“In the News” - Christmas in the Kitchen, 2013 - INDY STAR

Posted: Dec 02, 2013

People always end up in the kitchen at a holiday party — even when you have a guest list of 400. And that’s the point of Christmas in the Kitchen, the Dec. 12 event that benefits the Indiana Children’s Wish Fund.

The annual event takes place in the culinary center of the Hyatt Regency Indianapolis, where executive chef John Pivar and his staff will cook and serve a menu that includes 20 to 25 dishes and 10 desserts.

This year, the 1,600-square-foot kitchen will be set up with a dozen food stations featuring everything from beef tenderloin and whole fried red snapper to a mashed potato station, a rotating pizza oven and a raw bar.

And just like at any party, some guests will never leave the kitchen. “Seventy-five percent will eventually go sit down, but there are some that stay in the kitchen the whole time,” Pivar said.

Kelly Bodner, a regular attendee, is one of those. “The best part about it is the food,” she said. “You literally walk into the kitchen and there are tons of food set up. It’s totally worth going to.”

One of the challenges for the staff is just trying to maneuver through the crowds. But they don’t mind. “It’s a fun, casual atmosphere,” Pivar said. “There’s a line out the door for an hour for people trying to get through all the stations.”

Pivar and his staff began planning the popular holiday event last spring, going over notes from 2012.

“We like to look at what worked and what didn’t,” said kitchen staff member Brian Voss, who has worked the holiday party the past 10 years.

Some dishes are perennial favorites. “The clients love the shrimp,” Voss said. “They love the seafood table and the lamb.”

But because Christmas in the Kitchen has become known as a foodie event, guests also expect to try new things. “We did sweetbreads last year, sweetbread gratins, and people loved them,” said Voss.

Pivar relishes the chance to introduce new dishes, and encourages diners to be adventurous. “If you ask me what I would really want to do, I would try the unique stuff,” he said.

“The beef tongue (gratin) excites me. I’m interested and excited about the whole snapper. I love pork cheeks, so that would be another one.”

Guests will notice a variety of gingerbread houses on display during the event. The houses, constructed by Pivar and staff, were decorated by youngsters who have had wishes granted through the Indiana Children’s Wish Fund.

Since 1984, the organization has granted more than 3,000 wishes to Indiana children who suffer a life-threatening illness.

The 2012 Christmas in the Kitchen raised $84,000. Wishes granted included trips to Disney World, the Virgin Islands and the Super Bowl, said Terry Ceaser-Hudson, executive director of the Indiana Children’s Wish Fund.

Christmas in the Kitchen was originally a Hyatt “friends and clients” event, hosted by the hotel’s longtime general manager Earl Nightingale with a guest list that in 1995, for example, topped 800. Abandoned in the late ’90s, the party was revived in 2002 as a fundraiser.

The Hyatt ballroom will be decorated in a fanciful red-and-white theme, said Ceaser-Hudson, all the way down to the candy cane design on the complimentary apron that each guest receives.

“If you aren’t in the spirit when you come to the party, you will be when it’s over,” she said.

On the menu

Executive chef John Pivar’s menu will feature roughly two dozen dishes and 10 desserts. They expect to serve:

  • 1,300 shrimp
  • 1,500 lamb chops
  • 1,500 pieces of sushi
  • 2,000 desserts

Also on the menu: Porcini-dusted Fischer Farms beef tenderloin, Frittle-crusted pork loin, whole fried red snapper, charbroiled lamb chops, pork cheeks; two types of pizza; and specialty cocktails.

If you go

Christmas in the Kitchen
When: 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., Dec. 12.
Where: Hyatt Regency Indianapolis, 1 S. Capitol Ave.
Tickets: $100 and $125; available at

Contact Star reporter Jolene Ketzenberger at (317) 444-6755, find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter: @JKetzenberger.

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