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"That's the one thing I always eat too much of," chef Eli Kulp says of that Thanksgiving staple, stuffing. "It puts you over the edge, comatose on the couch."
In his stuffing (see the recipe), hearty hunks of bread tumble with charred leeks and smoky bacon in a sort of throwback to the Pennsylvania Dutch, a region that's been a constant inspiration, or at least starting point, for what Kulp does at his Philadelphia restaurants. It's shown up in thick potato toast stacked with foie and curled shrimp at High Street on Market and noodles speckled with butter protein and loaded with pork jowl at Fork in the past. However, the tiny coins of searing jalapeños nestled in between bits of bacon and bread in the stuffing are all Kulp's own.
"Penn-Dutch is simple, straightforward, butter-rich, meat-rich, so we just used some of that idea for the stuffing," he says. "But, we're not just creating Penn-Dutch food. We're creating food that has a connection to the region, so we take that idea and go from there. It's the impetus for the dish."
Previously, he dabbled in Italian at Del Posto and now-closed Torrisi Italian Specialties, but fully embraced Lancaster County cookery once Ellen Yin recruited him to reimagine Fork, her well-loved restaurant in Philadelphia. There, he transformed Fork's special events space and takeout nook into the acclaimed High Street on Market, winning him a Food & Wine Best New Chef title last year and second place on Bon Appétit's Hot Ten list the same year.
Life changed for the chef on May 12, when the Amtrak 188 from Philadelphia to New York careened off the rails at 106 miles per hour. Kulp was among the 200 injured, trapped under luggage and already aware that he was paralyzed. After going into emergency neck surgery later that night and since then, traveling along the East Coast for treatment, he's now back home in Manhattan, preparing for the pilgrim feast and opening his first restaurant in New York City, High Street on Hudson in the West Village.
"It's been a dream of mine to open a restaurant, and I never imagined it would happen the way it did," Kulp says. "Every day is very much a struggle still, trying to get back to normalcy. Normal is very different now, but we're pushing forward. It is very important and part of my recovery in getting back out there and back in the mix a little bit."
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And the other part, we imagine, is dreaming up this unusual, soulful stuffing.
"It's a savory bread pudding of sorts," he says. "You have the chicken stock, the bread, crunchy bits here and there. It's totally a flavor bomb in itself."
High Street on Hudson debuts a few weeks from now. For now, there's still Thanksgiving, a whole Macy's Day parade to see with the family and leftovers to indulge in.
As for Kulp's post-Thanksgiving game plan, well, obviously the chef has one.
"What you got to do, slice a piece [of stuffing] off and panfry it in butter," Kulp says. "It's ridiculously good as long as it holds together."
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