This Year, Give Thanks for Independent Restaurants
Recipes for Thanksgiving-inspired meals from Los Angeles chefsThe Infatuation
November 13, 2020
Independent restaurants are at the heart of every city, town, and village across America. The COVID-19 pandemic has created never-before-seen challenges for the food and beverage industry, and left chefs, owners, and workers struggling to imagine what the future looks like. Our Open for Good campaign is dedicated to helping independent restaurants survive this crisis, rebuild better, and thrive for the long term.
We know this Thanksgiving will look different across the country this year. Although we may not be able to gather in the same way, setting your holiday table is the perfect opportunity to support local restaurants. Turn your Turkey Day into a take-out feast or round out your homecooked menu with a few strategic delivery sides. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, our partners at Stella Artois and The Infatuation have some recommendations for Thanksgiving-themed dishes for a memorable meal, whether you’re ordering in or drawing recipe inspiration from the chefs near you. Read on for their tips and stories.
At Los Angeles restaurants, chefs celebrate different cultures while showcasing local ingredients. So the idea of Thanksgiving at many of these restaurants is about abundance, prosperity, and seasonal cooking as much as it is about any specific dishes.
Here’s a look at five limited-time-only Thanksgiving-inspired dishes from five L.A. chefs who know that delicious things can happen when you combine tradition with a modern point of view.
Steve Samson, Rossoblu
It makes sense that chef Steve Samson would want to give Thanksgiving food an Italian spin. Like everything he cooks at Rossoblu, his turkey thigh al mattone with chestnut–sage stuffing and porcini gravy (pictured above) is an expression of the Italian cuisine that’s been the focus of his career.
Samson worked for legendary L.A. restaurateur Piero Selvaggio at Valentino. Selvaggio set up stages for Samson in both Northern and Southern Italy. After leaving Valentino, Samson started running his own Italian restaurants, opening Sotto and then downtown pasta palace Rossoblu and adjacent Superfine Pizza.
The stuffing he’s serving at Rossoblu this year is similar to the stuffing he’s cooked on many Thanksgivings at his parents’ house in Los Angeles.
“Maybe 10 years ago, I made Thanksgiving a little bit more chef-y with free-range turkey and good fresh bread,” he says. “But at the end of the day, the food was still more or less the same.”
After all, why mess with tradition?
Vivian Ku, Pine & Crane
Chef Vivian Ku, who was raised in California by her Taiwanese-immigrant parents, is building a miniature empire in L.A. with Pine & Crane, Joy, and her new Today Starts Here breakfast pop-up. For Ku, Thanksgivings have been about delicious potlucks with both Taiwanese and American food.
“There was a little bit of everything, but we didn’t have a fusion dish,” she says.
So it makes sense that her Thanksgiving-inspired dish at Pine & Crane is purely Taiwanese: a take on the candied sweet potatoes often found at night markets.
Ku, who grew up eating her grandmother’s cooking on the weekends and went on to run the campus grill while attending Harvard, knew she wanted to be in the restaurant business and introduce Taiwanese food to a broader audience, which is exactly what she’s done at her restaurants.
“I’m very proud of Taiwan,” she says. “I really like how the people there are easygoing and don’t take themselves very seriously. It makes food a fun, casual experience where hopefully all people feel welcome to jump in and grab a snack or have a full-on meal.”
Minh Phan, Phenakite
Minh Phan (who previously ran the kitchen at Gaji and Beachwood Cafe) is a chef with fine dining and California cuisine bona fides to spare, who used her vast talents to create genre-defying porridge at Porridge + Puffs. Now she’s aiming to redefine fine dining at Phenakite with introspective multi-course meals that reflect 2020 and the challenges it’s brought to the restaurant industry.
Phan, who’s enjoyed traditional American Thanksgivings with her Midwestern parents, loves how you can transform leftovers by turning them into porridge.
“It’s a great way to renew something, to have a meal again but in a different way,” she says. Phan is very much bringing the spirit of Porridge + Puffs to Phenakite on November 16, when she will offer a takeout lunch with both a pork loin and a pork porridge that’s inspired by next-day leftovers.
Kevin Meehan, Kali
Chef Kevin Meehan fondly remembers how his Long Island house would smell really good for days after his mom cooked Thanksgiving dinner. Meehan was raised by a single mother, and Thanksgiving was a rare occasion for a big family gathering. Meehan remembers “having this weird carcass in the fridge for days.” It was a nice ritual, he says, to remove the foil, rip off the turkey meat and put the foil back on the carcass.
Meehan started cooking in high school and went on to become a Los Angeles fine-dining superstar, earning a Michelin star at Kali (after working for Ludo Lefebvre at L’Orangerie and Joachim Splichal at Patina), which means he’s spent many Thanksgivings cooking for customers on the line. For Meehan, the holiday is a fun opportunity to explore his love of California ingredients and seasonal cooking. This year at Kali, he’s serving Mary’s free-range turkey while also making a special autumn-inspired dish of Liberty duck breast with squash purée, figs, and other farmers’ market produce.
Marcelo Garcia, Madre
“Thanksgiving is when I saw my mother at her best in the kitchen,” says Madre chef Marcelo Garcia, who grew up in Jalisco and moved to Los Angeles when he was 14. “Her creativity inspired me to be creative with the ingredients we got from Oaxaca at Madre. I wanted to do something innovative, something we had never tried before.”
He remembers eating turkeys that were cooked with Mexican spices and stuffed with Mexican fruit, which helped him come up with the idea of stuffing an adobo-seasoned pork tenderloin with pechuga de mezcal and fruit.
Garcia worked his way up from the bottom, starting as a dishwasher and working his way up to assistant manager, going on to cook in Mexican, Italian, and Chinese restaurants before joining Madre, which specializes in Oaxacan dishes and mezcal.
“I never wanted to just learn the basics,” he says. “I wanted to go above and beyond and learn as much as I could.”