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Local Chefs Share Their Thanksgiving Tips and Traditions

November 27, 2019

Here, five Newport Beach chefs share their Thanksgiving Day experiences and some tips for those of us cooking in our own homes.

Chef Diego Bernal | Pelican Grill

A stickler for high-quality local and seasonal ingredients, Chef Diego Bernal is now behind the wheel of Pelican Grill’s kitchen, where he delivers modern American cuisine with a coastal lilt.

What is your favorite Thanksgiving tradition or fondest Thanksgiving memory?   

For me, the best part of Thanksgiving—and any holiday—is gathering with family and friends, sharing stories and cooking together.

What is your favorite Thanksgiving dish?

Roasted turkey leg! I usually brine my turkey for a few days, then I sear the legs for a crispy exterior with butter and a lot of fresh sage.

What are your go-to items when you shop the farmers market in the fall?

During fall, I’m always looking for kabocha squash, fresh thyme, sage and green beans.

Which fresh herbs and spices do you like to use in your favorite fall recipes?

Sage, thyme, basil, garlic and shallots are staples of flavorful fall cooking for me!

Are there any seasonal offerings at Pelican Grill that you are especially excited about?

This is my first Thanksgiving as head chef of Pelican Grill, and I’m most excited for our turkey dish. We’re trying something different this year—a dark-meat roulade with wild mushroom stuffing, haricots verts, pomme purée, cranberry compote and herb gravy. I think our guests will love it!

What advice do you have for those who are cooking a Thanksgiving meal at home? 

Create a plan and stick to it. Don’t worry about having to create something out of the box. A traditional menu is just as perfect.

What is your favorite wine to pair with Thanksgiving dinner?

A 2016 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Russian River Valley.

Tell us, how do you do leftovers? 

A potato hash is perfect with turkey gravy and fried eggs. Yum!

Chef Brittany Valles | Oak Grill at Fashion Island Hotel

Big, bold flavors, assertive spices and herbs—those are the things that Chef Brittany Valles champions, and also what makes her dishes stand out at Oak Grill.  

What is your favorite Thanksgiving tradition or fondest Thanksgiving memory?   

My fondest Thanksgiving tradition growing up was driving to my great-grandma’s house in Palisades Hills and enjoying a big family dinner. Afterwards, I would play hide and seek with my cousins.

 What is your favorite Thanksgiving dish?

My favorite Thanksgiving dish is the stuffing—preferably cooked from inside the bird, which gives it a better flavor than preparing it separately.

What are your go-to items when you shop the farmers market in the fall?

In the fall, I look for cabbage, squashes—especially acorn and butternut squash—chestnuts, persimmons and figs. 

Which fresh herbs and spices do you like to use in your favorite fall recipes?

For this time of year, my go-to herbs and spices are sage, thyme, sumac, clove, all-spice and cinnamon.

Are there any seasonal offerings at Oak Grill that you are especially excited about?

Yes, we are introducing new holiday buffets at Oak Grill for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year; and I’m excited about our daily seasonal soups served each day at lunch and dinner. 

What kind of experience should visitors expect for their Thanksgiving meal at Oak Grill?

Our Thanksgiving guests can expect crave-worthy pastries and breads, made-to-order omelets, salads, chilled seafood and a carving station for the brunch portion starting at 11 a.m. At 3 p.m., we will change out the breakfast items for heartier dinner choices with many festive favorites. Roasted turkey with all the trimmings will be served all day.

What advice do you have for those who are cooking a Thanksgiving meal at home? 

When cooking at home, I like to brine my turkey. Also, check the temperature of the legs and thighs before you take the temperature of the breast to tell if your turkey is done. Lastly, butter is always your friend!

What is your favorite holiday hack in the kitchen?

I like to visit my local bakery and ask for their day-old bread as it works better for the stuffing. It doesn’t get so soggy and typically saves a few pennies.

What is your favorite wine to pair with Thanksgiving dinner?

I prefer to pair my Thanksgiving dinner with Matthiasson Rose.

How do you do leftovers? 

Nothing is better than Thanksgiving leftover sandwiches!

