Clockwise from top: Jonny Hunter, Tory Miller, Dave Heide, Barbara Wright, Gilbert Altschul, Tami Lax and Kipp Thomas.
Turns out it’s hard to take a cook out of the kitchen. And that’s never more true than on Thanksgiving, our most food-centric holiday. The day that focuses on the kitchen and the family table, community and the harvest, finds these seven Madison chefs — Gilbert Altschul, Dave Heide, Tami Lax, Barbara Wright, Kipp Thomas, Tory Miller and Jonny Hunter — either cooking whole meals or pitching in to communal family meals with a favorite side.
The Big Easy
For Dave Heide, owner and executive chef of Liliana’s, Thanksgiving is all about comfort food, but not the kind that you might expect to find here in the Midwest. On Thanksgiving mornings you can find Heide in the kitchen dicing onions, peppers and sausage for a batch of jambalaya.
Heide’s parents met in New Orleans and honeymooned there; one year his Uncle Chris, a lover of jazz and Cajun food, wanted to make something that would remind them all of the Big Easy. “When I was 7 years old, he brought me into the kitchen and handed me a cleaver,” Heide says. “It felt like it weighed 150 pounds.” The tradition stuck. Heide’s first job in the morning at his grandmother’s house in Kenosha was to cut up the andouille sausage that would join onions, peppers, celery, tomatoes, tasso ham and seasonings in a skillet.
Heide’s family still enjoys the customary Thanksgiving meal at noon; jambalaya is served later in the day. “Everyone in my family knows the jambalaya is coming,” Heide says, “so they hold back at lunch.”
— Erica Krug
Dave Heide’s Jambalaya
2 cups diced red onion
1 cup diced red pepper
1 cup diced green pepper
1 cup diced celery
2 quarts diced tomatoes (fresh or canned)
1/4 cup minced garlic
1 stick butter
2 rings of andouille sausage, sliced into discs
1 small tasso-style ham (Heide gets his locally from Delta Dream), diced
1/4 cup blackened seasoning (available at Liliana’s)
1/2 cup Crystal hot sauce
sautéed bacon (Heide uses Nueske’s), shrimp and andouille sausage for garnish
salt and pepper
Melt butter in a skillet. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add peppers and celery and blackened seasoning and cook until the vegetables are soft. Add sausage and ham, then tomatoes and hot sauce. Let simmer for 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you wish, garnish with Nueske’s bacon, shrimp and more andouille sausage that have been sautéed in oil. Serve over rice.
Barbara Wright, former owner of Monroe Street’s The Dardanelles and now chef at the Holy Wisdom Monastery, recalls long-ago Thanksgivings at her house: While her grandmother cooked the feast, “wound-up kids and groggy parents” ended up at the bowling alley, “which was, surprisingly, open and often full of people on Thanksgiving,” Wright says. “Bad bowling happened, snacks were consumed along with beer and Bloody Marys,” before they all returned to “a mile-long table and food ready to serve.” Losing bowlers did the dishes.
These days on Thanksgiving, Wright offers her services as cook to friends or relatives each year. “I want to serve all of the people I love home-grown foods from classic holiday traditions. Planning this feast in my mind is a pleasure I enjoy every fall.”
Wright speaks of organic turkey, grass-fed standing rib roast, butternut squash, old-fashioned bread dressing, wild mushroom gravy, roast tenderloin with red wine reduction and rosemary. “It’s never more clear to me than at the holidays that food is our most intimate connection to our world. It is how I show my love for my children and my brothers and sisters and their offspring.”
Wright says that in the last few years she’s had the best holiday meals at her sister’s house on Madison’s east side. “We plan the meal together. I make the meat, the non-meat, some dessert, and she makes great dishes to complement it all. Others make and bring whatever they choose to contribute. There’s no pressure or expectations.” After dinner, family members catch up during the cleanup. “And then the board games begin.”
— Linda Falkenstein
Butternut Squash and Stuffing Casserole
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut in 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 cup melted butter
2 cups grated asiago cheese
4 cups gluten-free bread, cut in 1-inch cubes and toasted a bit
2 cups vegetable broth
1 medium onion (1/2 cup)
2 cups diced celery
1 tablespoon each of fresh parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (yep, same as the song)
salt and pepper to taste
Boil squash until soft. Place in 13-by-9 pan. Drizzle with a little melted butter. Top with grated cheese. Place half the toasted bread in a big bowl. In a skillet, sauté onion and celery in a little melted butter till glassy. Add herbs and sauté for a minute more. Add vegetables to bread in the bowl and mix. Add vegetable broth little by little until mixture is moist; lightly toss. Add the rest of the bread and toss again but don’t let it get mushy. Add stuffing on top of cheese and squash in pan. Press gently down on stuffing to affix to cheese and bake for 25 minutes in a 350 degree oven until nicely golden and a little crunchy.
Kipp Thomas works Thanksgiving. “For the last 15 years, I’ve deep-fried turkeys for customers,” says the man behind the beloved restaurant North American Rotisserie. Last year he deep-fried turkeys for 63 customers in his new kitchen at Pooley’s, 5441 High Crossing Blvd.
