News & Politics

Thankgiving Day Menus from 5 Chefs

Thanksgiving has become a struggle, the need to honor tradition vying with untold imperatives to adapt to new and different tastes. What's a cook to do? Five chefs to the rescue.

This article is from 2006's Thanksgiving Dining Guide. To see 2007's guide, click here.

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.

Click here for Clark's menu

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.

Click here for Ziebold's menu

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.

Click here for Richard's menu

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.

Click here for Ouattara's menu

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.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.