Thanksgiving with the Chefs

Thanksgiving with the ChefsPrepare a Gourmet Meal With Recipes From Emerald Coast Culinary Stars

By Ashley Kahn

Thanksgiving is a time for family, for laughter and for gratitude. It’s a holiday of oversized sweaters, unbuttoned waistbands, hours of football and inflatable Snoopy on parade.

But they don’t call it “Turkey Day” for nothin’. More than anything, Thanksgiving is a time for food.

Picture the table – a vast spread of dressings, sauces, vegetables, pies … and one big bird. Of course, you may take turns expressing your thanks or recognizing life’s many blessings, but in the end, it all comes down to the meal.

This year, we have called upon some of our community’s most recognizable and talented chefs to share their Thanksgiving memories, as well as four special recipes guaranteed to up the ante on Grandma’s candied yams.

Pick your favorite or prepare them all. It’s time to eat!


DANNY TRACE – Executive Chef, Commander's Palace

When did you start cooking?
I was very young. I grew up in Louisiana, so we hunted and fished. My grandfather was the big cook in the family, and whatever we’d catch, he’d come home and cook. We made gumbo and smoked rabbits in the back yard. That’s where it all started.

How would you describe your cooking style at Commander’s Palace and at home?
At Commander’s, we do a lot of Creole food and Southern cookin’ with a Caribbean influence. We just put that all together, and our menus reflect it. At home, it’s constantly evolving. During the summer I find myself cooking lighter meals, using the local fish. When we get into the fall, I’ll cook more game. Fall here’s a little later than the rest of the country, so you’re really ready for it.

Who does the cooking at your house at Thanksgiving?
Everybody has a hand in it. My wife has Croatian roots, so she’ll bring some of the desserts from her side of the family. My 4-year-old son is starting to get interested. During breakfast he wants to crack the eggs, and it helps him eat them too. You can’t say you don’t like it if you made it. I do most of the cooking, but during Thanksgiving now, I’m at the restaurant. Growing up, we brought a lot of things to the table that weren’t necessarily tradition. We’ve always had a lot of fun in the kitchen.

What are you thankful for?
I’m thankful to be here. It’s been kind of a long road for me and my family. We’re trying to make roots here in Destin. I have a beautiful family, a beautiful place to work, beautiful people to work for. We’re just bringing the food to the table now.

Danny Trace’s Absinthe Oyster and Artichoke Dressing
    ½    pound unsalted butter
    3    large yellow onions, diced small
    6    ribs of celery, diced small
    2    leeks, sliced in half moons
    5    bay leaves
    1    fennel bulb, diced small
    ½    cup crushed garlic
    8    cooked artichoke bottoms, diced medium
    48    oysters and liquor (their natural juices)
    2    lemons, juiced
    ¾    quart heavy cream
    2    cups Parmesan cheese
    1    quart fresh spinach, chiffonade (cut in long, thin strips)
    1½    quarts French bread crumbs
    1    bunch fresh sage, finely chopped
    1    bunch thyme, finely chopped
    2    bunches oregano, finely chopped
    1¼    cup absinthe (or Pernod or Herbsaint) kosher salt and black pepper to taste

In a large Dutch oven pot, melt butter on medium heat. Sweat onions, celery, leeks, bay leaves and fennel with crushed garlic. Once translucent, deglaze with absinthe. Add artichokes, oysters, lemon juice and heavy cream, then bring to a boil. Add Parmesan cheese and spinach. Fold in bread crumbs and fresh herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If the dressing is too dry, add more cream. If the dressing is too wet, add more bread crumbs.


SHAYNE VAUGHAN – Owner and Chef, A Taste of OZ

What is your earliest memory of cooking on your own?
Simple pleasures, the great outdoors and an abundance of wild food made me the cook I am today. But the most powerful influence by far came in the lessons I received from my Granny Kratzman as a young boy. She would spend weeks at a time with me by her side in her kitchen in Innisfail-Queensland (Australia). Granny loved passing on her family recipes and history to the grandkids.

How would you describe your cooking style at home and at A Taste of OZ?
At home, my cooking style reflects freshness and simplicity. I shop ingredients for quality and freshness, and a dinner plan soon follows. With our new venture, A Taste of OZ, we are committed to quality ingredients, freshness and simple but great food. The relationships built locally with our food producers ensure that we are using the freshest product while supporting our local economy. We will also be using a few unique methods and ingredients to deliver a one-of-a-kind dining experience.

Tell me about the meal you prepare for Thanksgiving.
Roasted turkey is a must, but I also roast a piece of bone-in prime rib along with sweet potato, pumpkin and onions. Potato and cheddar gratin, green beans, cream spinach, turkey gravy, cranberry sauce, red wine jus, and there it is … Happy Thanksgiving!

What is your favorite Thanksgiving memory?
My first Thanksgiving in the United States 12 years ago. Buffalo, New York, with 5 feet of snow.

What are you thankful for?
My beautiful wife, living and contributing in a fantastic community, nature’s beauty and the wonderful people surrounding us. Owning a business here is a dream we have had for many years, and we are honored to have an opportunity to serve our community.

