As we start the countdown to Thanksgiving, families throughout the region are planning their holiday feasts—and so are local chefs. We asked two Asheville-based chefs to share their Thanksgiving traditions and offer some tips for making a holiday meal with local ingredients.
Ashleigh Shanti is the chef de cuisine at Benne on Eagle. The restaurant is located on The Block in downtown Asheville. Its menu is often described as Appalachian Soul Food, and it uses Appalachian ingredients to highlight The Block’s rich history and future. Some of chef Ashleigh Shanti’s favorite dishes from childhood are on the menu, like braised oxtail served with Carolina Gold rice and sumac onions.
Ashleigh grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia and enjoyed big meals with her aunts, uncles, and cousins. She says Thanksgiving is still one of the most important holidays they celebrate together.
“Typically, I think we have the traditional Southern, African-American soul food Thanksgiving. We usually do the traditional turkey that’s baked and then we fry a turkey as well. Macaroni and cheese, oyster cornbread stuffing, green beans, and rice because it’s something that we always have,” she says.
They cherish these food traditions, but they’re open to starting new ones, too.
“I think that as everyone gets older and the opinions grow wider, we’re starting to stray from the traditional Thanksgiving. Even this year we’re toying with the idea of my family coming here and eating at the restaurant,” she says.
Chef Philip Bollhoefer from The Montford Rooftop Bar in Asheville is planning a Thanksgiving meal at his restaurant, too, but this one’s for his employees. This year he’s trying something new.
“We’re actually doing an Asian-themed Thanksgiving. Instead of the traditional sides, we’re going to have spring rolls and slaws and things like that. So we’re going completely off base because it’s the week before Thanksgiving and all of our employees will generally have their regular Thanksgivings the next week,” he says.
The employee meal kicks off Philip’s tour-de-Thanksgiving. After his staff is fed, Philip and his wife Chelsea will go to Florida to celebrate with her grandmother, and then back to Asheville for two Thanksgiving meals with friends. Yes, this chef has four Thanksgivings.
Philip says Thanksgiving is one of his favorite holidays, and while the pressure of hosting can be challenging, with a little planning “it can be about community, family, and just eating good food,” he says.
Philip has some advice for home cooks who want to make the holiday a little more relaxing.
“When you’re making your food for Thanksgiving, instead of trying to peel your potatoes, put your pies in, and get the turkey in the oven, plus any other sides that you’re doing, making sauces, everything from scratch—do it several days before. Your cranberry sauce is just going to sit and the flavor is going to meld. I’d make that early and then slowly kind of build into it,” he says.
He suggests brining the turkey early in the week, preparing the bechamel sauce for green bean casserole a few days in advance, and making pies the day before.
“So there’s a lot of production that you can do without sacrificing the quality of the work or the taste of the food so your hair doesn’t feel like it’s on fire on Thanksgiving Day,” he says.
Shopping for ingredients in advance is also important for a low-stress holiday. Luckily, there are farmers markets the Saturday before Thanksgiving where you can find winter staples.
“Hit the farmer’s market before they close. If you’re going to get winter squash or anything like that, those are going to keep. So you can buy those today and they’re going to be fine for 10 days before Thanksgiving. Same thing with your sweet potatoes and any other potatoes you can find at a local farmers markets,” he says.
Some farmers markets are changing hours or moving indoors for the winter, so check their schedules before you go shopping. Many local turkey farms require reservations, so if a local turkey isn’t available, consider pork, lamb, or a vegetarian show-stopper like stuffed acorn squash.
And don’t forget dessert. Chef Ashleigh Shanti’s family always has plenty of sweets at their holiday table.
“There’s sweet potato pie; there’s apple pie; there’s quite a bit of food. You name it, we have it. There’s lots of food and lots of people to feed,” she says.
Find more ideas for Thanksgiving feasting, and see the times and locations of winter farmers markets, at www.asapconnections.org
Aired: November 18, 2019