He starts at midnight. Friends who know he’s there, working, drop by in the wee hours to shoot the breeze. “It’s a lot of fun. That’s become a tradition,” says Thomas.
He does 20-pound. birds, three at a time. Customers pick them up at the restaurant from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., based on “their family dinner times,” says Thomas.
Thomas advises that “if you have someone who’ll deep-fry a turkey for you, have them do it. It’s quite a trick.” He’s seen too many DIY-ers run into trouble with the technique. “It took me a few years to master it.” He’ll cook a few sides, too, corn bread stuffing and his legendary mac ’n’ cheese.
At 2 p.m., after the last of the birds have been picked up, Thomas goes home, “takes a shower and I veg out.” No further Thanksgiving doings. He confesses that his mom is disappointed that he doesn’t make it to Milwaukee for the family dinner, but vows that he “makes up for it at Christmas.”
— Linda Falkenstein
Kipp’s Cornbread Stuffing
6 cups crumbled cornbread
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
1 can chicken broth (14-16 ounces)
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon black pepper or to taste
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons sage or to taste
Sauté celery and onion in butter or olive oil until softened. Cool.
Crumble baked cornbread into a large bowl. In another bowl combine eggs, heavy cream, sage, pepper, garlic powder, celery, onion and chicken broth. Add this to cornbread crumbles, mix well using your hands and place in greased baking dish (spray with PAM). Cover with plastic wrap and then aluminum foil. Bake covered at 350 degrees about 30-40 minutes; uncover and bake until top is golden brown, about 15-20 more minutes.
The last thing Gilbert Altschul of Grampa’s Pizzeria wants to do on Thanksgiving is be in the kitchen. “I usually take the day off and let my mom cook,” says Altschul. So while Altschul’s mom prepares the turkeys — one in the oven and one on the grill — Altschul kicks back and devours the hors d’oeuvre that he has been bringing to the gathering for the last couple of years: deviled eggs.
Altschul admits that for most of his life he thought deviled eggs were “terrible,” but blames hanging out with his friend Dan Fox for his change of heart. Fox, owner and executive chef of Heritage Tavern, always has assorted deviled eggs on the Heritage bar menu, and Altschul says eating those eggs inspired him to make his own.
Adding salty capers and earthy truffles, Altschul likes to make a classed-up version for the Thanksgiving get-together at his mom’s house in Monroe, Wis. He recommends pairing the eggs with Thai chiles — he likes to pop one in his mouth after each egg he eats. But he includes a warning — keep the chiles away from the younger folks. “My 9-year-old niece ate one the first year I brought them, and it was bad,” Altschul says with a hint of a smile.
— Erica Krug
1 dozen eggs
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons chopped capers
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives, reserve 1 tablespoon for garnish
2 tablespoons chopped truffles or truffle oil
1 tablespoon paprika, more for garnish
1 tablespoon thyme
Place the eggs in a pot with a lid and cover with cold water. Bring the eggs to a boil, then turn off the heat and leave the eggs covered for eight minutes. Next cool the eggs quickly by pouring in ice water. Peel the eggs, cut them in half, and remove the yolks. Press the yolks through a fine mesh screen (like a ricer) and set aside. Make a garlic aioli by mashing garlic cloves and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl until a paste forms. Whisk in cup mayonnaise, olive oil and fresh lemon juice. Season to taste with coarse salt and pepper. Whip the egg yolks and aioli using a stand mixer. Next add chopped capers, fresh truffles, paprika, chives and thyme to the egg yolk and aioli filling. Using a pastry bag (or a quart-sized plastic bag), pipe the filling back into the halved eggs. Garnish with paprika and chives.
Back to the land
Expect a traditional meal if you find yourself at Tami Lax’s Thanksgiving table — except the turkey is a heritage breed, the pie is filled with apples that have been picked from 100-year-old trees on the family’s orchard, and the stuffing is made with homemade duck confit. Lax, owner and chef of Harvest and co-owner of The Old Fashioned, takes her ingredients very seriously.
She also forages many of the ingredients herself from her family’s cabin in Crivitz, which is where she was headed when interviewed for this article. The land has been in her family since her grandfather bought the property in 1939. Lax goes there to gather herbs and wild mushrooms — hen of the woods and chicken of the woods — for the duck confit stuffing that she says her family talks about all year. “Everybody devours that stuffing,” Lax says.
— Erica Krug
Tami Lax’s Duck Confit Stuffing
5 pounds duck legs
3 pounds duck fat
8 tablespoons kosher salt
10 crushed cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons fresh thyme
3 tablespoons fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons fresh sage
1 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
Sprinkle 4 tablespoons of kosher salt evenly on a cookie sheet or similar pan. Lay out the duck legs in single layer with skin side up. Evenly sprinkle the remaining salt, garlic, herbs and pepper over the top of the legs. Cover with bag or wrap. Refrigerate for 2-3 days.
Preheat the oven tot 180 degrees. Rinse the duck legs in cold running water to remove all visible herbs, garlic, salt and pepper. Place the duck legs tight up against one another in a roasting pan. Melt the duck fat and pour over the legs, being sure that all legs are submerged in the fat. Cook in oven until the duck is tender and beginning to fall off the bone, approximately 6 hours.
