Michael McCarty's Malibu Christmas

mccrestaurantChristmas traditions abound all over the world. For instance, in recent years KFC has become somewhat of a Christmas meal tradition in Japan, mind boggling tidbit that it is. However did you ever wonder how noted chefs and restaurateurs celebrate Christmas? As it is usually their busiest season, with all of the parties and holiday dining, some shine it on and let someone else do the cooking, preferring to lay low and veg out on the couch in front of the tube. Others go the busman’s holiday route, keeping their home fires burning while stirring their pots and aiming those meat thermometers straight into the middle of the roast.

Michael McCarty, the iconic restaurateur, creator/owner of Michael’s in Santa Monica and Michael’s in New York City is definitely your DIY Christmas Traditionalist. He’s the whiz kid/enfant terrible who brashly and boldly opened the Santa Monica restaurant at the ripe young age of 25, and did he ever cause a ruckus! In what has proven over the years to be both his nature and his signature style, even at 25 he had the knowledge, taste, and chutzpah to wake LA and shake it up. He created a glorious outdoor dining patio and interior rooms where diners could look at museum quality art by LA’s top artists including David Hockney, Ed Ruscha, Ed Moses and Robert Graham to name a few. The excellent cuisine, made from the finest, freshest ingredients, was perfectly and elegantly served in this beautiful art filled environment. It may sound like a big reach for one so young, but not for Michael who set himself on this course 35 years ago and hasn’t strayed since.


Michael’s in New York, based on the same concept, top notch/finest quality everything, just celebrated its 25th anniversary. Known to power players in both the publishing and media worlds as The place to wheel, deal and be seen at lunch, renown columnist Liz Smith calls Michael’s home. Taking on an almost clubhouse-like status Tom Brokaw and top literary agent Esther Newberg are regulars. Cookbook tycoon Ina Garten lunches there when she leaves her post in East Hampton for a day in the city. Writer Jay McInerney looks to have taken over the late Dominic Dunne’s table. In New York City where competition is the name of the game, it’s tough to hold one’s spot at the top. Part of McCarty’s staying power, aside from his glorious food, is what propels him in the first place: his passion for food, wine and entertaining. That is Passion with a capitol P. Where some people might use the expression “We’re going to have a good time,” Michael McCarty’s says, “We’re going to have a Big Time.” This he means with his whole heart.

mcckimartHis wife, the painter, Kim McCarty, who besides showing her work all over the world, has played hostess to his host for the last 35 years. Together they are the embodiment of a bi-coastal couple. They’ve been dividing their months into two weeks at the New York restaurant and two weeks on home court because part of Michael’s passion, as well as the reason for his success, is that he loves being a host. Loves going from table to table welcoming his guests, making sure that they are happy and above all, well fed.

Christmas at the McCarty’s is always spent at their hilltop home in Malibu. Could it be a low-key respite from their crazy schedule and the chaos of the New York party season? Maybe a laid back easy-peasy barbeque type of thing with their two 20 something year old kids? Hey, how about a well-earned meal cooked by a relative? Not in Michael’s lifetime! Where’s the “Big Time” in that. Nope, the time honored Christmas tradition at the McCarty house overlooking the Pacific ocean is food, food, and more food on a don’t stop till you drop schedule!

mcckitchenChristmas day begins bright and early with Michael, Kim, their daughter Clancy and son Chaz opening presents under the tree. This is followed by a breakfast of smoked salmon and caviar, scrambled eggs with chives, Bay’s English muffins well toasted, Bloody Bulls (tomato juice and beef bullion) and freshly squeezed orange juice. All prepared by Michael. After breakfast the rest of the family starts arriving, Kim’s two sisters, brothers in law and kids, Michael’s mother and brothers, their wives and kids, and their own kids friends. Before long there are 30 people of all ages giving and receiving presents, hugging, kissing, laughing, and waiting for the next meal.

Michael never disappoints. He prepares his traditional Christmas lunch of Prime Rib, to be served around 3 after the hors d’oeuvres of more caviar and smoked salmon with blini’s have been served along with Champagne. The Prime Rib comes with horseradish, gravy, mashed potatoes and peas, sometimes Brussel sprouts, and a huge Bibb lettuce salad. (As Kim says, “we need to add crunch.” She also says Michael has to have those big soft white dinner rolls to soak up the gravy.) Busman’s holiday? I should say so! Dessert, which one would hope is served at least an hour or more after this feast is “tons of pies and lots of Haagen Dazs ice cream!”

Recently asked to share a childhood Christmas memory, Michael was quick to share his parent’s Christmas tradition. He went on to add that their tradition influenced his life long passion for being a host. His parents, who he describes as wonderful entertainers with wonderful friends, had a holiday party a few days before Christmas every year for over 20 years called the 10 to 10 Party.

mccxmastableJust like it sounds, doors would open at 10 AM with eggs Benedict, pasta carbonara and Bloody Mary’s. At noon the bowls of salads, platters of roast turkey and baked ham came out with all of the condiments, and it was sandwich time with an open bar. Round about 3, Mama and Papa McCarty brought out their infamous eggnog followed by the pigs in blankets till 5 when out came several roasts, mashed potatoes for an army, accompanied by a fleet of gravy boats, several cases of good red wine and the party continued. Dessert cakes and pies came out around 9. Served with lots of coffee, one would hope! Michael’s mother did all of the cooking and he says she loved every minute of it. Right there is the answer to the nature vs. nurture question! Both, thank you very much Mama McC!

What goes on in between all of the eating Christmas day at the McCarty house? Michael, his son, Chaz, and Michael’s brothers take out electric guitars and jam old Grateful Dead and Allman Bros tunes.

What was the best Christmas gift Michael ever gave Kim? In 1994 just before Christmas, their house burned down to the ground in the big Malibu fire. They lost everything, getting out with kids, dogs, a few pairs of sweats, some family photos and the shoes on their feet. When Michael went Christmas shopping he came upon an extravagantly expensive John Galliano black evening gown that was so stunning, and so Kim, he had to buy it for her! A grand gesture, so typical of Michael. They might not have a house but Kim had a ball gown! For months she owned nothing but sweats and that dress which she still wears!

mccbackWhat is a perfect food gift one could get for Michael? After saying “Do I have to limit it to one,” he says “a whole leg of Fermin Belotta Jamon,” a Spanish ham that is a major delicacy. It’s made from pigs that have been fed only acorns for 36 months. In other words, Michael is asking for the Ferrari of pigs!

The best gift Kim ever gave? A book she made out of the series of pictures she’s been taking over the last few years of Michael shot from the back in different locales. She said she started the series because he has such a distinctive stance that she loves capturing it from the back. She gave a book to each member of the family.

Christmas Traditions...it’s about love and giving your very best, homemade and hands on. That’s the way the McCarty’s do it.

Boxing Day Recipe: Turkey BLT

Split a Bay’s English muffin in half and toast well

Spread both halves liberally with Hellman’s Mayonnaise (key!)

Put 1 large medium slice of a ripe Beefsteak tomato on one half

3 well cooked slices of Nueske (or similar) bacon on top of that

Several slices left over white meat

1 large leaf Bibb lettuce

Cover with the other half

Serve with Bloody Marys or Bloody Bulls, (vodka and Campbell’s Beef Stock)


LA based Writer, Annie Stein, has written for C and More Magazines, NYTimes and is a regular blogger on Huffington Post. She runs creative writing workshops for at risk teens.