How local food & drink pros celebrate Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is a holiday centered around feasting. Traditions, time with family and friends, and preparing a meal for a large or small gathering make the food almost as important as the company. These local chefs and a wine expert share their thoughts on what the November holiday means to them and what they prepare for their guests.
Jonathan LeBlanc, executive chef at Stanza Italian Bistro & Wine Bar
My new gnocchi dish reminds me of seasons changing and the coming holidays—especially Thanksgiving. At Stanza, I have created a dish using local seasonal ingredients. We start with garnet yams, which make rich colorful gnocchi. We add local wild mushrooms, sautéed broccoli raab, winter squash, drunken cranberries, Parmesan and it’s finished with a garlic-sage brown butter sauce. All the flavors of fall reimagined in a delicious new gnocchi dish.
Jennifer Gilroy, chef/owner of Meditrina and Porch
I’ve always loved this food-based holiday. Honestly, one of the things I look forward to the most is the turkey gravy and mashed potatoes made with the leftovers! I do French-style pommes purée (almost as much butter as potato) and add a splash of brandy to the gravy. This year, I’m also looking forward to brining and smoking my own ham. As a restaurant owner, it’s great to have a space big enough for the whole blended family.
Lavanya Mahate, chef/owner of Biscotts and Saffron Valley
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, a time to gather around great food, family and friends. It’s also the kick off for the Christmas season and puts everybody in the holiday mood. Pumpkin halwa is a perfect addition to any holiday table.
Halwa refers to a dense, sweet confection, served across the Indian subcontinent. Pumpkin halwa is a perfect ending to an elaborate Thanksgiving meal. Serves 4
2 cups grated pumpkin, skin and seeds removed
10 unsalted cashews or pistachios, broken
3 green cardamoms powdered, skins removed
½ cup melted unsalted butter (ghee)
1 cup milk
½ cup sugar
¼ cup honey
In a wide-mouthed pan with a lid, heat about 2 teaspoons of ghee (melted butter) and roast the cashews or pistachios and set aside.
Add two more tablespoons of ghee and grated pumpkin, sauté till the raw smell goes away (about 10 minutes).
Add milk, cover and cook until the pumpkin turns soft (15 minutes). Stir mixture occasionally to prevent sticking.
Add sugar, cardamom powder and honey. Mix and cook until all the moisture evaporates.
Add remaining ghee and cook until it starts to separate (8-10 minutes)
Add the cashews or pistachios and turn off the heat.
Jim Santangelo, owner/educator at Wine Academy of Utah
One of my earliest visits to Utah was in the late ’80s. I’d visit family while in college and spend the weekend skiing and watching the World Cup hosted at Park City Mountain Resort. I fondly remember dancing on Park City’s snow covered Main Street watching the band America perform “Ventura Highway” while sipping on a Wasatch ale from Utah’s first craft brewers.
Today, Thanksgiving is still spent in Park City, and before even getting through the door I’m greeted on the patio with a cold one by friends and family. The cooler has an assortment of craft beers, and I’ll bring along some Deschutes Black Butte Porter to warm up the bones from the crisp fall air.
When we make our way inside, if weather permits, I’ll use icicles to make a few stirred-down Manhattans. Using nearby High West Double Rye whiskey, a nice portion of Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth and a dash or two of local Honest John black walnut bitters, I’ll replace the beer and quaffable chardonnay that’s being enjoyed with this deep flavorful cocktail.
As for what to drink with the bird, usually we’ll pop the remaining Beaujolais nouveau from the previous week’s festivities. Look for George Duboeuf for a truly juicy expression of Beaujolais nouveau. I always seek out a more serious version of Cru Beaujolais picking up a few bottles of Maison L’Envoyé Morgon Côté du Py. This’ll remind you of expensive red burgundy for half the price and pairs nicely with the richness of the flavors of the day.
Nick Fahs, chef/owner of Table X
Thanksgiving for me is all about family. It’s the time of year where I can get away from the restaurant business and spend quality time with my mother, niece, nephews and siblings. My mother rarely gets to cook for her children and she enjoys making us Thanksgiving dinner. My favorite dish is sweet potato pie, and homemade eggnog is my favorite drink without question.
Steve Ulibarri, executive chef at Cuisine Unlimited
I look forward to football season during Thanksgiving time. As a chef, I get to be a little more creative at Thanksgiving since I’m doing turkey for most catered events prior to the holiday. I get burned out by the time Thanksgiving comes around, so at home, I’m making turkey mole or turkey carnitas. I use your basic mole but instead of chicken, I use turkey. I prefer the turkey since it has a little more fat and seems to be more flavorful. I confess, I don’t have time to make the mole base from scratch but use Doña María mole and season to my taste.
Viet Pham, chef/owner of Pretty Bird
A few of the things I look forward to most about Thanksgiving are the people around me. People tend to be in a cheerier mood. I look forward to how the bright days of summer transition to an orange glow as if someone put a filter over the day. Above all that, I look forward to perfecting my 12-hour prime rib roast. Call me unorthodox, but I love a good, thick slice of bone-in ribeye drowning in its natural jus surrounded by all your standard turkey accouterments for Thanksgiving.
