fruit.

But, you know, here's the thing that I think has been so much fun about this whole event, is that we really do sit around the table a long time. There's lots of the anticipation, politicking, when it comes time to vote, and people are really taking it seriously. One of the participants is making what she calls an ecumenical presentation for Christmas.

ZUPAN: In other words, she's Jewish, and she's going to present Jewish food on Christmas Day.

ETTEN: So she wasn't content to find her brisket in Upstate New York, and she instead went to the Upper West Side of Manhattan, got her brisket, got on the airplane with her brisket. It went through security and she had to explain what she was doing with a brisket. So she says she's going to win and, you know, we'll see.

ZUPAN: And so - this is Maureen. I'm hoping that if I can ply them with enough alcohol, they'll vote for me. I have, from my husband, an old family recipe on his side of the family that involves three days of making old-fashioned eggnog.

ETTEN: Yeah, I don't think the alcohol is going to do it, Maureen...


ETTEN: ...if you're cooking. I mean, you can try, but, really, there's only so much you can overcome.



SIEGEL: Jean Van Etten and Maureen Zupan talking and trash talking about their family's Christmas Day small plate throw down, just one of the many stories we received when we asked you to tell us what you eat on Christmas.


SURVIVOR: (Singing) The eye of the tiger...

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