Not everyone is in agreement as to what dishes make a great Thanksgiving dinner. McSweeney’s may make a great case for “Chinese Turkey,” and David Chang can’t stand turkey, period. And no one can really agree upon what the best kind of stuffing is, or which pie really rules all. But hey, isn’t the best part of Thanksgiving is the part where you make your own traditions?
We dug around and asked some of our favorite chefs what their Thanksgiving dealbreakers were — which dishes must be served, which rules could not be broken — and here’s what they told us. In short: don’t feel so bad about your Stouffer’s stuffing, it happens.
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Top Chef on Bravo; Thanksgiving Unstuffed on FYI Network
"Unlike other holidays that I’ve been observing my whole life where I like to have it exactly as my mother did it and her mother before her and most Americans I feel like I feel traditional about it too in a great way. I love experimenting with my turkey. I do generally always make turkey but sometimes I’ll make an Asian turkey. As you saw on the show, I did Cornish hens just to do something different. I did them with an Asian glaze. I did them in this spicy sauce that had fish sauce, soy, ginger and chilies so that was something different. I made a bacon and mushroom bread pudding because I’ve never been a huge fan of stuffing. It just wasn’t something I ate because it wasn’t something that we made in our house and I didn’t grow up with it. When I came here and the first couple stuffings I had they weren’t that great so I worked on how to make something that’s in the same realm of stuffing but I thought was tastier and fun. I love making pies so I made the Tarte au sucre, which is very traditionally Canadian, French Canadian actually. It’s just a play on a pie. It’s not unlike making a pecan pie or a pumpkin pie, which I often do make apple pies."
Restaurants: Momofuku Empire in New York City, Toronto
"You know what kills turkey every fucking Thanksgiving? My mom's braised short ribs, or
galbijjim. If you want to make sure your family forgets all about the turkey, make this with carrots and potatoes. Honestly, no one eats the bird. It ends up in a stock pot, destined for soup."
Bottega in Yountville, Calif.
"I have to have panetone stuffing."
Restaurants: Uchiko and East Side King in Austin
"Turkey takes the cake!"
"I have so many! I am still a son -- and a dad, too -- so we have a lot of opinions from the male Zimmerns... and that’s not including my wife's side of the family. My father-in-law even brings his own sausage stuffing with him if the bird meal is taking place outside of his home!
"For me, its oyster chowder to start, chestnut stuffing, pan gravy with lots of little burnished onions scraped from the bottom of the roaster, squash with brown butter vinaigrette, twin 14-pound birds, my wife’s amazing cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, my mother-in-law’s potato boats and, of course, her Raspberry 7-Up Cool-Whip Apple Sauce Jello ‘salad’. I never knew anything like that existed before moving to Minnesota and marrying into my wife’s family. Growing up in NYC, we all thought the whole Jello salad thing was just a farm country legend -- a Minnesotan version of urban myth. I love it so much these days that my wife's mom always makes a separate small one to leave behind for me. Love that stuff. It's a guilty pleasure for sure."
Talula’s Garden and Talula’s Table
in Philadelphia, Penn.
"A turkey. But I also would say that mac and cheese has to hit my belly that day. And going too sweet with the wine is out of the question. Finally, I’m anti-microwave for heating things up. Slow and steady wins the race on this holiday."
Perilla and Kin Shop in New York, NY
"Stuffing! Not dressing. Dressing goes on salads."
Restaurant: Executive chef at
Pub & Kitchen in Philadelphia
"I take the stuffing very seriously. This year at the restaurant, we made it completely from scratch. Baked our bread, made our own sausage, confit gizzards, and made a special stock just to pit together the stuffing. The stuffing is my favorite because it requires of all these disparate elements-meat, bread, veg, stock -- to all come together in one form."
Image credit: Paul Wagtouicz
TAG and TAG Raw Bar
in Denver, CO
"Always stuffing, gravy, turkey, of course, and mashed potatoes! I could actually eat that once a week."
Delicatessen and macbar in New York, NY
“The Turkey Tortellini Soup with Parmesan is always made by my father, and it became an unspoken rule. It’s served for Thanksgiving every year with the whole family -- including my brother, nieces, and nephews. Being a first-generation American, this dish represents my Italian roots with America.”
Salinas in New York, NY
"In my view, turkey is the iconic meat for Thanksgiving and should be the center of the dinner. The side dishes are all about culinary creativity. I’ve seen people from different cultural backgrounds preparing different side dishes. I would serve tapas since I'm from Spain, and I would replace the green beans with a watercress salad with avocado, walnuts, and yuzu sauce. I’d also use roasted apple and sherry vinegar relish instead of cranberry sauce. But I've seen Mexicans serving guacamole and arroz a la mexicana, and Koreans serving their kimchee and radish pickled in soy sauce. However, for me, one side dish is a must, no matter what: mashed potatoes!"
The Mildred in Philadelphia, PA
"Cranberry sauce has to be pure: Cranberry, sugar, orange juice. No apples, pears, grapes, chunks of fruit or anything. Clean and unadulterated. Also, mashed potatoes cannot have any lumps; I like them to be smooth and buttery."
Note: This story has been updated from 2013.
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