This year we partnered with Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm to create a Thanksgiving menu inspired by new recipes and old rituals. The farm’s chefs and artisans brought inventive dishes to the table, each with a personal twist. We talked to each of them about their favorite Thanksgiving traditions, as well as the inspiration behind their dishes — read on to hear their stories.
As Executive Chef of the Main House at Blackberry Farm, Josh Feathers is all about the details– those little touches of elegance that make all the difference in a meal. Born in East Tennessee, he trained as a chef in Naples, Italy and has spent the past 9 years at Blackberry Farm. In his current role, he oversees the preservation kitchen, cheese room and butcher shop, as well as the Main House Dining Rooms, creating the breakfast and lunch portion of the guest experience. For our Thanksgiving menu, he created these Sweet Potato and Leek Custards.
Tell us about your Thanksgiving family traditions: What’s on the menu? Who cooks what?
Growing up, Thanksgiving was spent at my mother’s parents’ house. There were always roasted turkey and ham, but my grandfather loved cooking wild venison the best. My mom always makes sweet potato casserole and the remaining family adds in other sides of mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, green bean casserole and of course all the traditional sweets.
What do you look forward to eating all year long? What’s the recipe that always has to be on the table?
I can’t name one particular thing, but it is the only meal of the year when you could say you get everything that you want to eat at the same time. The recipe that always has to be on the table is Mom’s sweet potato casserole.
How important is tradition to your holiday meal?
We usually have a small but great meal with my wife and kids, since the life of a chef at a resort usually demands that you are available to your guests on the holiday. But we try to hang on to having a small meal the day before or after Thanksgiving day.
How have your traditions changed over the years?
Living away from family caused us to change our traditions, since we are usually celebrating on a different day, and I usually bring some dishes or flavors that we did not have when I was growing up. One of my favorites is the roasted Brussels sprouts with apples and sweet hot mustard.
What makes your Thanksgiving meal uniquely your own?
The inclusion of game meats, for me. Usually a nice piece of venison or truly wild turkey.
Do you have any highlights from past Thanksgivings?
The biggest highlight is probably my first deep fried turkey. I had never had one before coming to work at Blackberry 13 years ago, and it was the best turkey I had ever eaten, for a few reasons. Probably the most glutinous is the crispy skin, but secondly, the frying process seals in all of the juices and really maintains the juiciness of the bird.
What about your most poignant moment, biggest kitchen disaster, or a substitution that saved the day?
We always serve peanut soup as a tradition at Blackberry midday, along with the fried turkey. It is a wonderfully rich soup — unless you burn it 30 minutes before serving, so we had to make more (and very quickly, I may add). We had just started making our own peanut butter on the farm which, unlike a lot of other peanut butters out there, only has two ingredients: peanuts and Maldon sea salt. So we quickly make a white mirepoix and added in a few jars of our peanut butter with some rich brown chicken stock that saved the day.
What was the inspiration behind the dishes you created for the Williams-Sonoma/Blackberry Farm Thanksgiving menu?
The sweet potato dish was inspired by my mother’s, but I wanted give it a little more of a savory flavor with the leeks and a touch of cheese.
Why did you choose this recipe? How do they complement the philosophy of Blackberry Farm?
This recipe was inspired by tradition and making use of the products created by our artisans. My dish uses sweet potatoes grown in our garden and artisan-produced products.
What are your tips on using traditional ingredients in new ways?
If it is a product that is to be cooked simply, think about different ways that the product can be cooked. Just because a something has always been roasted doesn’t mean it always has to be that way. Just look at the turkey.
How do you make various side dishes work together?
I like to make sure there are different textures: roasted vegetables that have caramelization, softer casserole-style dishes that develop flavor while cooking together, and something that has a salad or raw feel.
Any tips for menu planning around your sides?
I think that as long as they are dishes you enjoy making, almost any combination can work, especially when cooking within the season and using what you have available in your area.
What are some easy ways the home cook can upgrade their traditional sides?
Don’t compromise the quality of your ingredients.