Even though they spend the other 364 days of the year cooking for other people, chefs love Thanksgiving. Whether it's because they're craving something much simpler than the fancy dishes cooked in their kitchens or they just really, really love cranberry sauce, many of Dallas' best chefs are planning on making a pretty sizeable contribution to their Thanksgiving dinner.
So we asked them what they were cooking this year, and which dishes absolutely must be on their Thanksgiving table. Most of our chefs have pretty traditional tastes, but there are some surprises on this list that might inspire you to shake up your normal Thnksgiving spread.
Graham Dodds, Hibiscus (above) Because his parents hail from Britain, Chef Graham Dodds' Thanksgiving spread is just a little bit different. Still, his mom's sausage stuffing is, in his words, "killer." Dodds contributes to the menu by making soups and salads, but his family is probably much better off when he's not trying to fry a turkey. One year, Dodds attempted the often-injurious cooking procedure and almost set his garage on fire.
Brian Zenner, Oak Chef Brian Zenner is usually found in the kitchen at his restaurant, Oak, in the Design District, but on Thanksgiving you'll find him at home with a glass of 18 year old Glenmorangie, served neat. When he isn't drinking his dinner, Zenner insists on his mom's homemade stuffing, with plenty of celery, onions, and (of course) butter.
John Tesar, Knife & Spoon Ever the old-schooler, John Tesar likes to keep things simple. Cornbread stuffing, made with mirepoix, pork sausage, and sage is a must for his Thanksgiving menu, served with cranberry sauce. This year, you'll find him cooking up inspired Thanksgiving favorites at Knife.
Kyle McClelland, Proof & Pantry Chef Kyle McClelland claims to make "the best Thanksgiving dinner ever." The typically-quiet McClelland was mum on what he's serving this year, but if you've eaten at Proof + Pantry lately, you know that he's going to put together something delicious.
Oliver Sitrin, Blind Butcher Despite the fancy meat-focused menu at his restaurant, you won't find Chef Oliver Sitrin begging for turkey. The Thanksgiving dish that sticks most with this chef is a marshmallow salad, made by Sitrin's "mum." The salad sounds like something straight out of a 1950s cookbook, and is made with fruit cocktail, sour cream, and, of course, marshmallows. According to the chef, the salad has to sit for a few days to taste right, and he and his sister may or may not occasionally come to blows over the last scoop.
Nick Amoriello, So & So's Go figure that Nick Amoriello's favorite Thanksgiving dish wouldn't involve anything from a can. Amoriello remembers fondly a candied sweet potato dish made by his mom when he was a child, and the process sounds pretty involved. "She would peel and parboil sweet potatoes in salted water," says Amoriello. "Then she would let them air dry and finish cooking them in a mixture of butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon, for what seems like forever, until they are tender and covered with caramel. Of course she would finish with pecans, and marshmallow." Sounds delicious, right?
Blythe Beck, Kitchen LTO Surprisingly, Chef Blythe Beck gives all the Thanksgiving credit to her mother, emphatically claiming that her dishes are the best on the table. She makes the gravy from the veggies from the turkey and I am pretty sure her stuffing is equal parts love and magic," says Beck. High praise from a woman who is pretty damn good at creating her own kind of magic.
Matt McCallister, FT33 Matt McCallister may be supremely picky about what goes on the table at his restaurant, but Thanksgiving is a little different. The avowed locavore and fast-food hater admits that his favorite Thanksgiving dish to make is "green chile cheesy potatoes," all made with frozen and canned foods. GASP. "I think they're the most amazing thing in the world," says the chef.
Of course, McCallister also has a more involved Thanksgiving recipe that he makes every year, one that very well could have inspired his own life-long love of cooking. "When I was 5 years old my mom taught me how to make stuffing and I have made it the same way every year. It was probably the most integral part in me cooking for a living," says McCallister. "It starts out with selecting loaves of fresh sourdough, mixed grain, and baguette, and breaking them up to air dry for a week. Then I make a stock with the neck innards and wing tips to moisten the bread and make giblet gravy. Usually we would make chicken stock to supplement. I then saute off a medium dice of mire poix and mash it all together with eggs and herbs. Then we clean the bird.. salt it, butter it, stuff it and throw it in the oven!"
Danyele McPherson, HG Sply Co, Remedy Danyele McPherson, of the forthcoming Greenville Ave restaurant Remedy, is also a big fan of candied sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving. "My mom made them every year when I was kid. She poured the canned yams into her Pyrex baking dish, dotted the top with brown sugar and butter and finished the whole thing off with the big marshmallows (so much better than the little guys)," says McPherson. "I always went for the scoop with the most charred marshmallow on top. It's like Thanksgiving flavored s'mores."
Michael Sindoni, CBD Provisions Michael Sindoni's favorite Thanksgiving dish is something that most diners leave behind. Most of us are fighting over the drumsticks or a not-too-dried-out portion of turkey breast, but Sindoni goes straight for the turkey's "oyster meat." "It's sort of hidden and is the most flavorful part of the bird, right below the thigh on the spine of the poultry," says Sindoni. "Most often it is left on the carcass after it has been carved, but it really is the tastiest bit." Duly noted.
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Stephen Rogers, Gemma Chef Stephen Rogers is looking for something a little different than traditional Thanksgiving fare this year. Of course, there will be a turkey on the award-winning chef's table, but probably not prepared in a way that you've ever seen before. "We love traditional turkey, but if I'm cooking on Thanksgiving, I want to make a poulet au vinaigre in a combination of tomato and vinegar or an Indian turkey vindaloo," says Rogers. "I don't think it needs to be limited to traditional roasted or fried turkey."
Kirstyn Brewer, Victor Tangos Chef Kirstyn Brewer is known for her creative creations at Victor Tangos, and a dish from the menu there may actually make it onto her Thanksgiving table. The mashed butternut squash that is Brewer's fave, though she notes that it's hard to choose because she loves Thanksgiving, is made with squash from Comeback Creek, pomegranate molasses, and z'atar spices. Sounds a lot better than those candied yams that your grandma dumps out of a can every year, yes?
Jet Tila, Pakpao Chef Jet Tila of Pakpao -- and Food Network's Cutthroat Kitchen -- is making that celebrity chef money these days, so he can afford a little more expensive Thanksgiving spread. Still, he maintains that he's been making a sausage and chestnut dressing laced with fresh truffles for years. This year, though, he's thinking about doing something new, namely de-boing the turkeys and stuffing them with dressing to make ballontines.
Michael Ehlert, Front Room Tavern Leave it to a chef to take a perfectly good, perfectly junky Thanksgiving dish and make it really, really interesting, Front Room Tavern's Michael Ehlert makes an elevated version of the dish, swapping the cream of mushroom soup for rich homemade bechamel and roasted maitake mushrooms. The dish's crown jewel, though, is the buttermilk-marinated onions that Ehlert fries and throws on top of the casserole just before serving his favorite Thanksgiving side.