It’s not typical of Thanksgiving and it’s not often that I get to eat it, but when I do, I want to make sure I have a big roast to be able to share it with my friends and family.
Thanksgiving has changed for me very much since moving to Salt Lake City to become a chef. For the first time, I had to celebrate without my family and close friends due to my hectic schedule. Throughout the years there are times I have been lucky to be able to travel home; other years not so much.
The beauty of being a chef is the amazing people and the community that you get to surround yourself with. We can talk turkey (no pun intended) but Thanksgiving for me allows me to cook in a more relaxed, festive and fun environment, which means I get to let my guard down (as a chef) and be thankful for all the wonderful things in my life.
Briar Handly, chef/owner of Handle Park City and HSL
I would have to say my favorite food for Thanksgiving is the leftovers—mainly turkey sandwiches. I look forward to them every year. But what I most look forward to at Thanksgiving is spending time with friends and family. When (wife and Handle manager) Melissa and I are able to break away from HSL and Handle, we head back east to Manchester, Conn., to celebrate the holiday. Our T-day usually starts a couple days before with Grammie Britton baking at least 8 different pies to ensure every family member is able to have a bite of their favorite.
We always have a pasta dinner with everyone the night before to “carb” up for the 5K Manchester Road Race the next morning. The morning of is spent running in the race or cheering from the sidelines with mimosas in hand. After the race, we have appetizers before the meal, which include shrimp cocktail, Grammie Britton’s pepper jelly-covered cream cheese and crackers, deviled eggs, bloody marys, stuffed celery, olives and pickled watermelon rinds. Football is on the television throughout the day. Dinner is a huge spread with a big bird and all the fixins made from scratch—giblet gravy, sourdough stuffing, green beans made with mushroom béchamel (not Campbell’s) and fried tobacco onions, yams with maple syrup from Vermont, mashed potatoes, creamed onions, turnips, caramelized parsnips, Grammie’s cranberry relish, pumpkin bread, homemade rolls, butternut squash bisque and beet salad.
If we can’t break away from the restaurants, we try to celebrate the same traditions here in Utah. Our first year at Handle, we cooked for all our staff, friends and family. One year, I was laid up after knee surgery and Melissa did all the cooking while I shouted directions from the couch. Another year, we decided to have a Moroccan-themed Thanksgiving. No matter what we do, Thanksgiving is just about taking some time out of our busy lives to enjoy good food and conversation with the people we care about.
Brandon Price, chef/culinary director at Even Stevens
Honestly, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I look forward to it every year. I start making stocks a month before so I can reduce them down to demi-glace consistency, and I always buy some weird ingredient to incorporate into the meal. This year, I’m using transglutaminase so I can debone the entire turkey and glue it back together. Not sure if it’ll taste good, but it should be a lot of fun.
I love cranberries, and I only eat them during Thanksgiving. Since no one wants to eat the canned stuff, I bring something exotic in cranberry form. This year, I’m making Cranberry kecap manis—an Indonesian-style sauce with palm sugar, soy and spices.
But, food and fun aside, what I really enjoy about Thanksgiving is the fact that everyone is gathered for one reason—well, one real reason—and it’s the food. It can be traditional recipes from family-heirloom index cards tucked behind the stove, or it can be innovative new ways to experience cranberry.
Cranberry Kecap Manis
1 8-ounce bag of frozen cranberries
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 pucks of palm sugar or 1 cup brown sugar
2 star anise
1 stick of cinnamon
1 bird’s-eye chile
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 cup of water.
Combine all ingredients in a pot and simmer until thick enough to coat a spoon, about 30 min. Cool and serve.
Nathan Powers, executive chef at Bambara restaurant
My favorite thing about Thanksgiving is caviar. In 2005, I cooked a 16-course meal for my family over the course of eight hours. The first course I did was the caviar dish, blini Demidoff, and now it has evolved into a family tradition whenever I go home for Christmas or Thanksgiving. It is not traditional but it’s just about family, celebration and a decadent way to get things rolling.
This year, Bambara will be open again on Thanksgiving so I’ll probably skip the foods—I don’t love the traditional foods anyway. When I did my 16-course meal, I cooked the turkey very differently. I made a Bolognese out of the wing and a confit out of the leg with a fig jam, I wrapped the breast in bacon, etc. It was the most extravagant meal I have ever made.
John Murcko, chef/owner of Firewood
I typically celebrate Thanksgiving two or three weeks earlier than the actual day. Because chefs are traditionally working the day before or the day of, and it has always been one of my favorite holidays, I started a tradition 10 years ago down at my cabin in Escalante. We are off the grid with minimal power for cooking. We cook everything outside with wood, dutch ovens and over an open pit. I change the menu constantly but there are some dishes I keep the same every year. We rotisserie roast turkeys, and the duck à l’orange is my favorite.
I make a stuffed squash that people really like. The squash is stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, walnuts, blue cheese and then wrapped and buried in the coals.
I have other chefs who cook with me and the amazing part is that everything is cooked over the wood. Last year, we had 50 people come. It’s grown to be sort of a coveted spot. It really is a great time. I enjoy cooking for friends and family, Thanksgiving brings everyone together. I also love the season changes. Living in a ski town means it’s the kick-off to ski season, as well.