Chef Adam Haverland | Current Coastal Cuisine

At Renaissance Hotel’s restaurant, Chef Adam Haverland highlights what’s best about coastal cuisine—bright flavors, first-rate local ingredients and simple, elegant preparations.

What is your favorite Thanksgiving tradition or fondest Thanksgiving memory?

Before I had kids, my wife and I would go to get sushi instead of cooking a traditional dinner. It was our tradition!

What is your favorite Thanksgiving dish?

Garlic-and-sage-rubbed Turkey breast sous vide with orange-mint cranberry sauce.

What are your go-to items when you shop the farmers market in the fall?

Brussel sprouts, persimmon, artichokes, leeks and early-season winter squash.

Which fresh herbs and spices do you like to use in your favorite fall recipes?

Sage, rosemary, thyme, fresh bay leaves, nutmeg, cloves and star anise.

What kind of experience should visitors expect for their Thanksgiving meal at Current Coastal Cuisine?

Unique, current-trend offerings that are still kept in the comfort-food family.

What advice do you have for those who are cooking a Thanksgiving meal at home?

Don’t overcook the turkey! Always remember Clark Griswold.

What is your favorite holiday hack in the kitchen?

An electric carving knife.

What is your favorite wine to pair with Thanksgiving dinner?

Any pinot noir from the Sta. Rita Hills region.

Chef Jesus Mendoza | 21 Oceanfront

Starring in the kitchen of an old-world, historic restaurant, Chef Jesus Mendoza prepares a repertoire of fresh fish, seafood and prime meats that’s equal parts nostalgic and delicious.  

What is your favorite Thanksgiving tradition or fondest Thanksgiving memory? 

My favorite tradition would be right before dinner—going around the table and having everyone say what they are thankful for.

What is your favorite Thanksgiving dish?

A good green bean casserole always hits the spot.

What are your go-to items when you shop the farmers market in the fall?

I don’t really have go-to items. I like to try new things or just see what pops out. However, during the fall, it’s fun to see all the winter squash come out.

Which fresh herbs and spices do you like to use in your favorite fall recipes?

Fall to me screams: cardamom, cloves, star anise, sage, cinnamon and pretty much anything that makes the restaurant smell like a holiday cookie.

Are there any seasonal offerings at 21 Oceanfront that you are especially excited about?

I’m pretty excited about our fall menu, especially the pork chop. (It’s pan-fried with a maple-apple glaze, butternut squash farro risotto and spicy apple slaw).

What kind of experience should visitors expect for their Thanksgiving meal at 21 Oceanfront?

Everyone has that favorite aunt who is super loving and fun, and when you go to her house, you know you’re going to get some really good food. That’s the experience [visitors] should get when they come here that day.

What advice do you have for those who are cooking a Thanksgiving meal at home?

I believe in cooking with energy. Put a lot of love and good intention into your food, and those who eat it will feel it.

What is your favorite wine to pair with Thanksgiving dinner?

A nice, cold Lagunitas beer.

Tell us, how do you do leftovers?

I keep it classy with a turkey sandwich with a fried egg, leftover yams and a little gravy.

Chef Alfonso Pineda | The Bungalow

Striking a balance between the modern and traditional, The Bungalow’s long-time chef draws loyal crowds with his classic, steak-centric dishes and innovative seafood fare.    

What is your favorite Thanksgiving dish?

Saving some of the turkey for tamales and baking a fresh pumpkin pie.

What are your go-to items when you shop the farmers market in the fall?

A variety of different squashes for side dishes and soups.

Which fresh herbs and spices do you like to use in your favorite fall recipes?

Cinnamon, rosemary and ginger blend well with most of the foods for fall.

Are there any seasonal offerings at The Bungalow that you are especially excited about?

Yes, our special fall menu includes roasted goose.

 What kind of experience should visitors expect for their Thanksgiving meal at The Bungalow?

A delicious dinner and enjoyable time with no preparation or cleanup.

 What is your favorite holiday hack in the kitchen?

Preparing stocks and cranberry sauce ahead of time.

What is your favorite wine to pair with Thanksgiving dinner?

A rich, full-bodied cabernet. 

Tell us, how do you do leftovers?

Hot turkey sandwiches and soups.

Written by Mariam Makatsaria

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