December 6, 2023

Healthy Choice

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Phoenix Chefs Share Their Thanksgiving Meals and Traditions

While Thanksgiving dinner usually features classics like turkey, gravy, stuffing, and potatoes, not everyone does it exactly the same way. Chefs and restaurant owners, in particular, tend to put their own spin on the meal — whether it’s a fresh take on a dish, a gourmet preparation, or a nod to their cultural roots.

These five Arizona chefs shared what they cook and eat for their holiday feast.

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Chef Justin Beckett makes a “turkey tube” on Thanksgiving because it cooks faster and allows for easy slicing.

Justin Beckett

Justin Beckett

Chef and co-owner, Beckett’s Table and Southern Rail

“My biggest problem with Thanksgiving dinner is, you’re held hostage to the turkey,” Beckett says. “If everybody’s there and hungry and eating all the crackers and cheese and waiting for a football game to end and the turkey’s not ready, you’re just waiting.”

That’s why Beckett developed a creation he calls the “turkey tube,” a deconstructed turkey made into a roulade so it cooks faster — it only takes about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes, the chef says. To make the forgiving recipe, he layers, rolls, and ties skin, dark meat, breast meat, herbs, and spices.

“You can smoke it, you can roast it, you can sear it, you can probably even fry it if you want to,” Beckett says.

Beckett recommends watching a video titled “The Tastiest Thanksgiving Turkey” found on food photographer and blogger Joanie Simon’s website that shows how to debone the turkey and roll it into a tube. Beckett has taught the technique in cooking classes and he recommends practicing on a chicken before the big day.

The finished turkey tube still has a “wow” factor when it’s sliced and plated, Beckett says, but it’s faster and easier than roasting and carving a big bird.

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Chef Alyssa Dixon owns Alyssa’s Kosin catering.

Alyssa Dixon

Alyssa Dixon

Chef and owner, Alyssa’s Kosin

Alyssa Dixon of Casa Grande founded her catering company Alyssa’s Kosin in 2017 to promote traditional, healthy foods for the Akimel O’odham on the Gila River Indian Community.

Thanksgiving is obviously a difficult day for many Indigenous people. However, Dixon’s family has transformed the holiday into a special time. They get together, reflect on their accomplishments throughout the year, remember the meaning and importance of family, and give thanks to their ancestors for their resilience. Her goal is to “move forward with love” by preparing food with good intentions.

“We have come such a long way from being colonized to regaining those strengths and reconnecting with who we are as Indigenous people,” Dixon says.

That respect for ancestors also finds its way to the dinner table. Dixon usually makes poshol, a stew with brown tepary beans, wheat berries, and Pima 60-day corn kernel, a traditional variety of corn that grows in 60 days or less, along with short ribs to add heartiness.

“That’s one of our traditional dishes that our elders in the community really do enjoy,” she notes. The stew is served with a homemade tortilla or piece of fry bread. She also makes a white tepary bean hummus served with vegetables, a staple dish from her catering business.

When thinking about how to celebrate the holidays, Dixon suggests everyone find their own traditions, whether it’s from their country of origin or simply what they like to eat.

“Who says we can’t have ribs?” she asks. “Who says we can’t have tacos? Who says we can’t have lasagna?”

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Susan and Roberto Rossi of Veneto Trattoria enjoy a northern Italian Thanksgiving prepared by longtime server Wanda Gerra.

Veneto Trattoria

Wanda Gerra

Server, Veneto Trattoria

Wanda Gerra has worked as a server at Veneto Trattoria in Scottsdale for 24 of the 25 years that the restaurant has been open. She’s spent decades serving northern Italian favorites, and she’s always entrusted with cooking Thanksgiving dinner at her house for the restaurant’s owners, Roberto and Susan Rossi, and many of the staff.

“We have a turkey for sure,” Gerra says, “but we make a porcini mushroom sauce.”

She also cooks dishes native to her hometown of Piacenza, Italy, in the northern Emilia-Romagna region, which she asserts has the best food in the country. The meal begins with panzerotti, a savory turnover with deep-fried pockets of dough that’s similar to a calzone.

“They’re stuffed with spinach, ricotta cheese, and mascarpone cheese and topped with marinara sauce and a little Parmesan cheese, and we bake it,” Gerra explains.

Other specialties include stuffing with chestnuts, spinach with bechamel sauce, baked fennel gratinata with butter and Parmesan, and homemade desserts. They include a crostata, which is a tart with homemade plum jam; strudel with apples, pears, and pine nuts; a semifreddo with amaretto cookies chocolate and nuts; tiramisu; and — in a nod to her adopted country — pumpkin pie.

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Chef Jeremy Pacheco of Genuine Concepts said a sous chef once misinterpreted his directions to peel “half of the oranges.”

Jeremy Pacheco

Jeremy Pacheco

Culinary director, Genuine Concepts

Jeremy Pacheco oversees the collection of Genuine Concepts restaurants that includes The Vig, The Little Woody, and The Genuine. The company is gearing up to open The Vig North Central on December 5 after The Vig Uptown closed earlier this year. However, none of the eateries are open on Thanksgiving, so Pacheco gets to spend it at home with family.

Pacheco says he usually makes a traditional feast with turkey, mashed potatoes, and his favorite, stuffing with “lots and lots of sage.” But his signature is a cranberry sauce made by running oranges, orange peels, and cranberries through a meat grinder and adding sugar.

“You don’t cook it,” Pacheco says. “It’s so bright, so fresh. I love it. You have to try it.”

The sauce comes with a funny story from Pacheco’s days working at Lon’s at the Hermosa. Pacheco told the sous chef to “take a case of oranges and peel half of them.” The guy peeled exactly half of each orange. Upon seeing the half-peeled fruit, Pacheco was incensed. The man replied, “You said, ‘Peel half the oranges.’”

Pacheco still laughs about the incident each year when preparing his family’s Thanksgiving table. These days, his two boys like to make the cranberry sauce, putting it through the grinder attachment on the Kitchen Aid mixer. At the Pacheco household, it’s all part of “a day of cooking and drinking wine,” he says.

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Chef Doug Robson of Gallo Blanco and Otro Cafe usually makes turkey pho and cha gio (fried spring rolls) on Thanksgiving.

Doug Robson

Doug Robson

Chef and owner, Gallo Blanco and Otro Cafe

Chef Doug Robson is known for his Mexican restaurants Gallo Blanco and Otro Cafe. But his mother is French Vietnamese, so he usually makes turkey pho with all the garnishes and cha gio or fried spring rolls for Thanksgiving dinner.

“I usually take the turkey and roast the turkey like you normally would,” he says, “and then I take the legs and carcass and make a pho broth out of it, and take the turkey breast and serve it on top with all the fixings. It comes out very, very, very tasty.”

The spring rolls include ground pork, water chestnuts, bean sprouts, black fungus, green onions, white pepper, ginger, and other spices. “You make almost like a meatloaf,” Robson says, before rolling them up and frying them.

He also whips up nuoc mam with soy sauce, fish sauce, mint, cilantro, Thai chiles, and lime juice for a dipping sauce and to put in the pho. For the end of the meal, he makes a pumpkin pie using a crust recipe from Shirley O. Corriher, a noted food chemist, cookbook author, and James Beard Award winner.

“It’s not your typical Thanksgiving, but it’s fun,” Robson says. “We’ve done that for at least the last five years.”

This year, however, because some family members are traveling on Thanksgiving, he plans to do Vietnamese food on Christmas and Chinese stir-fry on Thanksgiving.

“I’m still making the pumpkin pie,” he adds. “I’ve been told not to mess with that.”