Prepared with love
Judy and Steve Tuckerman are generous hosts in their spacious New Albany home.
One the evening of the event Judy is assisted by two servers who were brought in for final preparations.
Michael A. Foley/MAF Photography
As the sun casts its final rays through bare trees and the porch chandelier sways with the gentle wind, soft amber lights beckon from the arched windows of the sprawling Tuckerman estate in New Albany. Inside, a fire crackles in the living room fireplace, and the heady scent of baked Parmesan and Gruyère fills the air as a casserole of cheesy baked farro is removed from the oven.
Homemade puff pastry pizza bites, crisp and lightly painted with tomato sauce, are transferred onto a silver tray, ready to be passed to arriving guests. Italian tuna crostini is finished with a sliver of black olive. In the kitchen, twin Thermador commercial stoves sit quiet. Except for a sauté of wild mushrooms, all other preparations for this elaborate dinner party have long been completed.
Veteran hosts Judy and Steve Tuckerman are, once again, ready for an evening of entertaining. Steve, owner of Tuckerman Development Company, designed and built their 10,000-square-foot New Albany home eight years ago with entertaining in mind. Judy is just as comfortable cooking for large fundraisers involving 100, or so, guests as she is for casual last-minute suppers with another couple or two.
Her extensive menu this evening—including the appetizers, a starter salad, seared beef tenderloin with sweet and spicy mustard sauce, Romano crusted chicken, six sides and a long list of desserts—doesn’t begin to frazzle her. Judy is a legendary hostess, once featured as a “Great Cook” in Bon Appetit, preparing an entire Thanksgiving feast of treasured family recipes for the photo shoot.
Tonight’s gathering, though, is more intimate—five couples have been invited and all are close friends. But this particular group holds a special significance that can bring Judy to tears.
“They saved my life,” she states emphatically.
In July 1997, Judy’s world was upended when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had no family history of the disease, just a suspicious spot on a mammogram. Surgery was quickly scheduled, followed by rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. She unequivocally credits Dr. William Farrar, division director of surgical oncology at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center—James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute and other members of OSU’s medical team for her subsequent clean bill of health.
Longtime prominent philanthropists in the city, Judy and her husband have become ardent fundraisers for OSU’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. When Abigail and Leslie Wexner, founder and CEO of Limited Brands and Tuckerman friends, established the James Fund for Life Annual Fund in 2002, the Tuckermans initiated a yearly fundraising event. Celebration for Life has been highly successful to date, raising $1 to $2 million each year.
In the course of all that fundraising, the Tuckermans have worked with some of OSU’s biggest medical headliners. In addition to Farrar, at dinner tonight is Dr. Michael Caligiuri, director of OSUCCC and CEO of the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute; Dr. Steven Gabbe, CEO of the OSU Medical Center; Dr. David Schuller, vice president for the OSU Medical Center expansion and outreach; and Dr. Charles Shapiro, director of breast medical oncology at OSUCCC-James. On this particular evening, they’re all at the Tuckerman home with their spouses, and between bites of the homemade pizza squares, are buzzing about the newest OSU cancer facility, the JamesCare Comprehensive Breast Center, which is scheduled to open this month.
“This facility will be the first of its kind in Central Ohio to offer a full spectrum of services, from diagnosis to surgery to reconstruction. And it’s great to see the university’s commitment behind it,” says Caligiuri.
The convenience and immediacy of the new center appeals to Judy. “If they see something on the mammogram, the doctors and the tumor board can meet right there,” she says. “And you leave knowing. Knowing what the diagnosis is, and what your options are, not having to wait for weeks on end.”
As the dinner hour approaches, the hostess disappears, albeit briefly, into the kitchen. The nearby dining room already is prepped for the evening. The 16-foot mahogany table sports silver pheasants and stately candelabras. Christofle silverware and fine crystal balance the rustic pastoral scenes of Fox Hunting lithographs on the walls and the toile of the black and yellow Villeroy & Boch china. For this event, Judy has mixed in an unexpected touch: small white colanders from Pottery Barn placed on salad plates to hold the Caesar salads. Bowls of floating bronze and lime green chrysanthemum blossoms, intentionally low to invite conversation, center the table.
Carole Schuller smiles as she looks toward the dining room. “It looks different,” she says. “This is quite a small crowd tonight. Usually when we’re here, the table itself is the buffet and there are tons of people everywhere.” She’s referring to the 100, or so, Celebration for Life donors who attend an elaborate steak dinner Judy prepares and hosts each February. It’s her way of saying thank you to those who financially commit early to the fundraiser.
Back when the house was built, Judy knew she wanted a kitchen that could turn out large quantities of food for crowds, while still feeling homey and comfortable. She was intimately involved with the room’s design. After all, she’s the cook. In addition to the two commercial stoves and ovens, Judy had two additional built-in ovens installed. Warming drawers are missing, though. “In my last house, I found I was just using them to store pots and pans,” she says with a laugh.
An enormous antique Delft chandelier hangs in the center of the kitchen, a salvaged find from a decorator’s showroom in Chicago. “It was blackened and dusty, but I could tell I loved it,” she recalls. Using the chandelier as a starting point, she matched the blue of the painted cabinets and the backsplash of French hand-painted tiles to it. White marble countertops were a must. “Doesn’t it feel like a French bakery?” she asks. “I know it stains easily, but I don’t care. It’s beautiful.”
Her massive Sub-Zero refrigerator is lovingly plastered with drawings—“To Nana” from her nine grandchildren’s nursery school days. And that’s when you start to notice the Nana influence throughout: stashes of Tootsie Roll Pops and milk chocolate coins in glass canisters. Gold and silver dragees are available in all sizes for special cookie-baking. A hand-painted sign says “Nana’s Kitchen. Open 24 hours. Where memories are made and grandkids are spoiled.” There are clusters of family photos, 20 to a grouping, on the counters, the center island and near the sink.
Family is precious to Judy—she comes from three generations of “fabulous cooks and bakers,” she says, and has neatly typed and catalogued every one of their specialties. Sure she’s got other cookbooks—over 800 at last count, many with slips of paper bookmarking something new to try—but it’s the family heirloom recipes that stay closest to her heart. She still treasures her mother’s and grandmother’s cookie cutters, rolling pins, soup tureens and butter molds.
A battered old milk can perches on a back burner, out of the way, a visual reminder to family heritage. “My grandmother would take soup to people in the neighborhood in it, especially when they weren’t feeling well,” Judy says.
Caligiuri smiles at the familiarity of this story. “Judy brought me vegetable soup once,” he announces. In the milk can? “No, in Tupperware,” he says. “But it was delicious.”
It’s genetic. Judy’s compelling generosity is known as tzedakah in the Jewish faith. It was practiced by her parents and in-laws and she and Steve have attempted to instill it in their three grown children and their families. Caligiuri would state simply that they’ve succeeded. “Their kids have such a strong sense of giving back to the community,” he notes.
“She’s got such spirit—it’s as though she’s our community mother,” adds David Schuller. But his voice grows quiet as he continues. “Judy was very close to Stefanie (Spielman),” he says. “She was incredibly caring and loving, especially when Stefanie was so low. She sat at her bedside and just held her.” Stefanie, wife of NFL and OSU star Chris Spielman, died in 2009 after a 12-year battle with cancer.
As the guests take their seats to begin the meal, Steve Tuckerman remains standing at his place. Guests are quiet as he raises his wine glass. “Judy and I are so happy all of you could be here tonight,” he says. “Here’s to dear friends. We love you.”
Rhonda Koulermos is a freelance writer.