Shayne Vaughan’s Baked Yukon Gold Potato Gratin with Aged Cheddar
    5    pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced ¼ inch thick
    1    quart heavy cream
    ½    quart chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
    1    pound grated, aged cheddar cheese
    2    yellow onions, finely diced
    6    cloves of garlic, chopped
    ½    pound sliced smoked bacon, chopped (optional)
    3    ounces butter
    3    sprigs fresh thymesea salt and ground black pepper to taste

Sweat the onions, garlic and bacon in butter until soft. Add cream and stock, then heat until just below a simmer. Remove from heat and add thyme, salt and pepper. In a non-stick baking pan, shingle a layer of potatoes. Sprinkle with cheese and add a ladle of the cream mixture to each layer until all ingredients are used. Sprinkle the top with grated cheddar cheese, then bake at 300 degrees for 60 minutes. Turn oven up to 375 degrees for 15 minutes or until top is golden. Serve hot, or chill and reheat.


MATT SHEIDY –  Executive Chef, Tommy Bahama Tropical Café

What is your earliest memory of cooking?
I was 12 years old. My family owned a steakhouse, and I used to make all the homemade desserts. My specialty back then was carrot cake – we sold out every day.

How would you describe your cooking style, both at home and at Tommy Bahama?
At home, I’m really into true Southern cooking. There ain’t nobody in this world who can touch me on collard greens! At Tommy’s, it’s definitely island-inspired, no doubt about it. My team, Shane and Crystal, we all have different styles, but we feed off each other. They teach me crème brûlée, and I teach them okra and tomatoes and squash casserole.

Who does the cooking at your family’s Thanksgiving celebration?
Hands down, I do. It’s a joke, no matter where we are. We’ll have 10 or 15 people at the house, and nobody brings a dish. They’re taught to bring the alcohol. Every Thanksgiving, my wife and I wake up at 8 o’clock. By 9 o’clock, two bottles of champagne are done. We drink mimosas while we watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

What is your favorite thing about this holiday?
Having the family together. Thanksgiving is the one time of year we all forget everything and just enjoy each other. I love to feed everybody, have a good time and kick ’em out by 5 o’clock so I can have seconds.

What are you thankful for?
I’m thankful for many things: a loving family, a loving wife of 13 years, two great children and good health. Living on the Emerald Coast … it’s a piece of paradise. And having a great job – great people to work with and work for.

Matt Sheidy’s Tommy’s Turkey
    One 16- to 20-pound turkey, thawed
    One giant plastic bag
    4 oranges, quartered
    2 apples, quartered
    2 cups orange juice
    1 cup vegetable oil
    2 cups Tommy Bahama dark rum
    2 cups brown sugar
    1 tablespoon each salt and pepper

Marinate the bird in the refrigerator with wet and dry ingredients in a large, sealed plastic bag for three days prior to Thanksgiving, turning the turkey every 12 hours. Cook at 325 degrees until done – around three-and-a-half to four hours.


BETH KILBOURNE – Owner and Cake Designer, Cakes by Jan

When did you start cooking?
I was about 8. My grandmother and great-aunts always did big Sunday dinners, and all the girls were expected to be in the kitchen helping.

What is your earliest memory of cooking on your own?
My cousin and I were going to make my aunt a cake for her birthday. It was a disaster! Cake batter and icing ended up all over the kitchen, including the ceiling, and the cake was lopsided.

How would you describe your cooking style at home and at Cakes by Jan?
At home it is definitely eclectic, a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I grew up with Southern and Southwestern cooking and learned different Asian styles when we lived in Asia. We have always told our kids, “You can’t say you don’t like it until you try it.” At the shop it is all about comfort foods. We just like making tasty cakes. To me, a tasty cake is one you can eat without any icing. Icing should accentuate the cake, not overpower it.

Who does the cooking at your family’s Thanksgiving celebration?
It is a family affair. We have always included our children in the holiday cooking. This year, our oldest son will be making the turkey. Our youngest son wants to make the desserts, and our daughter want to try some new veggie side dishes.

What is your favorite Thanksgiving memory?
We were in Okinawa, Japan, and had invited several of our Okinawan friends and neighbors over. I wanted to make sweet potato pie, and their sweet potatoes are purple. I wasn’t sure if they were going to work, but they did. The taste was the same, just a different color. Our friends had never had sweet potato pie before, and they absolutely loved it. They asked if I would make more for the New Year’s celebrations and festivals. I kind of miss making the purple pie.

What are you thankful for?
My family. I have the best husband in the world – he supports me in every endeavor I take on.

Beth Kilbourne’s Pumpkin Cake
    Dry ingredients for your favorite butter or white cake (enough to make two 8-inch round cakes) or 1 package of butter or white cake mix
    3     large eggs
    1     cup water
    1     cup canned pumpkin
    ¼    teaspoon ground ginger
    ¼    teaspoon nutmeg
    1    cup chopped walnuts
          vanilla or cream cheese icing

This is a simplified recipe for the home baker. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans. Combine first six ingredients and beat at medium speed for four minutes. Stir in walnuts; pour batter into pans. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool, then assemble with your favorite vanilla or cream cheese icing. Add a teaspoon of cinnamon to your icing for a fall color and flavor.