Thanksgiving is around the corner, which means it's officially Time to Celebrate. All month long we're bringing you recipes, tips, tricks and stories that are equal parts memorable and delicious.
When it comes to working in a restaurant, a chef’s hours are the exact opposite of those of the laypeople filling their dining rooms each night. When non-industry friends and family are out celebrating, they’re deep in the slog, making sure other people are enjoying themselves. That’s true for Saturday nights, birthdays and of course, holidays like Thanksgiving.
“Most of my life, I worked on Thanksgiving, with the exception of being a kid and now a boss,” Michael Anthony of Untitled and Gramercy Tavern, says. That’s not to say he’s complaining. “I’ve always loved having a purpose and I always felt important cooking those meals.”
But every now and then, those loyal to the kitchen deserve a break, which is why we gathered Anthony, plus a few of NYC’s other best chefs and a somm for one big Chefsgiving—a Thanksgiving feast by chefs, for chefs. The lineup? Greg Baxtrom of Olmsted, Emma Bengtsson of Aquavit, Floyd Cardoz of Paowalla, Travis Swikard of Boulud Sud, Fany Gerson of La Newyorkina and sommelier Alex Alan of Freek’s Mill.
Baxtrom, who put together much of the guest list—a mix of chefs he’s worked with and those he’s admired from afar—gets to work carving his cranberry-brined turkey with sage butter, as stray pieces quickly get snatched off the cutting board by the others. It’s a recipe he first came up with while working at Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
Meanwhile, Cardoz is finishing his dish, a sweet potato chaat topped with tamarind chutney and an herb-fueled yogurt sauce. “Chaat is basically a street food, normally had in the early evening,” he explains. He’s finishing the dish with sev, crunchy chickpea flour noodles. “You can never have too much sev,” Cardoz reminds the group as he tops off the dish.
It’s important not to “lose your personality in what you cook [on Thanksgiving]. You want to make the holiday special,” Cardoz says.
With the meal almost ready, Alan playfully takes a swig of wine from a bottle of Les Capriades Pet’ Sec, a bubbly rosé he brought to the festivities. Thanksgiving is a mix-and-match meal, and the wines should follow suit, he says. Don’t worry about coming up “with a perfect pairing. Just sit down and enjoy the people you see once a year.”
Plates are passed and dishes like Bengtsson’s lingonberry sauce, her take on the traditional cranberry, get served to all. “Some people have ketchup, we have lingonberry,” she says about this staple from her native Sweden. Just down the table sits Swikard’s rich, crispy bread stuffing that’s a riff on one he serves at Boulud Sud for every holiday. It verges on a savory bread pudding and is filled with pancetta, cranberries and chestnuts—all the makings to induce a post-Thanksgiving food coma.
On the vegetable front, there’s Anthony’s roasted sunchokes and Brussels sprouts, which have a zippy pepper sauce that “keeps it exciting,” says Anthony. A hit of chile in Gerson’s Mexican chocolate tart loaded with pecans ends the meal with a kick, sending everyone off with full bellies and a nice buzz as they head back to their respective restaurants for another dinner prep.
True to form, as Baxtrom heads for the door, he calls out to Cardoz, “Have a good service.”
So where will this crew end up on the big day? As is tradition, Gerson will be slinging doughnuts at her shop Dough for people who volunteer at local churches serving a holiday meal. Swikard, meanwhile, uses Thanksgiving as his benchmark to start brining a fresh, 40-pound Christmas ham that he will ultimately dry, smoke, poach, roast and serve come December with a molasses mustard dressing to a crew of chefs who come to his home every year.
But no matter what (or who) ends up at your table, the most important thing is to “hunker down and be with people you love,” Anthony reminds us. Whether that means family back home or family in the kitchen, we couldn’t agree more.
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