Pull from oven and allow to stand at room temperature for a half-hour before cleaning. Drain fat from legs, pull the meat, discard the skin and bones. Store the fat in an air-tight container in your freezer. Set duck aside while preparing the rest of the dish.
10 cups cubed bread, dried at room temperature for 3 days
2 pounds sliced cremini mushrooms, or mushrooms of choice
3 sliced shallots
1 large sliced onion
3 sliced leeks
3 stems sliced celery
4 tablespoons chopped sage
1 tablespoons chopped thyme
1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
6 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In large sauté pan, heat olive oil to medium-low heat. Sauté shallots, onion, leek and celery until translucent. Add mushrooms and herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Cook down the mushrooms until liquid starts to evaporate. Remove from heat.
Using a large mixing bowl, combine bread, duck confit and onion/mushroom mixture. Salt and pepper to taste. Place into large oven-proof cooking dish and pour in chicken stock. Bake, covered, in oven for 30 minutes, uncovered for an additional 30 minutes. Serve as side dish or main course.
Tory Miller is known for his ability to knit together Wisconsin ingredients, French presentation, and Asian influences in his Madison restaurants (L’Etoile, Graze, Sujeo and Estrellón), but when it comes to Thanksgiving, his Racine childhood shows. There are a lot of traditional dishes on his Thanksgiving menu.
“Brined turkey, sausage and giblet stuffing — sometimes I use cornbread — squash, mashed potatoes with root veggies, sweet-and-sour red cabbage,” says Miller. His German grandmother made that cabbage dish every year, and he says “it might still be my favorite thing on our table.”
“And gravy. Lots of gravy.”
Miller calls Thanksgiving a chef’s favorite for home cooking, pointing out that the pies his wife makes have translated directly into the popular hickory nut bourbon pie at Graze.
The priority he places on seasonality in his professional kitchens is reflected in the way he chooses vegetables at Thanksgiving. “I love the concept of green bean casserole, but green beans are not usually in season here at Thanksgiving, so I use Brussels sprouts instead. Homemade cream of mushroom soup — with bacon — and fried shallots make it pretty special.”
— Kyle Nabilcy
Brussels sprout casserole
Cream of mushroom soup “base”
2 cups cleaned, diced shiitake mushrooms
1 stalk celery, diced
1 cup minced onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup bacon, diced (if you can, buy slab bacon, but pre-sliced works fine)
1/2 cup Sauvignon Blanc
1 cup mushroom stock
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper
Heat your soup pot on medium. Add bacon and render the fat slowly. Cook until crispy. Add the onion and celery and cook for 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the thyme and butter. When the butter is melted, add the flour and stir to incorporate.
Slowly add the wine, a little at a time, and stir each time to avoid lumping. Cook for 3-5 minutes to allow the alcohol to cook off. Add the stock and bring to a boil and reduce the liquid by half. Add the cream and simmer for 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning and set aside. This step can be done up to five days in advance.
For the shallots
2 cups thinly sliced shallots (onions are fine)
buttermilk to cover
1 cup flour
1 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon smoked sweet paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
oil for deep frying
Heat oil to 325 degrees. Soak shallots in the buttermilk up to one day in advance, or at least an hour. Mix the dry ingredients. Drain the shallots and dredge in the flour and fry to golden brown. Drain on a rack if possible or paper towel.
For the Brussels sprouts
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, cleaned, cut in half
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Drizzle sprouts with oil and salt and place on a baking tray. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes or until tender but not mushy; they will brown a bit. Remove and cool. This can be done a day in advance as well.
Mix the cooked Brussels sprouts with the mushroom soup. Place into a buttered casserole dish. Place in 375 degree oven for 15 minutes or until heated through. Top with the shallots and serve.
“For me,” Jonny Hunter says, “Thanksgiving is about cooking a delicious turkey. The problem is that turkey is notoriously hard to cook correctly.”
Hunter, a principal player at the Underground Food Collective and Forequarter, reveals a cornucopia of handy turkey tips — choose a smaller bird; dry-brine with plenty of salt, and air-dry; start at a lower temperature and finish high. “Cook it at 225 until the bird is at around 130 degrees, then bring up the temperature to 450 degrees to crisp the skin. Check the thighs to see if they are cooked to 160.” He emphasizes that this should always be done with a thermometer, not by touch.
From his partner’s family tradition, dating back to the early ’70s, Hunter shares a riff on English steamed pudding. “It is a wonderful mix of savory, tart and sweet,” he says. “The pudding itself is not sweet, so don’t even bother if you’re not gonna make the hard sauce.”
— Kyle Nabilcy
1971 English Pudding
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup molasses
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cranberries
Mix the boiling water and molasses. In a separate bowl, mix 1 cup flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add the molasses mixture to the dry ingredients. In yet another bowl, mix the cranberries and 1/2 cup flour. Add to the batter. Put in a 1-pound coffee can. Tie wax paper over the top with string. Place in a large pot with water and steam for 2 1/2 hours. Serve with hard sauce.
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Mix ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over low or medium heat until hot. Serve hot over the steamed pudding.