FR Thanksgiving Interview: Dale Talde
How to bring it on Turkey Day, 'Top Chef' style
“Buy it from somewhere that really knows how to make it.” Dale Talde is talking about gravy and it’s blowing our mind that Dale Talde just told us to buy our Thanksgiving gravy. “A decent gravy can salvage a turkey that sucks.” We’re hanging out at the Food Republic Test Kitchen, where the former Top Chef star and co-owner of a growing mini-empire of Brooklyn restaurants is talking us through his Thanksgiving playbook. It involves simplicity (“you must only shop at one store”) and using canned cranberry sauce as a “gelée” for leftovers. We are so buying this move.
What were your Thanksgiving traditions while growing up in Chicago?
The first tradition was really bad turkey. Just horribly made turkey. I am a first-generation American and my family tried. There was definitely a sense of pride about Thanksgiving. Everybody made mashed potatoes that were terrible. But also for us it was like, “Let’s make the best of what we make.” There was always oxtail stew, stir-fried noodles, wonton soup. They did catch on to the Thanksgiving ham and my mom did it well — I think it was that love for pork.
Turkey is a foreign object to many people…
It’s like, meh to some people. It wasn’t until we started getting older that we started taking pride in making the turkey good.
So what is your advice for making it good?
Deep-fry it if you have that ability. For me, deep-fried anything is good. It’s a little dry, but then again, it’s deep-fried, so it’s still pretty good. We had a butane burner set up in the back and just throw a pot of oil on it and kill it. The oil was already out, so we’d deep-fry a couple fish, couple snappers, and then Thanksgiving becomes the multi-cultural celebration: that was Thanksgiving to us.
More advice please.
If you have the ability to make the meal simple, do it. Mashed potatoes are the simplest. You read all these things about the best techniques, but all you have to do is cook some potatoes properly and taste all your food.
What do you mean about properly?
Don’t overcook your potatoes and load them with too much water. You have to cook them just until they are done and fork tender. Dry them out if you can, but don’t overthink it. Butter, milk, salt, pepper and it’s done. When you have shop at four different places, that’s a mistake.
Like all the different markets and purveyors?
Yeah. You want to be able to go to one spot. Try to make your meal as easy as possible. If gravy is that important to you, buy it.
Some would call that sacrilegious though, to buy gravy.
Not in a New York City kitchen. And gravy can take different forms – like a white sausage gravy on turkey and stuffing – that’s just going to make it better.
Because pork fat tastes better than turkey fat?
I just think that it is in people’s vocabulary. People see that and know what it is supposed to taste like. It’s easier for them to do that.
What is your favorite way to eat Thanksgiving leftovers?
My favorite is the all-in-one bowl. Instead of making a rice or salad bowl, just load everything and chop it all up. Everything is almost to the point where you can’t distinguish what anything is [laughs].
What are the components?
Obviously some turkey. We always do ham – then stuffing, mashed potatoes, tons of gravy. Cranberry – we always got it in the can because no one ever made it. It’s almost a gelée. In the sense of modernist cuisine – if you warm it up, it will dissolve. But if you keep it cold in the middle of these warm pockets of the salad-like dish you have created, you get this burst of acidity. That’s a temperature difference and it’s interesting. It breaks up each bite.
So, you actually do this?
Oh, very much so.
And you do it with canned cranberries?
Always. If I have it at the house, I’ll dice it, warm everything up and then plop it in at the end. Every other bite, you’ll get this cold and refreshing cranberry mixed in with the monotony of the other stuff.
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