Big 10: Reimagining the traditional Thanksgiving menu | Food


With the big day almost here, we asked 10 foodies: If you were in charge of reimagining the traditional Thanksgiving meal menu, what would stay and what would go?






Tiffani Faison

Tiffani Faison




‘Chopped’ judge, finalist on Season 1 of Bravo’s ‘Top Chef’

“Traditional turkey and green beans are the first to get kicked off of Thanksgiving island. Bye.

“Let’s be honest. It’s a day of indulgence, and dry turkey breast is not what anyone waits a year for.

“Now, sides. Do not touch my mashed potatoes, gravy or stuffing. I’ll chase you down the street for them. Gravy runs through my veins.

“But those flavorless, overcooked green beans? No. Give me broccoli cheese casserole and creamed onions please and feel free to throw in a gorgeous Brussels sprout salad to counter the calories in my potatoes.

“I think everyone should bring their own cranberry sauce to the table and stop fighting. I keep a can in my purse.

“Pumpkin pie is the driving force for my sleepwalking habit at 3 a.m., so I’m always making one with canned pumpkin and finishing it with a giant scoop of Cool Whip.

“Judge away, I could care less. I’m deep in my food coma and I’m grateful.”






Dawn Burrell

Dawn Burrell




2000 Team USA Olympic long jumper turned 2018 finalist on ‘Top Chef’

“For me, the turkey definitely stays, but I always add a twist. I’m partial to a jerk-spiced rendition for the center of the table.

“In Black culture, we typically serve braised greens as part of the Thanksgiving spread. It’s something I grew up on. I like to add a little kick to my greens and serve them Callaloo-style, where they’re braised in their own juices with some coconut milk, ginger and a scotch bonnet pepper.

“As for what dish goes, I’m kicking out mashed potatoes. With dishes like mac and cheese and candied yams already on my Thanksgiving table, mashed potatoes become the clear loser.”






Mary Manzella Racz

Mary Manzella Racz


Co-owner, Manzella’s Italian Patio

“Thanksgiving dinner in the Manzella family is never complete unless we have pasta al forno — elbow macaroni in a red sauce with ground beef, peas and raisins, baked and topped with mozzarella cheese.

“This dish has been a longtime holiday favorite for many generations and always brings a perfect pairing to the traditional Thanksgiving dinner table.”






Ayala Donchin

Ayala Donchin


Urbana native owns Harlem’s famed Evelyn’s Kitchen

“Ditch the turkey. It’s all about the sides.

“So for starters, the obvious best part of Thanksgiving dinner is the cornbread stuffing, my absolute favorite. The Thanksgiving plate I aways fix for myself would be our five-spice sweet potato souffle, cornbread dressing and my recipe for Ms. Jackson’s spicy greens.

“My cornbread stuffing is a family recipe handed down by Evelyn Satinoff, who I named Evelyn’s Kitchen after. The five-spice sweet potato souffle was a recipe my mom helped me tweak to perfection and the collard greens are in honor of Ms. Ruth Jackson, who influenced many aspects of my life growing up in Urbana.

“All of these wonderful women who made holidays special for me all spent their lives raising families in Champaign-Urbana. And while they have all passed on, finding ways to make sure their memory is integrated into Thanksgiving dinner is what makes the holiday special for me.”






Melissa King

Melissa King




Season 17 champ, ‘Top Chef All Stars L.A.’

“Who says you have to have turkey? I grew up with whole roast duck and Chinese sticky rice, our version of stuffing, for Thanksgiving.

“My family also enjoys a seafood-themed Thanksgiving from time to time, especially with Dungeness crab season in California kicking off around the same time.

“Some years, I’ll have King crab or prime rib as the main attraction, but always keep the family favorite Thanksgiving sides on the table.“






Harold Dieterle

Harold Dieterle


Season 1 champ on ‘Top Chef’

“I’ve never been a green beans fan. I traded them in for Brussels sprouts once I was handed the baton at a young age to start making Thanksgiving dinner.

“I like to peel the leaves and crisp them up in extra virgin olive oil and butter. I finish them with a sprinkle of your favorite trail mix. Generally for me, this includes pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts, almonds and dried cranberries.”






Michael McDonald

Michael McDonald


Owner, Wood N’ Hog Barbecue of Champaign and Urbana

“I would definitely move to a more untraditional menu. Turkey, ham, dressing, mac and cheese, gravy, cranberry sauce, greens and sweet potato pie is typical for a November 25th feast in my family.

“I would strongly suggest that we scrap it all and travel the world with our taste buds — flavors that we are not typically used to eating or have ever tasted.

“If we have personally had a relationship with the food in the past, Thanksgiving would be the perfect choice to share with your family and close friends.

“The one season of life when we all gather and fellowship intentionally would be a perfect opportunity to explore different cultures and cuisines.”






Grayson Schmitz

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Two-time ‘Top Chef’ contestant

“I’m a sucker for tradition so I wouldn’t change much when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, not even my family’s famous white jello.

“Yes, I said it — white jello. It’s a mixture of water, sugar, sour cream, Cool Whip and gelatin. It’s not for everyone but it’s definitely a tradition I plan on keeping for years to come.

“I could, however, live without turkey breast. At our table, everyone fights over the dark meat. To that point, I’d make turkey leg confit instead of roasting a whole turkey.

“Cooking meat slowly in its own fat is definitely the way to go.”






Stephanie Izard

Stephanie Izard




Chicagoan became first woman to win ‘Top Chef,’ in 2008’s fourth season

“We’re still debating what to cook instead of a turkey as we like to go non-traditional. It will most likely be a goat shoulder.

“I did recommend to someone recently that if they didn’t want to do turkey, they should try a pork shoulder. Why be nervous about a dry turkey when you can have not-dry pork?

“Though, speaking to traditions, I know everyone likes to keep those signature sides: green bean casserole, stuffing, squash or sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce. There are little ways to change these dishes to create something new, such as with different sauces and spices from around the globe.”






Joe Sasto

Joe Sasto


Season 15 finalist on ‘Top Chef’

“One of the most comforting combinations of the season is turkey and sweet potato, so why not turn it into pasta?

“First, I make a turkey and pork ragu, filled with a soffritto of all the classic vegetables you’ll find in stuffing — carrots, onion, celery, garlic, sage and thyme.

“After that is cooked down, I add the ground turkey and pork — deglaze with wine, add a cup of milk in the traditional ragu bolognese fashion and let the sauce simmer for an hour or two.

“Meanwhile, I transfer the iconic orange sweet potato into light, tender and fluffy gnocchi. I transform the extra egg whites into a sweet and savory fluffy white pepper marshmallow confection. Once plated, I dollop the marshmallow fluff on top and torch to brulee.

“A nostalgic nod to the classic holiday meal, reimagined in an entirely new way.”





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