November 7, 2012

Soup to Nuts: When chefs give thanks

We polled several of southern Maine's best-known cooks to learn how they observe Thanksgiving, with some entertaining, heart-warming, even surprising results.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

Thanksgiving is a mere two weeks away, a fact that is scarier than any monster you might have run into last week on Halloween.

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Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier

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Sam Hayward

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While some Maine restaurants do stay open on the fourth Thursday in November, most close their doors, and it makes you wonder: Is Thanksgiving a busman's holiday for chefs?

Do they hang up their pots at work only to have to take them down again at home? Does their family expect them to create some spectacular spread every year like the ones you see in the Thanksgiving issues of glossy food magazines?

Or are they allowed to chill on the sofa, for once, and watch football while someone else does all the work?

I asked a wide range of southern Maine chefs how they celebrate the most food-centric holiday of the year. Their answers, gathered by both phone and email, were enlightening and entertaining.

I also asked them if they have a special dish they simply have to prepare every Thanksgiving -- perhaps something that brings back childhood memories, or something that has become a family tradition?

And I wondered: Do they allow themselves to indulge in any guilty pleasures on the holiday? Do chefs with refined palates ever eat the dreaded green bean casserole or sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top?

Most of them wouldn't cop to the casserole or the sweet potatoes, at least not publicly. But it turns out Maine chefs do partake in some interesting culinary extravagances that go beyond the usual Thanksgiving fare.

Here's hoping their responses entertain and inspire you as you plan your own Thanksgiving table. 

DEMOS REGAS, Emilitsa, Portland

(Thanksgiving) is a real holiday for me in the sense that I am out of the restaurant. I have a great team in the kitchen, including my son Nikos, but I insist on going in every day myself. In fact, now that we are opening for lunch, I am there even more. We are all about philoxenia, which literally translated means taking care of strangers and is the Greek concept of hospitality. The door is open to everyone. It is a way of life for us, it's in our blood.

So on Thanksgiving, my brother John and I actually go kayaking to escape a little. For us it's a day about being in nature and being grateful. I don't cook up a storm on the Thanksgiving holiday. I do that every day. The truth is that on Thanksgiving, we eat these special Coney hot dogs from my other son George's restaurant in Duluth. I'm not kidding. He overnights them to us with this phenomenal chili minced onion sauce. We love them. In a way, it connects our family by food.

Guilty pleasure: I grew up with flavorful food, whether in my dad's restaurant, Regas Cafe, where he cooked "American" food or upstairs in our home where my mom was the chef for all us kids and anyone else who dropped in. While we loved Dad's classic hot turkey sandwich with brown gravy, we were partial to Mom's home cooking: Marinated lamp chops, moussaka with lots of bechamel, baklava, and the works. We started in the morning and literally grazed all day on spanakopita, hot bread out of the oven. That's not to say we weren't intrigued by homemade American-style pies. At the restaurant, really a diner, Dad served mile-high pumpkin as well as banana cream for Thanksgiving. They were nothing like the Greek desserts we had as kids. That probably influenced my guilty pleasure for the holidays -- a festive after-dinner drink as an aperitif. I like Kahlua with metaxa, a Greek brandy, with whipped cream and all. It's like having dessert before dinner. Yes, I'm aware these are disparaged as "girly" drinks in some circles. I'm okay with that. In fact, I think I'll pair one with a Coney dog. 

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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David Turin

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Harding Smith

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Lisa Kostopoulos

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Chris Bassett


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