As we hurtle ever quicker toward the last and final year of the millennium--a thousand year stretch that took humankind all the way from the Crusades into cyberspace--here''s a reminder to remember your ham hock.

Considering the mounting crescendo that has techno-doomsayers scurrying to safety test operating systems all the way from cash registers to maximum security lock-ups, and spiritual zealots pronouncing that we''re about to be drop-kicked through the ultimate goal posts into infinity, it might be good idea to drop two ham hocks into your black-eyed peas.

And while you''re at it, put on your Sicilian red silk underwear and add some lentils to the pot. A few sybaritic, celebratory gestures toward this last day of the past year would seem to be in order. If the nabobs of negativity are right, we may need to invoke the charms and good favor of a wide genre of customs, edible or not. Even if they''re wrong, one thing''s for certain: We won''t pass this particular way again.

The whole notion of the beginning new year and ending millennium has caught the attention of a lot of folks. A mild injection of investigative journalism among the constituents of my regular beat smacks at a certain sense of what almost sounds like awe. While chefs, as a group, are generally not known for their sense of humility (the rigors of the job rule that out, straightaway), the unilateral reaction to the prospect of this coming year reveals something that comes damn close.

Instead of spilling over with resolutions, the people I talked to were more inclined toward sharing a sense of hope. Sheri O''Connor, executive chef at the Old Bath House, parked on the question of the future in the middle of a slam-dunk rush. Her almost immediate response: "When I consider the future, I know that I just want to be the kind of chef that my guys respect. The kind of chef that when they see you five or 10 years down the road, they''ll come up and say to me, ''Thanks, for teaching me this or showing me that.'' That''s what I want."

Similarly, Lisa Magadini, chef at Club XIX had this to say: "My sense of the future hinges on the desire to be a positive force. To be a huge support and backbone for my crew, to power them into the next year and to create a harmonious atmosphere, where there''s sanity. And to be able to enjoy my separate identity, outside of work."

At Bijan, chef and owner Hamid Borna echoed those thoughts. "What is really important is good health, and that the kids are fine and healthy. If you''ve got that, you can handle whatever else comes."

Tony Baker, chef at Montrio and first-time father-to-be double dittoed the sentiment. "The baby''s due in January, and first and foremost, that''s what matters--that my baby is healthy and fine." Given the predictable fallibility of calendar-coordinated resolutions, these sentiments seem to be made of something stronger, more genuine, promising and hopeful.

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Throw in a ham hock and wear the right underwear, and 1999 could be alright. cw

Diners: Do you have a special dish at a local restaurant you want everyone to know about? Is there a character in the kitchen of your favorite restaurant?

Restaurateurs: Is your restaurant changing its menu it 1999? Planning a special event? E-mail with your news from the food front.


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