How to Keep Big Family Dinners Going at a Distance

A ‘Top Chef’ alum and ‘Beat Bobby Flay’ winner shares ways to keep tradition going strong while we’re apart

Illustration: Sabrena Khadija

LLike many of you, I come from an extensive family. And like most of you, I’ve lost contact with some relatives over the years as I’ve settled into becoming an actual adult. My name is Brother Luck — and yes, that is my real birth name. I’m a professional chef, television personality, and restaurant owner currently living in Colorado. I have two family-owned restaurants that have become staples within my local community: Four by Brother Luck and Lucky Dumpling.

As the coronavirus pandemic accelerates across the globe and forces many of us to practice social distancing and self-quarantining, I face the same universal challenge: boredom. How many Netflix shows can I binge? What’s left to organize in the house? Should I start painting an accent wall? How many games of dominos can we play? These kids and dogs are driving me crazy!

My idle time led me to a unique way of reconnecting with my family in various parts of the country. My eldest aunt invited me to a group chat on the app Marco Polo. Yes, a woman who has celebrated more birthdays than most of us invited this millennial to join a group chat. Many of our relatives don’t use Facebook or Instagram, so I was curious about why the family chose this platform. When I logged onto the group chat, I was amazed to see that there were over 50 participants. As I scrolled through the list of members, I realized how many folks I hadn’t spoken with since childhood and the countless others I’d never actually met. Everyone recorded short videos and talked about their day or shared stories about their personal lives. I binged a series of Marco Polo videos as quickly as I’d devoured Netflix’s Tiger King before I decided to participate.

I always explore the ghosts of my past to find inspiration and connect the dots when creating my dishes… I love to explore dishes from my childhood as a professional because they now make so much more sense.

When I pushed the start button and began recording, I smiled, knowing I could finally reintroduce myself as an adult to my long-lost family. Many of them had only ever seen me on television, competing on multiple seasons of Bravo’s Top Chef, running around the Chopped kitchen on Food Network, or toppling an Iron Chef on Beat Bobby Flay. In their eyes, I had become a ghost member of the family who went on to become “famous” and rarely reached out because I was too busy traveling the world. As we spent the next few days catching up, I realized this could be a much-needed opportunity to learn more about my Creole culture from previous generations.

I always explore the ghosts of my past to find inspiration and connect the dots when creating my dishes. Spending the last 23 years cooking in different countries has given me a multitude of experience and refined my approach to the kitchen. I love to explore dishes from my childhood as a professional because they now make so much more sense. I understand the ingredients instead of thinking of them, like I did as a child, as foreign treasures brought back from an alien planet. Now that I’m fluent in the language of food, recipes read like beautiful poems. When I’m in the kitchen, I feel like the conductor of a grand orchestra — and I want my family to experience the beautiful music I’ve learned to play.

During these video conversations with my family, many of them asked questions about cooking specific dishes, so we agreed to start virtually cooking for each other throughout the week. It’s incredible how many consider their signature dishes “world-famous” — like my cousin Vince’s lasagna or Teddy’s grilled cheese turkey sandwich. One of our recent conversations was about Boudin Blanc; our family originates from Louisiana, and it’s a favorite dish. Everyone had a case of Boudin in the freezer, but didn’t understand why it was stuffed into a casing since they would split them open only to eat the pork and rice filling with eggs, potatoes, or as is. Seeing that this could be an excellent opportunity to share some knowledge, I reached out to my colleague chef, Isaac Toups, in New Orleans, and asked him for his Boudin Blanc recipe. He’s one of the experts on authentic Cajun-Creole cuisine, and I figured he’d be perfect for assisting with this lesson for my family. Toups agreed, so I started building a grocery list and now plan on hosting our next cooking class for a virtual dinner with the family.

I’m looking forward to teaching them how to make the filling, the purpose of the sausage casing, and various ways to execute the final preparation. I’ll send out the recipe so they can hopefully go shopping as well and cook alongside me during the video. Our next video cooking class will most likely be about gumbo; we all have our variations of the iconic Louisiana dish. Or maybe we’ll bake my father’s chocolate chip cookie recipe that I found in my grandmother’s recipe catalog at her Louisiana home. He passed away when I was very young but mailed this handwritten recipe to her in the early ’90s. I’ve never made them; I think it could be a great way for us all to share stories of the man we all miss.

If there’s one thing I’m grateful for during this pandemic, it’s that isolation brought me closer to a family I missed dearly; I love the videos we share every day. Maybe we’ll add some new dishes to our family traditions we can enjoy around the table when we can finally be together in person.

Stay safe out there, and please share with me the creative ways you’re cooking with your family during these trying times. I can always be reached on all social media platforms @chefbrotherluck. Until then, try my father’s Chocolate Chip recipe — with my spin.

Big Brother’s chocolate chip cookies

  • 1 cup unsalted butter or shortening
  • 2 whole eggs (beaten)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. almond or rum extract
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (sifted)
  • 14 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups walnuts
  1. Cream butter, brown sugar, eggs, and extracts together.
  2. Mix flour with baking soda, powder, and salt.
  3. Sift and then lightly cream into butter/egg mixture.
  4. Add chocolate chips and walnuts.
  5. Chill dough for several hours or overnight.
  6. Roll into walnut-size balls.
  7. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for seven to nine minutes.
  8. Remove from the cookie sheet. Cookies will be soft and moist.

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