Russell Moore, a chef at Chez Panisse Restaurant & Cafe in Berkeley, CA, is used to cooking delicious meals for demanding crowds. Gothamist once spent a summer interning in the pastry department at Chez Panisse and had the chance to remember our glory days while talking to Moore about the Thanksgiving meal he has planned for his own friends and family tomorrow evening. His menu left us drooling and wishing we were eating dinner at his house—tomorrow night, or actually, any night.

Chez Panisse dessert counter; Photo -- Nancy Bundt

Many of us wonder what a chef eats when he or sits down for his or her own Thanksgiving dinner. Are you the main cook of your own Thanksgiving meal? What is your role in preparing the meal?

I am the main cook for Thanksgiving. I usually feed my girlfriend Allison and my mother. My mom is not making the trip from L.A. this year so I’m having some restaurant folks over that don’t feel like cooking. Mike and Lindsay Tusk from Quince and Chad and Liz from Tartine bakery, along with Ignacio a cook from Uruguay currently working at Chez Panisse, and of course Allison. Allison is going to make some ice cream to go along with some prunes we have soaking in Armagnac and Liz is bringing over some sort of tart but I’m making everything else. Here’s what I’m making:

- Oysters with mignonette
- Panelle (Sicilian chickpea flour fritters- we just traveled to Sicily)
- Fish consommé with quenelles
- Roasted root vegetable salad (rutabagas, turnip, celery root, carrot, parsnip)
- Roast turkey (organic Heritage) with faro, cardoon and porcini stuffing
- Chicory salad and turkey giblet toast
- Vanilla ice cream and Armagnac soaked prunes
- Chestnuts boiled with wild fennel (just had these in Italy)
- Liz’s apple and nougatine tart

As proponents of organic foods and free-range agriculture, what are the sources of your Thanksgiving dinner ingredients? Do you use or go to particular farmers or resources for your Thanksgiving meal?

Being the produce buyer at Chez Panisse, I only cook organic vegetables at home and cook sustainably raised meats as well--I realize this is easier for me than for most. I’ll be shopping at the Berkeley farmers' market on Tuesday and it will probably go something like this:

Full Belly Farm: rutabagas, Riverdog Farm: celery root, parsnips, Blue Heron: carrots,
La Tercera Farm
: Castelfranco and Chioggia radicchio, escarole, curly endive, Bob Cannard (not at the market): cardoons, Happy Boy Farms: chestnuts, Heritage: turkey, Monterey Fish Co.: oysters and local Petrale sole for soup, and Aurelio and Nino: two porcini foragers for the restaurant.

[Note: New Yorkers can stop at the New York City Greenmarkets for similar ingredients]

With the holidays coming up, many home-cooks will be preparing meals for large groups of families and friends and are unaccustomed to cooking for a large number of people like you do everyday at Chez Panisse. Do you have recommendations for great dishes for these types of occasions – crowd pleasers that are easy to make in big batches?

Squash purees are easy and good, Brussels sprouts sliced and sautéed always go over well, vegetable gratins with béchamel (look in Richard Olney’s Simple French Food), braised dishes are good for large parties (basically anything you can cook ahead so you can join the party and not make everyone worry about you).

The menu changes everyday as the chefs at Chez Panisse constantly experiment and take advantage of unique flavors and seasonal ingredients. However, the Thanksgiving is often based around old family traditions. Do you experiment with new flavors and recipes at your own holiday meals or try and stick to reliable recipes year after year?

For a number of years I used the same stuffing--Allison and my mother really like it: sticky rice with Chinese sausage, dried shrimp and dried mushrooms. My mom is Korean and likes the Asian touch. This year we have a lot of wine we brought back from Piemonte in Italy that we want to drink so the stuffing seemed wrong. I always change everything else that goes with the turkey--one year I made my own ham (one month in the fridge). As a rule I don’t like reliable recipes, I have an easier time not trying to re-create something.

What are your favorite foods/recipes of the holiday season/Thanksgiving?

I actually really like turkey, mostly because it makes good gravy. I usually make fried rice out of the leftovers for my mom. I also like all the pretty chicories that are available. Mostly I like to cook for my family and friends- the holidays are just a good excuse.


Gothamist hopes that the cook of your Thanksgiving meal can compete with Chef Russ Moore’s menu, and if not, you can enjoy a non-turkey meal cooked by him at the Chez Panisse Restaurant & Café the next time you’re in Berkeley. Tip: If you’re going out to CA soon, make your reservation early (up to 30 days in advance). Chez Panisse also has lots of cookbooks if you’d like to try their recipes at home.