For some, Thanksgiving means turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. Full stop. For others, it might mean being with family, no matter what’s on the table. Still for others, it could mean throwing tradition out the door and even ditching the main meal altogether. Whatever it looks like on the surface, however, the holiday is ultimately about coming together. Here, 10 chefs and food writers share some of their favorite Thanksgiving memories, pointers and traditions, baring a fittingly diverse picture of what the day looks like across the country, and even the world.
Author, “The Gefilte Manifesto”
I lived in Tel Aviv about a year after I graduated college. As Thanksgiving approached, I started to get a little homesick as it was the first holiday I spent away from family. So, a few of my American and Israeli friends and I got together, and we threw a Thanksgiving dinner. We had chicken instead of turkey and managed to find other traditional ingredients like cranberries, but we also made hummus and roasted cauliflower. I hosted what became my favorite Thanksgiving of all time. It was the mashup of cultures that made it so unique and so special. Thinking about it now makes me yearn for those days in Tel Aviv.
Chef, Chez Panisse
I have a tip for Thanksgiving with friends. We all cook together so nobody has all the responsibility. And I always serve it in courses: oysters on the half shell, then we have turkey and stuffing and vegetables. Salad afterwards. And then we go for a walk up the hill. And then we come back and have pumpkin pie.
Author, “The Gefilte Manifesto”
Last year for Thanksgiving, my girlfriend and I skipped town and went to New Orleans just for fun. We spent our holiday biking around the city, listening to great music and eating beignets. Who needs turkey and stuffing when you have all that?
The year I came home from culinary school, I got to test out all of my new tricks and trades of the business one Thanksgiving dinner. It was the best meal my mom ever had, and that's when she knew that I was going to be a good chef one day.
Author, “Bollywood Kitchen”
One of the great things about growing up in an immigrant family is that you're able to blend the best of two different cultures—in my case, Indian and American culture. In our family, Thanksgiving always meant turkey, mashed potatoes and all the traditional American trimmings. But after dinner, instead of settling in for a football game, we would watch a Bollywood movie. So if you're tired of football or need a little change of entertainment, turn on a Bollywood movie on Netflix or Amazon. Enjoy the best of Bollywood musicals, and add a little Indian culture to your Thanksgiving.
One year my girlfriend (now wife) and I decided to host. Our family flew in from New Hampshire, Massachusetts and California to Pennsylvania for a lovely holiday Thanksgiving dinner. They sat there with bated breath the entire time thinking that we were going to either announce a pregnancy or proposal. Neither happened.
Author, “Feed the Resistance”
My favorite Thanksgiving memory comes from just last year. Last year, my wife, Grace, and I had Thanksgiving at our house. We had our parents here. We had a few friends and family friends. And we also had Jennie who was the woman who helped raise me when I was growing up. She was my babysitter for over a decade, and we're still really close. And it was so special to have her here with everyone—to really have all the people that raised me in one place and to get to cook for everyone. And my favorite part of it was that Jennie told me in advance that she doesn't like turkey. But then she came back and asked her seconds and said it seemed like I actually knew what I was doing. So that felt really great. And I remember it really fondly.
YouTube Star, “EmmyMade in Japan”
One year for Thanksgiving, our colossal family convened at my grandmother’s, who was a fantastic cook. We had turkey with rice, greens (which I never touched as a kid) and so many pies. I just remember loads and loads of pies, but as always, it was less about the food and more about the good company.
Author, “Black Girl Baking”
One of the Guy family’s many holiday traditions is to serve two types of cranberry sauce every year. One I cook from scratch and the other one we buy in a can because half of us swear that nostalgia tastes best.
Author, “Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling”
Let me tell you why Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year. It’s a celebration of the harvest and the only holiday about food. It's also the holiday that smells the best. Politics, religion, tribalism all try to divide us, but the thing about Thanksgiving that makes it so special is that most of us share pretty much the same menu.
There’s the turkey; I smoke it by the way. There’s stuffing, made from bread, the humblest and noblest of foods. There’s potatoes, the most earthy peasant food that sustained our ancestors in hardship. Gravy that we ladle over the potatoes and meat to moisten and enrich them. Cranberries—sweet and sour, just like life itself. And there's plenty of wine at my house to stimulate conversation. Always something green, like green beans or salad, to make mom happy. And of course, my wife's all-American pie from apples, the symbol for knowledge. The thought that so many of us share the same menu is terribly profound to me.
These excerpts have been edited for clarity.
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