‘The Dead, 1904,’ a Production—and Dinner Party—Inspired by James Joyce

November 30, 2016 1:40 pm Last Updated: December 1, 2016 2:59 pm

An immersive production of “The Dead, 1904” by the Irish Repertory Theater, adapted from James Joyce’s novella “The Dead,” has the audience dining side by side with the cast members.

The novella is centered around a dinner party set during the Feast of the Epiphany.

Patricia Kilgarriff and Patti Perkins in "The Dead, 1904." (Courtesy of the Irish Repertory Theatre)
Patricia Kilgarriff and Patti Perkins in “The Dead, 1904.” (Courtesy of the Irish Repertory Theatre)

Executive chef Mark Russell of Great Performances, the catering company putting on the dinner, pored over old recipes for dishes that Joyce wrote about and adapted them for a modern New York audience.

Roast goose gave way to roast turkey. Spiced beef, traditionally dry-cured over the winter and seasoned with spices, was jettisoned for a beef tenderloin with a fig and cocoa glaze and a spicy-sweet fig sauce.

Joyce’s mention of “floury potatoes” was mysterious, until research revealed them to be a starchy type of potato, boiled in their jackets. “The interior becomes so fluffy that the skin bursts and [the potatoes] erupt in the water,” creating a floury coating on the skin, explained Russell. “My grandparents called them lazy potatoes.”

In the end, Russell aimed to to keep the dishes “neutral and very delicious” and to make sure that the food wouldn’t distract from the play. “It’s such rich wording and such a beautiful read,” he said.

The menu also includes honey-glazed smoked ham, cranberry and pineapple relish, dried figs, raisins and smoked almonds, and bread and butter pudding with vanilla custard. Wine, stout, and Irish spirits accompany the meal. (See the recipes below for the beef tenderloin and bread pudding.)

$300 to $1,000 per person. 

Closes Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2017
The American Irish Historical Society
991 Fifth Ave. (across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Cocoa and Fig Glazed Beef Tenderloin

Serving the main entree to audience members. (Carol Rosegg)
Serving the main entree to audience members. (Carol Rosegg)
  • 2 1/2 to 3 pounds beef tenderloin, trimmed and tied
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fig sauce (recipe below)
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt


Heat oven to 400 F. Season tenderloin with salt. In hot saute pan, sear the tenderloin in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Brown on all sides. Remove from pan and cool slightly.

Rub entire surface of tenderloin with fig sauce, then coat with cocoa powder.

Place in roasting pan and drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Roast in oven until tenderloin reaches an internal temperature of 115 F.

Remove from oven and let rest for 20 minutes. The internal temperature will continue to climb to 120–125 F for medium-rare.  

Slice and serve. Present with remaining sauce in a gravy boat.

Fig Sauce

  • 1 pound light-fleshed figs, cut into quarters
  • 1 cup sherry
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt


Combine all ingredients in a pot and stew gently over medium heat until soft. Cool to room temperature and purée until smooth.

Recipe courtesy of Mark Russell, executive chef, Great Performances

Bread Pudding

Dessert time. (Carol Rosegg)
Dessert time. (Carol Rosegg)


For the Flavored Butter: 

  • 1/3 cup and 1 1/2  tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large pinch ground nutmeg
  • 1 large pinch ground cinnamon
  • 1 large orange, zest of finely chopped

For the Pudding:

  • 8 slices good quality bread, cut into 1/3-inch slices 
  • 9 large free-range eggs
  • 1/2  cup and 1 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 2  cups and 1 1/2 tablespoon milk
  • 2 1/3 cup cream
  • 1 vanilla pod, scored lengthways and seeds removed


For the Flavored Butter: 

Combine ingredients in a small bowl and mix well to incorporate spices and orange zest into butter. Set aside.

For the Pudding:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Brush bread with butter, toast bread to pale color. Combine eggs and sugar in bowl, mix well. In a sauce pot, heat milk, cream, and vanilla to scalding hot. Layer bread in a shallow ramekin. Whisk warm milk and cream into egg mixture. Pour over bread and allow to soak for ten minutes. Bake until golden brown and firm to touch. Serve warm.

Recipe courtesy of Rob Valencia, executive pastry chef, Great Performances