FR Thanksgiving Interview: Susan Spicer
Wishing you a very Cajun Thanksgiving holiday
New Orleans chef Susan Spicer has sure received a lot of recognition over the years, from winning the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast to being inducted into Food & Wine’s Best New Chef Hall of Fame. Among several New Orleans ventures, she currently co-owns Bayona, a nationally acclaimed restaurant that is voted annually as one of the city’s top five establishments.
Spicer stopped by the Food Republic Test Kitchen last month to talk about all things Thanksgiving. Toss in a Danish mother and a stint living in Holland, and you’ve got one interesting story. Just remember, it’s always helpful to have a good partner to clean up after you in the kitchen.
Where will you be for Thanksgiving this year?
I will most likely be at my restaurant Bayona. We’ve been open for Thanksgiving again every year since Katrina hit.
What is your special Thanksgiving menu?
We are open on Thanksgiving Day from around 12 to 4. It’s almost always the same people year after year and it fills up pretty early on with families. We always have a lot of choices and a four-course menu – we usually do six appetizers, six main courses, salads. We always do a turkey and I do my mother’s bread stuffing.
Do you personally like turkey?
I do. I like what people do with it – I liked the turkey porchetta-style that I tried in New York. We usually will do our breasts and legs separate at the restaurant.
Do you have any turkey tips for our kitchen-beginner readers?
With any kind of bird, the breast will generally cook before the legs do. Therefore, it makes the most sense to cook them separately so that you don’t have a dried out breast or undercooked thigh.
And what about tips for staying organized in the kitchen?
Planning ahead a little bit is always wise. If you’re not a good cleaner-upper, have a good partner [laughs], although it always makes me crazy to have someone come and clean up behind me before I am finished with something. Having themes can always be fun and help you pull things together – like planning a Mexican turkey dinner or something like that. But that’s more for people who cook all the time or cook every year and get a little bored.
Do you have any go-to leftover recipes?
It’s easy in Louisiana: turkey gumbo! In Southwest Louisiana, the Cajuns will make a gumbo with potato salad sometimes, which is different than the traditional rice. At Bayona, we’ll serve it on the special menu sometimes with some of the leftover stuffing.
And you can do that at home, I assume.
Oh, absolutely. Gumbo is just… yummm. Great football food, too!
What are your earliest Thanksgiving memories?
I grew up in New Orleans but my mother is Danish and my father was a naval officer. None of my family was from New Orleans. Our family dishes were always pretty international.
What were the dishes like on Thanksgiving?
My mother would do a turkey but she would combine it with Danish red cabbage and things like that. She’d throw in an Indonesian dish as well. We lived in Holland and loved the Indonesian food. Sometimes she’d do pork satays as an appetizer.
What is your favorite side dish that few would know about?
One of the things that I love is spoonbread – it’s a Southern thing. I do a butternut squash spoonbread.
Is that a New Orleans specialty?
No, it’s more Southern. New Orleans is different from Southern. It’s made with cornmeal and is basically a cornmeal mush with separated eggs and it’s baked like a casserole. It’s like a light, fluffy cornmeal pudding sort of thing. I incorporated the winter squash into it to make it a bit richer.
Does your menu change seasonally at Bayona?
Some of it does and some of it doesn’t. We have some signature items that are available pretty much all year round. Our menu works two different ways: we have our signature menu that never really changes, and then we have our special menu, where we have about a dozen items that can change often.
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