'Tis the season for Thanksgiving, and with this most treasured time of year come minds filled with memories of Thanksgivings past.
Remember that disastrous Thanksgiving when you forgot to take the giblet bag out of the turkey cavity and watched the carver pull it out at the table? How embarrassing! Or maybe your fondest memory is that Thanksgiving when the entire family was able to gather together for the first time in years, creating precious memories. And there are always those memories when, as a teenager, you finally graduated from the kids' table to sit with the grown-ups.
We asked five area chefs about some of their favorite recollections, and here's something we discovered: Even though they create masterpieces in their restaurants, sometimes all it takes is a green bean casserole to put a smile on their faces on Thanksgiving day.
Caterer, cooking show personality and master of the pop-up
Treasured Thanksgiving memory: Lathan remembers staying up all night with his grandmother, listening to music as she prepared the Thanksgiving feast.
"She never used a recipe, but rather cooked by using senses like touch, sound and smell," he remembers. "It was so cool seeing her in her element, and to this day, when I'm cooking, I tend to think about those memories.
Favorite Thanksgiving dish to make: Not Ya Mama's Creamed Corn
"In my house, it's a staple," he says. "It's a dish not traditionally considered a Thanksgiving staple, but for me, it's a modern take on a classic, and the flavors just blend well with the other dishes. So I consider it a staple and must-have every Thanksgiving."
Favorite food on the Thanksgiving table: "It would have to be the soul food classic — and probably a staple in every African American family's house on Thanksgiving: chitterlings. For me, chitterlings are like a delicacy, something not seen or eaten every day. It's a dish that at one point in time was all that was had, and it helped my people push through difficult times. So it's an item that I often seem to celebrate, plus it tastes phenomenal. I still remember watching my grandmother spend hours and hours cleaning chitterlings for days heading up to Thanksgiving because the prep and cook were so long and tedious. It was truly a labor of love."
Executive chef at one of the best places for an afternoon cocktail and dinner: Ooltewah's Wine Down Bistro
Treasured Thanksgiving memory: Cox remembers the first time he was finally able to take his wife to his boyhood home in Maryland to meet his parents at Thanksgiving.
"It gave me the chance to show her where I'm from," he says.
Favorite Thanksgiving dish to make: Gingerbread-stuffed poached pears. Core the pears and poach it in a solution of three parts honey to one part saba vinegar, then stuff the cored pears with crushed gingersnaps that are moistened with a little bit of the saba to make the snaps like cookie dough.
"I love these because I love eating them," he says.
Favorite food on the Thanksgiving table: Green bean casserole. "Not only is it delicious, but I find it very interesting that three different canned-food companies came together to create such a retro dish in the '50s."
Former chef/restaurant owner
Treasured Thanksgiving memory: Smith now spends his time putting a little spice in our lives and creating recipes using his brand of specialty seasonings: Lucky Cajun. But when it comes to Thanksgiving, it's all about him — and his birthday.
"Some years, my birthday falls on Thanksgiving Day," he says. "So I remember not getting a traditional birthday cake. My birthday dessert would be something like pecan pie, pumpkin pie, lemon meringue pie or my favorite: pineapple upside-down cake."
Favorite Thanksgiving dish to make: "I always make a fresh cranberry sauce with oranges and spices. It's the best thing to match the rich, smoky meats my dad always grills up for Thanksgiving — dove, venison and duck. And he always does a fried turkey."
Favorite food on the Thanksgiving table: "I gotta have cornbread dressing with boudin. It's something I had in culinary school in Louisiana. It's way more satisfying and savory than the non-boudin stuff."
Culinary director at Alleia in Chattanooga and Fifth and Taylor in Nashville
Treasured Thanksgiving memory: As a young child, Barron remembers spending Thanksgiving with her mother's family.
"She has eight siblings, and lots of the siblings have quite a few kids of their own," she says. "So we had an annual football game, and I always played on my dad's team. He was very serious about sports, so I always had a good time playing on his team. But he'd always give us a good scolding if we dropped the ball!"
Favorite Thanksgiving dish to make: "Green bean casserole is the one my mom has always asked me to make. I love making the mushroom gravy for it. And sometimes, I fry the onions for it, too, although the pre-fried ones in the can are even better."
Favorite food on the Thanksgiving table: My favorite part about the Thanksgiving menu is the next day: making a sandwich with all the fixings — turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes, all stacked on a leftover yeast roll.
Recently returned to Chattanooga and now the Chef at the Council Fire Golf Club
Treasured Thanksgiving memory: Le looks back on his childhood and his mother stuffing the Thanksgiving turkey — not with the traditional cornbread stuffing, but with glass noodles, shiitake and wood-ear mushrooms and vegetables.
"Seeing everyone at my mom's house gathering around to wait for this dish was more than spectacular," he says. "Not only did we have the turkey with the Vietnamese glass-noodle dish — my favorite — but we also had all the traditional sides: green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy. And she also made Vietnamese hot pot with shrimp, squid, abalone, clams, braised pork belly and beef. And we made wraps with the seafood pot and spring rolls, too."
"Just watching my mom's face light up with joy when she saw that everyone was happy and full with the delicious meal made me so happy."
Favorite Thanksgiving dish to make: "Roasted turkey, orange-glazed ham and Brussels sprouts with crispy bacon and parmesan cheese. People don't know how to cook Brussels sprouts correctly to bring out their natural sweetness. I also like to make escargot in garlic with an herbed cream sauce. The dish usually leaves my family and other guests wondering, 'What is he thinking?' But when they try it, they are hooked on the taste and texture of it. I serve it with a rich, buttery, flaky puff pastry."
Favorite food on the Thanksgiving table: "The orange-glazed ham. I put cross marks on a quarter ham and roast it in the oven with Dr. Pepper, then finish it with orange marmalade for the glaze."