South Texas Antelope, Vanilla-Scented Sweet Potato and Piquillo Pepper Escabeche
Chef Peter Armellino of The Plumed Horse – Saratoga, CA
“Game of the Day”: French Game Hen, Roasted Breast, Crisp Thigh, Leg Croquette, Brussels Sprouts, Butter-Poached Mushrooms, and Huckleberry Reduction
Chef Dirk Flanigan of Henri and the Gage – Chicago, IL
Devil's Gulch Rabbit Leg: Fried Rabbit Foreleg, Twice-Cooked Potatoes, Parsnips, Rocket Salad, and Prosciutto
Chef Chris Kronner of Bar Tartine –San Francisco, CA
Foie Gras Profiteroles, Caramel Sauce, and Sea Salt
Chef Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon—Portland, OR
Duck, Duck, Goose
Chef Shin Thompson of Bonsoirée—Chicago, IL
Tres Sabores Guinea Hen “Two Ways”, Toasted Farro, Baby Escarole, Caramelized Red Onions, Valencia Oranges, and Olives
Chef Josh Thomsen of Meritage at The Claremont Hotel Club & Spa in Claremont, CA
Devil’s Gulch Ranch - Nicasio, CA
BN RANCH - Bolinas, CA
Tres Sabores Ranch Winery - Rutherford, CA
When StarChefs.com 2010 New York Rising Star Markus Glocker creates a special holiday menu at MAZE by Gordon Ramsay and Restaurant Gordon Ramsey, that is, a Thanksgiving menu courtesy of an Austrian born and bred chef at a restaurant run by a Brit in New York City, you gotta’ ask yourself: Is Thanksgiving set to step in as the next dining out holiday de rigueur?
Beyond the 11% and counting consumers celebrating out this year, a study from the National Restaurant Association in November 2008 also reported that 53% of Americans depend on restaurant take-out for all or part of their Thanksgiving Day meals. “It wouldn’t be surprising if that data had increased,” says Mike Donohue, NRA spokesperson. “These are growing trends.”
So as succulent as everyone’s sister-in-law’s signature stuffing may be, it looks like it might not suffice anymore. From the Redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters, chefs are taking over, from the whole she-bang, to ready-to-eat roasts, to side dishes and desserts. Faced with the daunting challenge of playing host at this most nostalgic of American holidays, how are chefs making sure their diners feel at home and also better than at home?
StarChefs.com 2010 NY Rising Star Chef Marc Forgione is set to repeat on the success of last year's Thanksgiving dinner at his eponymous restaurant in Tribeca. He's got a four-course prix fixe planned featuring starters like Delicata squash ravioli with Dayboat Maine lobster and a sage emulsion, three centerpiece choices, including roast organic turkey breast with a dark meat ballotine and giblet gravy, and an array of down-home sides served family-style, to really set the Norman Rockwell vibe aglow.
Chef Chris Kobayashi of Artisan in Paso Robles, California, has been dishing up a Thanksgiving Day prix fixe menu to wine-harvest pilgrims since his family-run restaurant opened in 2006. “We’re packed that day,” he says. Kobayashi, host to around 220 weary, wandering covers every fourth Thursday of November, knows well that Thanksgiving represents a giant turkey-shaped patch on the quilt that is culinary Americana, and that, “Turkey says home.” But to elevate the experience, he focuses on sourcing as much variety for his menu from as many local farms as possible. He may do a deep-fried bird, but there's also chanterelle toast with quail’s egg and sea bass with caramelized fennel.
Chef Chris Kronner of Bar Tartine in San Francisco, California suggests trying a heritage breed turkey for something that wanders off the beaten path, though remains within welcome sight of grandma's house. “They’re wilder, with more dark meat,” says Kronner. Bill Niman of BN RANCH in Bolinas, California raises heritage birds that fit the bill, bred naturally and given the royal treatment with juicy, flavorful meat the objective. Chef Kronner warns that Niman’s dewlapped fowl really fly, so it pays to order early.
In a twist on the turkey trot, Tres Sabores Ranch Winery in Rutherford, Cailfornia supplies the strut to StarChefs.com 2010 San Francisco Rising Star Chef Josh Thomsen’s recipe for Guinea hen. Julie Johnson’s ranch and winery has been organically certified since way back in 1987, and its sun-kissed terroire raises blissful sheep and happy hens who sashay among the lemon and olive groves there. No pairing more heaven-sent than a 2007 Tres Sabores Estate Zindandel.
We went hunting for viable turkey alternatives that are fresh and novel, and faithful to the holiday's spirit, and found that fall game steps up on both fronts. Rev appetites with visions of the bounty of a day's hunt (musket optional), and put Chef Dirk Flannigan’s French game hen on the menu. Served with a haute leg croquette, butter-poached matsutake mushrooms and Brussels sprouts mousse at Henri in Chicago, it’s rustic-chic and with the technique involved delivers a dash of don’t-try-this-at-home derring-do.
For a sustainable wow-factor protein and a side of brilliantly-hued produce fresh from the farm-stand, try a favorite of Chef Peter Armellino of The Plumed Horse in Saratoga, California: South Texas Antelope, Vanilla-Scented Sweet Potato Purée and Piquillo Pepper Escabeche. “It's probably one of our biggest sellers [because] it’s so unique. It's got one third of the fat of beef, [and] less cholesterol than chicken,” says Armellino. He likes the Broken Arrow Ranch in Texas for the southern hospitality they show toward their domestic game.
Kronner’s recipe for stuffed and fried Devil’s Gulch rabbit and twice-cooked parsnips and potatoes merges “homey” with “Who’d a thunk it?” And when it comes to playful, Chef Shin Thompson of Bonsoirée in Chicago has got his game down pat with his recipe for Duck, Duck, Goose. He says that “plating the dish in a Japanese Jubako-style box adds to the feel and presentation. There are no advanced tricks in this recipe, just precision in terms of cooking.” Nothing says, "Gobble, gobble?" quite like a bento box, but when the contents include seared duck breast and fig and vidalia onion jam, pilgrims and their native American friends rejoice.
Expect to find Thompson amid the gaiety at home this year, with perhaps a snooze on the sofa afterwards to the drone of televised football. Nevertheless, he’s got a special Thanksgiving weekend menu with turkey and foie gras at Bonsoirée. Foie is never a foible, and a trek to Le Pigeon in Portland, Oregon was rewarded with a recipe for Chef Gabriel Rucker’s dangerously addictive Foie Gras Profiteroles. Serve it, and usher your guests into foie gras Shan-gri-la.
Japanese presentation and foie gras might seem like radical additions to a holiday that is fiercely rooted in the classics, but numbers don’t lie, and Donohue has no doubt: “Consumers are always looking for new tastes in cuisines, things they can’t create at home.” And that’s no jive turkey. After all, America is a melting pot of improvisation, in and out of the kitchen (what, you think the pilgrims were raised eating gobbler with cranberry sauce?). So make the most of it, and next year your restaurant may be the new Thanksgiving tradition.
Read on for more turkey tips from our contributing chefs, aimed at those of you to whom turkey is non-negotiable.