10 Celebrity Chefs on the Tips, Tricks, and Tablescapes That Get Them Through Any Holiday Meal

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that, since the first Thanksgiving way back in 1620, putting together the perfect holiday varies from table to table. The first celebrations in Massachusetts featured a main course of assorted fowl and deer meat, while down in Virginia T-Day diners had to make do with ship provisions, which included biscuits, butter and…horse meat. Thankfully in 2018, festive feasting features way more turkey than horse meat, but when it comes to the decor—and the side dishes—table offerings are still as regionally distinctive as they were for the Pilgrims. And who better to break down their own holiday dining traditions (other than Mom, of course) than celebrity chefs. Here, Yannick Alléno, Michael Anthony, Dan Churchill, Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Craig Koketsu, Eric Ripert, Alex Stupak, Cedric Tovar, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten invite us into their restaurants and even their homes to share their best tips, tricks, and tablescape teachings that make their seasonal meals memorable and mouthwatering.

TIPS:

“As a professional chef, my number one trick is to be a really good sous chef. I plan ahead, and I try to keep the last-minute details to a minimum. We also brine and smoke one of our turkeys, which tends to be a big hit and very manageable.” —Michael Anthony, Gramercy Tavern, NYC

“For Thanksgiving, planning is key. Be sure to do your ‘M.E.P.’—or mise en place—which means visiting the market, preparing certain items the day before, and making sure you have the right pots and pans for the job.” —Daniel Boulud, Restaurant Daniel, NYC

“The concept of mise en place is crucial to us. The term describes the organizing of tools and ingredients for the evening’s menu, but it’s also a kind of mental state: the knowledge that everything is ready, that all potential problems have been anticipated.” —Thomas Keller, The French Laundry, Yountville, CA

“I love the idea of each guest bringing something to contribute to the meal: It’s really in the spirit of Thanksgiving, and it helps lessen the load on the host! The host should always prepare the main centerpiece of the meal, turkey, or sometimes, in my case, capon or pernil. The key to a successful and easy Thanksgiving is to keep the menu simple and not overly complicating the dishes. —Eric Ripert, Le Bernardin, NYC

“For Thanksgiving, I like to eat scallops with truffle, langoustine poached with champagne, and—last but not least—sublime fowl with truffles and champagne sauce. If I should give a tip, I will say that it’s important to not use the champagne only for the dessert. This festive drink is perfect with all that is iodized.” —Yannick Alléno, Royal Mansour, Marrakech

Dan Churchill in action

Photo: Courtesy of Dan Churchill/Don Eim

TRICKS:

“Everyone pitches in. My wife makes the best cornbread with pickled peppers ever; my brother-in-law handles the mashed potatoes with his eyes closed; and my mother-in-law stays in the spotlight with the beautiful vegetable sides and delicious seasonal soups. It’s a team sport.” —Michael Anthony

“I’m all about versatility and simplicity in my kitchen gear. For me, roasting trays are absolutely essential, not only for roasting meat but also for roasting veggies. I also recommend getting yourself a high-powered blender or food processor. I use one at Charley St, and it makes my life so much easier when it comes to creating a variety of sauces and purées to accompany specific dishes. Lastly, I highly recommend a Dutch oven. They’re super versatile—and they also add a pop of color and style to your kitchen. I love William-Sonoma’s Open Kitchen collection for all my kitchen basics.” —Dan Churchill, Charley St, NYC

“I use soy sauce to make my gravy. It helps to round out its flavor while also adding a nice caramel color. I also take the legs and thighs off the bird before roasting and place them on top of a casserole of stuffing before I bake it. This allows you to cook the breast perfectly without worrying about whether the dark meat is cooked thoroughly—and it gives the stuffing in the casserole real roasted-turkey juices to absorb (because there is never enough stuffing from the turkey cavity alone).” —Craig Koketsu, Quality Branded, NYC/Miami/Denver

“Don’t stuff a turkey ever. The heat can’t circulate through the cavity, and it just adds extra cooking time to your bird and, hence, dries out your meat. I also don’t roast a turkey whole. I separate the legs and thighs and roast separately from the breast, which ensures that the breast will be moist and juicy and it makes it all easier to carve.” —Alex Stupak, Empellón, NYC

“To make the perfect Thanksgiving turkey, it is imperative that you brine the turkey well. I rely on my Robot Coupe food processor to chop ingredients for a Thanksgiving meal. You can use it for stuffing or to purée, and it will save you a lot of precious time. I couldn’t get through Thanksgiving without it! To handle turkey, I use two heavy-duty carving forks. (The Wüsthof classic carving fork with curved prongs is perfect.) This allows you to pick up your turkey with ease. I also depend on a trussing needle and thin butcher twine to close my turkey, capon, or chicken when stuffing it before it goes in the oven.” —Cedric Tovar, Lotte New York Palace, NYC

A Grammercy Tavern tablescape

Photo: Courtesy of Grammercy Tavern

TABLESCAPES:

“When it comes to decoration, I love adding color to my table not only with my table setting but with the food as well. In my opinion, the more colorful the food, the better. A neutral set of kitchenware lets the food be the main attraction. Then I like to add accents and subtle touches of color that match the season and the mood. I also love having a set of eclectic wooden cutting boards and even salvaged wood for a sustainable addition to the decor. You can create crudité platters, serve meats and cheeses, or use them to simply add some added height and texture on the table.” —Dan Churchill

“There’s an abundance of seasonal branches and seasonal flowers in Napa this time of year, so look for those at your local farmer’s market or find a favorite purveyor—as we do at the French Laundry. Thanksgiving should be about ‘home,’ literally and figuratively. As such, I would encourage people to decorate for the holidays in a way that brings them comfort. For me, decor should be about preserving traditions, so, for example, I’ll serve on my mother’s Noritake china plates. I also believe in introducing family mementos, old and new: linens from a grandparent, a new carving set, a platter that has special meaning to you. Most of all, make memories for those eating what you prepare.” —Thomas Keller

“For decoration, I like to set the table with a long runner and mix seasonal flowers with fall and winter squashes as well as candles in clear glass votives.” —Eric Ripert

“I think that having orange and copper elements on the table (like small decorative gourds or candle holders) makes it feel very festive and seasonal for fall. I always use a lot of candles to give a nice ambient lighting and glow to the meal, making it feel warm and inviting for guests. A table runner also makes a huge difference, whether it has some gold elements or is enhanced with greenery. Right now, compositions of succulents are very trendy, and those look beautiful when set on a long dining room table. A beautiful table enhancement is also to use colored water glasses, like bronze, gold, or silver.” —Cedric Tovar

“I will decorate the table with pomegranates, small pumpkins, pears, cranberries, and other seasonal fruits and vegetables from the Union Square Greenmarket. I also purchased small Christmas trees made of paper and wire from ABC Carpet and Home and will add branches with small red berries in a few vases around the house.” —Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Jean-Georges, NYC

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