Six Austin Chefs Share Their Personal Thanksgiving Traditions

Consider clam stuffing, prime rib, and sweet golden raisin stuffing

For Austinites on all ends of the culinary spectrum, Thanksgiving means a return to the special dishes and culinary traditions we look forward to every year. We decided to mark the occasion by asking some of our favorite Austin chefs about their favorite Thanksgiving traditions.

Walton's Fancy + Staple executive chef Andrea Juarez makes her family's traditional tamale recipe. (Courtesy of Paula Biehler PR)

Some chefs, like La Condesa’s Rick Lopez, their Thanksgiving traditions combine the best of their personal and professional culinary journeys. "My favorite dish and tradition are wrapped into one!" Lopez says. "I love making the gravy for everybody. It's a chance for me to dive back into sauce work and relive my old days as a young saucier cooking in NYC." Lopez makes a big batch of gravy using a classical approach, that he then divides in two to create two distinctive gravy styles. "I prefer to make a classic chicken jus then use a roux to thicken it up," he says. "Half of the batch is smooth with no lumps and the other half is spiked with chopped up chicken livers and shallots!" Lopez then takes his gravy and distributes it amongst the La Condesa team. "I make enough sauce for our La Condesa Family Meal – which we always have the day before Thanksgiving, enough for my family at home, and enough for a few of the cooks and chefs to take home with them and use to celebrate with their friends and family."

Chef Andrea Juarez of Walton’s Fancy + Staple also takes a dual approach to her Thanksgiving cooking, or at least the cooking she enjoys at her mother’s house. "My mama went to culinary school in Mexico," says Juarez. "She hosts Thanksgiving every year and I look forward to her ‘dual’ stuffings, one sweet and one savory. I love the sweet stuffing with golden raisins, walnuts, brown sugar, and coconut. For the savory stuffing my mama always boils the neck of the turkey and adds the meat to our stuffing." Aside from her mother’s stuffing, Juarez also treasures the chance Thanksgiving gives her to get into the kitchen with her whole family. "I also look forward to tamale time, another one of our holiday traditions," she says. "The whole family participates!"

Shane Stark, the chef and owner of seafood specialists Mongers Market is equally enthusiastic about his family’s stuffing traditions. In fact, most of their Thanksgiving table seems to end up stuffed. "I grew up in New Jersey and they have a lot of cranberries so obviously fresh cranberries is key in my stuffing," says Stark. "And most definitely, clam stuffing instead of instead of oyster stuffing. And since I’m Irish, well stuffed cabbage is a must. We also do deviled and stuffed crabs…so a lot of ’stuff’ on our holiday table, literally!" Sounds like Stark’s family must end up pretty stuffed as well by the time their meal ends.

Stark isn’t the only chef who likes taking the lead at his family’s Thanksgiving table. "I do all the cookin’ at home during the holidays," says Olive & June’s chef Aaron Anselmi, who doesn’t know the meaning of a day off. His favorite dish? "A boneless stuffed fried turkey ‘roulade.’ It’s deboned, then stuffed with garlic, shallots and tons of fresh herbs. The roulade is sous vide and then fried," with an elaborate attention to detail that is indeed probably best left to the professionals.

Parkside’s Austin Finley agrees with Anselmi about the importance of a showstopping main course. "My family and friends always roast a big prime rib, and I am tasked with carving it," says Finley. Even so, what he’s really excited about are the sides. "I always look forward to green bean casserole," he says. "For me green bean casserole is the most quintessential holiday dish and my favorite part of both Christmas and Thanksgiving."

Sway’s Charles Schlienger agrees about the importance of sides. "Personally, for me it's not Thanksgiving without candied sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows," he says. But even more important than the dishes on the table are his family’s holiday traditions. "After we stuff ourselves with the Thanksgiving spread, my father and I have a habit of watching A Christmas Story," he says. "Kind of a tradition now, I suppose."

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