Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Williamsburg chefs, restaurant owners dish on their favorite Thanksgiving recipes

Wayside chef talks turkey
Williamsburg-area chefs such as Hans Schadler cook every day, not just on Thanksgiving, but they still have very clear favorites when it comes to recipes for the holiday. (Photo courtesy Hans Schadler/Sara Harris Photography)

From apple pie to turkey, Thanksgiving in the Historic Triangle is all about tradition.

The professionals who cook and feed people for a living in and around Williamsburg are no different. Whether they’re cooking for a crowd or for their own families, their holiday go-tos are steeped in the classics.

Like a roast turkey with butter and herbs, stuffed with fruit.

Or Italian sausage stuffing with parmesan cheese and carmelized Vidalia onions.

And an updated twist on green bean casserole.

Here’s what some members of Williamsburg’s restaurant community are looking forward to this Thanksgiving.

Classically inspired roast turkey

Hans Schadler, the chef/owner of Waypoint Seafood and Grill, came from Germany to the United States as a young man and had to adjust to the Thanksgiving holiday, he said in a recent interview.

Now, with more than 50 years of experience in restaurant kitchens, his favorite Thanksgiving dish is fresh, local turkey. But don’t look for him to embrace fads, such as serving the bird deep-fried.

To brine or not to brine
This turkey image from the 1825 book “American Ornithology” by Charles Lucien Bonaparte was used for Wold Art Group prints. (Photo courtesy Colonial Williamsburg)

Instead, as a classically trained chef, he stays true to his roots.

Twenty-four hours before roasting a turkey, he mixes butter with sage, tarragon, parsley and a hint of garlic and massages the mixture under the skin.

He stuffs the bird with herbs, oranges and apples to enhance the flavor, not to use as dressing.

He separates the legs from the breast and cooks the legs separately, on top of a base of carmelized carrots, onion and celery.

And he bastes the bird with pan juices roughly every 15 to 20 minutes.

“You cannot baste it enough,” he said.

A simple sausage stuffing

For Isabelle Behnam, owner of LuLu Birds Kitchen in Gloucester, Thanksgiving is a day off.

She and her husband, Chef Keyvan Behnam, have small children. They close the restaurant and spend the day with family.

sausage stuffing a la Behnam
A family Thanksgiving for the Behnams, the husband-and-wife team behind LuLu Birds Kitchen In Gloucester, features a simple sausage stuffing. (Photo courtesy Isabelle Behnam)

Her signature Thanksgiving dish – sausage stuffing – is one she can make almost with her eyes closed.

“And it’s my favorite thing ever,” she said.

Behnam starts by browning about a pound and a half of Italian sausage — half spicy and half mild.

She uses the same pan, degreased if necessary, to carmelize two or three thinly sliced sweet Vidalia onions.

This step takes patience — and up to 20 minutes on a low flame, she said.

When the onions are done, she puts them aside, still hot, in a big bowl with the sausage.

To that, she adds three chopped celery stalks (uncooked), two packages of Italian-seasoned bread crumbs, about a half cup of chicken stock, two lightly beaten eggs and about a half cup of grated parmesan cheese. Then she stuffs the bird.

“It’s so tasty,” she said. “So we all love it.”

Not his mother’s side dish

Stephen Smith, the general manager of Opus 9 Steakhouse and Craft 31, is all about the sides.

“I’m not a turkey guy,” he said in recent phone interview. “I’m not really a ham guy.”

green-bean casserole
Green-bean casserole holds a special place on Thanksgiving for Stephen Smith, general manager of Opus 9 Steakhouse and Craft 31. (Photo courtesy Google Images/Wikimedia Commons)

For Thanksgiving, his favorite dish is green bean casserole.

Not the version he knew growing up in Gloucester, with canned beans, canned cream of mushroom soup and canned onions on top.

He likes an updated take, made from scratch, with fresh green beans, exotic mushrooms and a homemade cream base. (For the recipe, click here).

“Green bean casserole,” he said. “That’s it for me.”

A batch of seasonal “biscuits”

Finally, if pies are not your thing and you’re not sure what to serve for dessert, take some inspiration from Colonial Williamsburg.

Here are recipes for traditional Christmas cookies, courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg, and an instructional video to get you in the holiday spirit.


Joan Quigley
Joan Quigley
Joan Quigley is a former Miami Herald business reporter, a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and an attorney. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, TIME.com, nationalgeographic.com and Talking Points Memo. Her recent book, Just Another Southern Town: Mary Church Terrell and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Nation’s Capital, was shortlisted for the 2017 Mark Lynton History Prize. Her first book, The Day the Earth Caved In: An American Mining Tragedy, won the 2005 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award.

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