An Introduction . . .
If you've ever attempted to put together a large Thanksgiving Day dinner–an undertaking only slightly less taxing than assembling a steamboat–you know that pleasing all the people all the time is impossible.
One side of the family has always eaten creamed onions; the other side can hardly stand the thought of it. Make a cranberry relish, and wait for the chorus to erupt in protest that you've committed a heresy–that jiggly, jellied log from the tin can is tradition. Go ahead and spend half the afternoon on that wonderful casserole of sweet potatoes and pineapple you saw on a TV cooking show, but Uncle Marvin is going to want a bowl of mashed potatoes, too.
Is your head starting to pound?
Holiday menu planning is only getting worse, thanks to all those agitating special-interest groups–the nut-allergic, the wheat-allergic, the gluten-free, the vegetarians, the vegans. These days, accommodating people's feast-day tastes can be a diplomatic and logistical nightmare.
How to honor those cherished traditions while bending to meet the needs of everyone around you and, oh, yes, introducing new flavors and new combinations of taste to keep the meal new and interesting? Without turning the carving knife on your guests?
We invited five chefs to come to the rescue with menus for a new-old Thanksgiving.
Gillian Clark’s Kitsch Menu
Gillian Clark, with her fondness for Americana, seemed the ideal choice for a "kitsch Thanksgiving." The Colorado Kitchen chef and proprietor cleverly updates many of those cheesy, can't-do-away-with-'em classics. Her Creamed-Onion-Stuffed Onion, for instance, is a sophisticated riff on a humble, feast-day staple.
Eric Ziebold’s Traditional Menu
Eric Ziebold of CityZen took on the task of creating a menu that obeys tradition even as it tweaks it. If his Périgord Truffle Stuffed Capon sounds daunting, his English Thyme Bread Pudding is simple as well as versatile: "You can cut pieces of this savory bread pudding out and serve them with your dinner, then put the rest in your refrigerator." The next day, Ziebold makes an open-face sandwich by warming a thick slice of the pudding on a griddle and topping it with capon and gravy. It certainly beats flimsy wheat bread.
Michel Richard’s New Wave Menu
To Michel Richard fell the responsibility of turning our notions of tradition inside out and upside down–hardly a stretch, as the chef is given to bending, distorting, and otherwise playing with his food nightly at his restaurant Citronelle. In Richard's nimble mind, a simple cranberry relish becomes a soufflé, while the turkey-drenching brown gravy is transformed into an elegant and unexpected Port Beet Sauce.
Todd Gray’s Origins of Thanksgiving Menu
Todd Gray, whose cooking at Equinox seeks to honor the origins of the Mid-Atlantic region, was our pick to concoct a menu that harks back to the origins of Thanksgiving. His five dishes are grounded in the staples of Native American cookery–oysters, game meats, buckskin cakes–that dominated the first feast. Turkey–a component of that long-ago meal and not the featured player–doesn't make the cut.
Click here for Gray's menu
Morou Ouattara’s Vegan Menu
Nor is there turkey to be found on Signatures chef Morou Ouattara's menu. Building a dinner around vegetable dishes is almost second nature to this native of Ivory Coast, where meat is frequently an accent and not a focal point of a meal. We think his hearty creations will please even the most inveterate meat eater.
Don't feel up to trying one of these menus in its entirety? Then mix and match, assembling dishes from any of them. Or try a single dish. If nothing else, you can live vicariously through the pictures and menu descriptions, storing up memories of the feast that might have been as you cut into your jellied log of cranberry or watch Uncle Marvin guarding his bowl of mashed potatoes as though it were a private stash.