This season, the kitchen staff at the 1606 Restaurant at Gloucester’s Beauport Hotel collaborates on a Thanksgiving menu. The chefs try to balance the classic and the contemporary, the standard and the sumptuous, to create a holiday meal that unites everyone.
There’s always a crispy roasted turkey, but sometimes there’s also lobster casserole. There will be stuffing, but it may come with a quinoa, mushroom, and pomegranate dressing. The requisite butternut squash might show up in a risotto topped with herbed oil and microgreens.
“It’s traditional with a modern twist, so it gives it that wow factor,” says chef John St. Onge, who has already started working with the pastry chef on a spiced butterscotch that just might be the perfect accompaniment to a pumpkin cheesecake.
However, when St. Onge and his colleague Michael Canavan leave the hotel kitchen behind and start cooking up their own holiday meals, they no longer have to worry about crowds of demanding customers and can create the celebratory spread that is perfect for their own families and culinary tendencies.
And this freedom leads to two very different—but very delicious—Thanksgiving feasts.
Thanksgiving has long been Canavan’s favorite day of the year. He loves the food and the family and watching the football game with a beer in his hand. He loves the warm chaos that erupts in the kitchen as preparations for dinner ramp up. He even proposed to his wife on Thanksgiving, so now he has yet another reason to embrace the holiday.
In fact, Canavan finds so much to love about Thanksgiving that he sees little point in changing anything about it. “I don’t do a whole lot of twists on it. You don’t mess with perfection,” he says. “Everything about Thanksgiving is great.”
His menu reflects his love of straightforward tradition: Roasted turkey, stuffing, carrots, mashed potatoes, and green beans are the star players. The carrots get glazed with a little bit of maple syrup to bring out the natural sugars. The mashed potatoes are loaded up with butter, cream, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Canavan likes to steam green beans and serve them with a crunchy topping of julienned leeks that have been dusted in flour and fried.
For a classic roast turkey, Canavan seasons the bird liberally with salt and pepper, garlic and onion powders, and maybe a bit of adobo or Old Bay spice blend. He brushes oil on the exterior to help the skin achieve a deep golden color. The key to balancing moist meat and crispy skin, he advises, is to cover the turkey with foil until the last 30 to 35 minutes of cooking.
Dessert is the one course in which Canavan goes a little rogue, skipping the iconic Thanksgiving pie in favor of pumpkin cheesecake and an Oreo trifle that incorporates layers of custard, whipped cream, chocolate pudding, and Oreo cookies.
Working in the restaurant industry means that finding time for family on Thanksgiving can be a challenge, but Canavan always strives to arrange his schedule so he can cook dinner. He chops potatoes, peels carrots, and prepares green beans the night before, but will not cook any food ahead of time, instead reveling in the craziness of cooking the massive feast all at once.
“That’s part of what I love about it,” he says.
Fried Leeks and Green Beans
2 Medium size leeks
2 Tbsp. Flour
1 lb Fresh green beans
½ Squeezed lemon
2 Garlic cloves (grated)
3 Tbsp. Olive oil
⊲ Salt & pepper
⊲ Pinch of cayenne pepper
1. Blanche beans 5 minutes; set aside.
2. Thinly slice leeks, then lightly flour. Fry leeks until golden
3. Toss beans with fried leeks, add lemon juice, a pinch of cayenne and serve
John St. Onge has been thinking about turkey for weeks.
Every year, St. Onge’s extended family celebrates Thanksgiving a few days after the holiday, as so many of his relatives work as cooks and chefs. The members of the Italian clan all pitch in, everybody contributing a dish or two to the meal: pasta, vegetables, desserts.
And every year, St. Onge takes charge of the centerpiece bird and the accompanying stuffing. He has roasted turkeys, grilled turkeys, and fried turkeys. He has brined turkeys and marinated them in citrus or herb or Cajun flavors. His stuffings have featured cranberries, apples, sausage, cornbread, and even biscuits.
Now he’s contemplating what twist he can put on this year’s offering. “I want to do something different,” he says.
St. Onge grew up in the food world, working in his father’s butcher shop. Later, he got a job in a restaurant owned by a friend, where he worked his way up from busboy into the kitchen. The more he learned about cooking, the more he developed his own style. He loves combining flavors, from Mediterranean and Greek to Asian. “I like mixing and matching,” he says. “I have a more creative style.”
As the hotel staff begins to assemble this year’s holiday menu, for example, St. Onge is eager to contribute a side of Brussels sprouts enlivened with cranberries and house-made pancetta.
Most important, though, is making sure everyone—from immediate family to hotel guests—feels connected and welcomed.
“Thanksgiving means bringing friends, family, and loved ones together,” he says. “It means making everyone feel comfortable and making it a special day that everyone enjoys.” beauporthotel.com
Pumpkin Cheesecake with Spiced Butter Scotch drizzle
1 ¾ cups Graham crackers
3 Tbsp. Brown sugar
½ tsp. Ground cinnamon
1 stick Butter (melted)
1. In bowl mix crumbs, sugar, cinnamon and melted butter.
2. Line 9-inch springform pan with Parchment paper, spray light with pan spray.
3. Press crumb mixture on the bottom of the pan and part up the sides. Set aside
2 8oz Packages of cream cheese( soften)
½ cup Sugar
½ cup Canned pumpkin puree
½ tsp. Vanilla
½ tsp. Ground cinnamon
Dash Ground cloves
1. Heat oven to 350
2. Beat filling ingredients till
3. Pour over crust
4. Cook 45 minutes
5. Turn oven off and crack open the door for 30 minutes
6. Remove place over a water bath and cool
Spiced Butter Scotch Drizzle
1/2 pound Butter
2 sticks Cinnamon
5 cloves Star anise
1 quart Heavy whipping cream
1 cup Sugar
1 Tbsp. Vanilla
1 tsp. Pumpkin spice
1. In a medium sized sauce pot add your butter and sugar
2. Cook down into a caramel color
3. Add cinnamon and star anise
4. Reduce heat to low
5. Add your heavy cream
6. Cook into desired thickness
7. Add vanilla and pumpkin spice then remove from heat and cool