[ excellent adventures ]

In the unfathomably cold early-morning hours of Wed., Dec. 22, I was kidnapped out of a dark alley by a gang of rowdy, foul-mouthed chefs. And I have lived to tell the tale.

To be fair, it was a willful abduction. This summer, Peter Woolsey of Bistrot La Minette was invited to cook a French Christmas dinner at New York’s James Beard House, and he asked me to come along to document the proceedings. One of a select group to get the prestigious call in 2010, Woolsey began planning this lavish holiday meal — a Dec. 24 tradition for French families — while you and I were still getting sunburned. Here’s how it happened.

6:07 a.m. In the alley behind La Minette’s Sixth-and-Bainbridge HQ, Woolsey runs a bespectacled eye down a long list of items he’ll split between two cars. Every element needed for his five-course feast must be carefully packed and brought along, and at Woolsey’s own expense. The Beard House, named for the late chef/author many ID as the great champion of American culinaire, operates as a nonprofit, meaning Woolsey is technically donating both time and materials. But this is not about making money — it’s one of the most distinct honors a chef can receive. Woolsey’s sous chef, Steve Stryjewski, is not a morning person. Meanwhile, Woolsey’s former sous, Bryan Friedman (El Rey), is ready to go — he’s singing while bounding up the stairs, arms full of sheet trays and quart containers.

“Come on, Steve!” Friedman yells, grabbing Steve by the shoulders and rattling him.

“Seriously, if you keep this up,” Steve counters, “I will murder you.”

6:50 a.m. The crew — Woolsey, Friedman and Stryjewski, plus Steve’s brother, Waldemar “Val” Stryjewski (Pumpkin), and La Minette GM Brad Histand — loads the remaining supplies into the cars, and we’re off. Somewhere between here and a quick stop at Wawa, the shit-talking begins. It does not stop for 17 hours.

9:10 a.m. We arrive at the Beard House, the entrance to which is an unremarkable door on West 12th Street in Greenwich Village. Beard lived here for the last dozen years of his life (he died in 1985), and the brownstone has been converted into a culinary center, home base for events as well as for the Foundation’s charitable arm.

9:40 a.m. Woolsey calls a prep meeting in the kitchen. He runs down what should be done immediately (baking bread) and what can wait until later (finishing sauces). Woolsey vetoes forming his duck confit rillettes into very French spoon-smoothed quenelles. Too pretentious for a bistro. “I just want it to be fucking delicious,” Woolsey says.

10:18 a.m. The team begins rolling out dough for the baguette, a relatively mindless task that allows the chefs to run their mouths even more than usual. Friedman, a Jew who earlier in the day raved about chopping down his own Christmas tree, is fondly described by fellow Tribe member Woolsey as “half Jewish, half asshole.”

10:30 a.m. “Look, I’m a lobster!” says Steve, bounding around the kitchen with silver tongs in his hands.

“And a shitty cook,” adds Friedman.

11:20 a.m. It’s seriously impressive how much these dudes can get done while disparaging each other. The insults flutter around the kitchen like angry cicadas, all while Val cleans up chanterelles, his brother builds meringue mushrooms for a Bûche de Noël dessert and Friedman dices up salmon for a tartare.

Noon Woolsey and Val squiggle Chartreuse-infused butter (they brought three pounds!) on top of escargot, each snail housed in tiny ceramic pots the size of thimbles.

2:29 p.m. After lunch at a nearby sushi place, Woolsey is full-blown nervous about time. You can tell because he’s walking six paces ahead of everyone while intermittently cocking his head around to list what needs to be accomplished before guests arrive at 7. “Hey, blogger,” Val says to me. “You’re now a cook.” (Thank God he was joking.)

2:39 p.m. Woolsey’s now a good 12 paces ahead.

2:42 p.m. I can no longer see Woolsey.

2:53 p.m. Back at the Beard House, Steve and Friedman take on langoustine duty, wrapping the individual tails of the expensive imported crustaceans with shredded phyllo dough for the dinner’s opening course, served with a classic sauce Américaine. Val sautés a million Brussels sprouts. Woolsey tends to sauces, peels hard-boiled eggs and otherwise centers himself.

3:18 p.m. A plucky, Beard House-provided culinary-school volunteer named Nicole materializes. She’s placed on parsley-plucking duty, and assures the kitchen crew that her virginal ears will not be hurt by their stream of banter. They dial it back a little anyway.

7:20 p.m. After leaving for a while, I show back up, toting a sixer of Guinness specifically requested by Val. (This apparently means that I have a crush on him.) They’re well into cocktail hour now, held right in the kitchen and an adjacent room; guests schmooze, nibbling on tartare and gougeres and sipping on Brut Rosé.

8 p.m. I find my seat at Table 5, populated by several friendly Philadelphians, a NOLA-turned-NYC couple and Woolsey’s guests, chefs Christopher Lee and Katie Busch, both of whom Woolsey worked with at Striped Bass.

9:05 p.m. With excellent langoustine and foie gras courses in the bag and escargot pots scraped empty in front of me, I slip down to the kitchen to observe Woolsey crank out his venison. It’s quite the orchestration, plates spread out on every cubic inch of counter space, disparate elements — Brussels! mushrooms! Bordelaise! Pommes noisettes! — flying into place, servers toe-tapping, and an inquisitive photographer documenting it all. For all the hubbub, the kitchen is, for once, surprisingly quiet.

10:03 p.m. After Woolsey’s brief Q&A with the dining room, dinner is over, guests are collecting their coats and the kitchen is breaking down and cleaning up. For a long-ass day, it went by pretty fast. Woolsey pores over the details, but as far as I could tell, the opulent meal unfolded just as he envisioned. He seems relieved, and proud. Which, of course, is the green light for his guys to resume talking shit to him.