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In the average American household, Thanksgiving is a day off work punctuated by preparations for a highly anticipated tour de force from the home cook.
The RoundTable wondered what the day means for a professional whose restaurant is closed for the holiday – whether or what a chef might cook on a day off from cooking.
While a quick search failed to turn up many Evanston eateries open for Thanksgiving dinner, it did find a catering business taking orders for ready-to-cook meals.
And the chefs at three of Evanston’s favorite restaurants lifted the lids to reveal what
will be simmering at home on their ranges next Thursday.
Chef Jona Silva and his wife, Erin Silva Winston, of Cooked, 1307 Chicago Ave., are geared up to rescue intimidated hosts with a complete, traditional Thanksgiving dinner delivered oven-ready to their door. Like everything on their weekly menu – from a quinoa breakfast bowl to a school lunch of hummus, grilled chicken and pita – the holiday dinner from Cooked promises to be “always local, always sustainable, organic whenever possible.”
Even as a dishwasher in his native Mexico, Mr. Silva was captivated by the kitchen arts. His 15-year journey from Montreal to Spain, Portugal and Morocco expanded his horizons and refined his technique, culminating in a course of studies at the Culinary Institute of America and his certification as Chef in 2009.
Chef Silva and his wife started their food delivery service in 2014, deriving its name and mission from Michael Pollen’s book “Cooked.” Having modeled a healthy diet by giving up all refined sugar in 2011, Chef Silva was committed to preparing fresh, nutritious food, never frozen and without preservatives.
This year’s Cooked Thanksgiving dinner for two to four people will include organic turkey, fennel and cornbread stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts or green beans and dinner rolls, the Chef says.
He will be taking this meal to his in-laws’ house, where last year’s dinner passed a crucial test. “My mother-in-law thinks she makes the best gravy in town,” he says, “but she was impressed.”
Turkey Day will be a busman’s holiday for Chef Nicole Pederson of three-year-old Found Kitchen and Social House, 1631 Chicago Ave. Untethered from her workday ovens, she will be cooking at her friend Lisa’s, as has become their tradition. This year Chef Nicole will undergo a role reversal for the day.
“Every year Lisa has a theme,” the Chef explains – two years ago Caribbean food, last year Chinese. They summon ethnic ingredients to transform standard Thanksgiving fare, like giving last year’s turkey an Asian accent with a stuffing of sticky rice.
Israeli-born British culinary superstar Yotam Ottolenghi is the inspiration for this year’s menu, Chef Nicole says. Mr. Ottolenghi arrived in London in 1997 and achieved celebrity status as a restaurateur, food writer, cookbook author and television personality whose cooking marries Middle Eastern flavors with those of Asia and the West. Though he can work magic with meat, Mr. Ottolenghi is best known as a champion of vegetables.
Chef Nicole, a Minnesota native who completed culinary school in her home state and staging in France before working at the Gramercy Tavern in New York, has garnered high praise and awards for the seasonal creations that have made Found a magnet for foodies.
With her emphasis on farm-fresh Midwestern vegetables and grains in dishes like miso roasted carrots with chutney powder and cilantro and masala fried cauliflower, Chef Nicole just might be Ottolenghi’s culinary soul mate. She has earned Found a reputation as “one of Chicago’s best vegetarian-friendly restaurants” while also wearing the crown of the Princess of Porc.
On Thanksgiving, Chef Nicole will trade the title of executive chef for a one-day run as a lesser sous-chef. She will be making the swap quite willingly, she says, for a couple of reasons. “I’m good at vegetable prep,” she says, “and it’s a release from being in charge.”
The doors of Oceanique, an eclectic seafood restaurant at 505 Main St., will also be closed for the holiday. But Marc Grosz, the owner/chef since its founding in 1989, will be at home, doing for fun what he does at work: planning and preparing an elaborate French-American meal.
Chef Grosz, who trained with Jean Banchet at the renowned Le Francais in Wheeling, recites the Thanksgiving menu he envisions for some 10 family members gathered around his holiday table. It commences with duck confit and proceeds to quail stuffed with truffles, foie gras and sweetbreads. His wife, Renée, who is Oceanique’s
general manager, “makes a mean macaroni,” he says. And for dessert there will be
pumpkin pie reminiscent of the “great pies” his mother made in his childhood, along with apple pie and a chocolate-drenched Day & Night Cake topped for fall with chestnut ice cream.
“We’ll drink good wine, too,” Chef Grosz says – no surprise from a restaurateur who has received an award from Wine Spectator Magazine every year since 1994 and whose wine list, presided over by son Phillipe, boasts of some 900 selections.
As if savoring the feast in advance, Chef Grosz sums it up: “We only live once.”
Eric Young is chef and half the management team at La Principal, 700 Main St. Evanston’s newest Mexican restaurant is so wildly popular that weekend wait times can reach an hour and a half. Chef Young, who has more than 10 years of kitchen experience, first partnered with Derek Gaspar to purchase The Lucky Platter in 2014. The closing of Lupita’s left a vacant building a few blocks west and a culinary gap the two thought they could fill.
They “started sampling and researching” Mexican cuisine, Chef Young says, and put together a menu of what they call “street food” – tacos and tortas and pozoles that mix the traditional and the serendipitous. They named their restaurant la principal, or “the main…” and invite their guests to fill in the blank.
With the restaurant closed, this chef is looking forward to staying out of the kitchen for Thanksgiving. His plan, he says, is to sit back and watch his brother-in-law deep fry a turkey. “He loves to do it,” Chef Young says.