I’ve been struggling to find a way to properly memorialize Alex Trebek and have come to the conclusion that it is actually impossible. With most celebrities we merely enjoy their work and the sporadic joy it brings to our lives. Alex Trebek, on the other hand, was far more than just his work—he was part of the fabric of our existence. No matter the absurdities of the world, Jeopardy! was a constant; it managed to keep up with the times, but also felt as if it existed outside of time altogether. When the Berlin Wall fell, when O.J. was driving his Bronco down the freeway, when 9/11 stopped the world, Alex Trebek was still at his podium as our nerdy north star. I have never known a world without his light, and now, he is gone.
Watching Jeopardy! is not about knowing all the answers (or questions, I suppose); it’s about learning the ones you don’t. It taught me almost everything I know about opera, 18th-century inventors, and potent potables. Once the smartphone was invented, Jeopardy! would launch me down information rabbit holes I’d never thought of entering. Who but Alex Trebek could inspire me to spend an entire evening learning about the history of semaphore flags or the naval battles of the Spanish-American War? What other celebrity can you think of that’s made tens of millions of us into more informed people?
We didn’t just watch Alex Trebek on a screen. We learned new things, shared and debated them with the people in our lives, and were humbled by the vast amount of knowledge we had yet to discover. Jeopardy! existed outside of its time slot, influencing and inspiring us during the other 23½ hours of the day. It’s a game show that begs you to be active in the world around you.
I found this recipe in an old celebrity cookbook published by TV Guide: a dish of personal significance to Alex Trebek. He grew up in northern Ontario, a place where he said a steady diet of meat and potatoes was the norm. This is an adaptation of his French-Canadian mother’s recipe for tourtière, a humble meat pie that Trebek cooked for his family every Christmas Eve. If it’s new to you, you should try your hand at making it. Learning (and tasting) something new is the best way to memorialize someone as special as Alex Trebek.
Adapted from The TV Guide Celebrity Cookbook (Telemedia Communications, 1994)
- 1 lb. (500 g) ground pork
- ¾ lb. (375 g) ground veal
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. poultry seasoning
- ½ tsp. thyme
- ¼ tsp. ground clove
- ½ cup red wine, beef stock, or water
- ⅓ cup whole milk
- ½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
- Salt and pepper
- Pastry for double-crust pie (9-inch), rolled out and kept cold
- Milk or lightly beaten egg
Coat the bottom of a large skillet with a few teaspoons of cooking oil and place over high heat. Add the pork and veal and cook, breaking up into pieces with a wooden spoon, until the meat is deeply brown—about 5-7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the meat to a large bowl, then drain any excess fat from the pan and return to the stove. Add the onion with a pinch of kosher salt and saute on high for about 3 minutes until translucent, then add the garlic and continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes until golden. Return the meat to the pan with the poultry seasoning, thyme, ground cloves, and red wine (or stock or water). Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes.
In the large bowl that previously held the browned meat, mix together the milk and breadcrumbs, then add the meat mixture and stir well to combine. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as you see fit, then set aside to cool while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once the oven comes to temperature, line a 9-inch pie pan with half the rolled-out dough. Add the meat filling, cover with the second circle of pie dough, crimp the edges, and cut a few decorative slits in the top to vent steam. Brush the top with milk or lightly beaten egg, then bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the tourtière is golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Note: According to my friend and Jeopardy! champion Buzzy Cohen, Alex Trebek absolutely adored Chardonnay. Buy yourself a nice bottle to enjoy with dinner.