Prior to joining the Gramercy Tavern kitchen as sous chef four years ago, chef Chris Bradley ran Ardeo restaurant in Washington, DC. He grew up in South Carolina surrounded by farms; during his tenure at Gramercy, he was able to strengthen his connection to farmers by sourcing high-quality, local products. He describes his culinary approach as “Keeping the food simple and casual so that the ingredients do the talking, with minimal intervention from me.”
Most recently, Bradley has taken that philosophy to New York’s Upper East Side as the executive chef of Danny Meyer’s new restaurant, Untitled, at The Whitney Museum of American Art.
Gingersnaps jump from the dessert plate to the gravy bowl in this excellent—and unusual—recipe from chef Christopher Bradley. After an overnight bath in brine sweetened with maple syrup (preferably from Vermont, says Bradley), turkey is roasted until golden-brown. The bird’s juices are combined with apple cider and gingersnaps, making a sweet-savory gravy with a pleasant gingery kick.
How do you celebrate Thanksgiving?
My grandparents had 5 children, so when everyone including the great-grandchildren get together, we have a small army that requires potluck theory and a lot of folding tables to get everyone fed. I don’t always make it home for Thanksgiving, but when I do I love to take that worry out of everyone’s hands and apply my skills at feeding large numbers of people. It eases everyone’s day, makes the food just a little tastier and avoids the traditional “washing of the dishes” by the grandchildren. And a long nap in a recliner always seems to cap the day nicely.
What is your number one tip for someone cooking Thanksgiving dinner?
Don’t be too ambitious. If you spend the whole day in the kitchen or try to make more food than your tiny New York City apartment kitchen can hold, no one—yourself included—is going to enjoy the day. Also, do less with more by cooking time-proven dishes. Failed experiments are for random Friday nights with friends and not this most cherished of Thursdays.
What’s your favorite pick for Thanksgiving wine and why?
Is bourbon considered wine? And if you need to know why, you’re not from the South. But really, if you don’t like the wine it won’t complement the food. I’m a big fan of Lagrein from the Alto Adige and Mourvèdre from Provence for their complex mixes of fruit, spice and earth. For whites, acidity helps to cut through the heaviness inherent in the Thanksgiving meal, so I usually drink Riesling or Soave.
Fool-proof turkey is like the fountain of youth or life on Mars: People want to believe in it but can never seem to find it. Brining the turkey doesn’t make it impossible to desiccate, but brining and following some simple technical principles will do the trick.
Brine or no brine? And why?
See above, or my recipe, or just call me a couple days before hand.
What’s your favorite way to use Thanksgiving leftovers?
Shepherd’s pie-style gratins. Mix the turkey, the gravy, hopefully some giblets and any vegetables, top with mashed potatoes, sprinkle with cheese, and bake in the oven until golden brown and delicious (“GBD” in kitchen speak).
What was your most memorable Thanksgiving dish and who made it?
I spent Thanksgiving 2001 in the kitchen at Aureole under Gerry Hayden. The last two months had been hard in the city and business had been horrible, but Thanksgiving promised to give our revenue and spirits both a well-deserved boost. I was on the poultry station, which was shorthand for the guy who got to slice turkey for 10 hours.
The other poultry dish was a beautiful roast pheasant from a farm in Pennsylvania. Besides being my first time tasting the gamy red-meated fowl, the garnish was simply-braised Savoy cabbage. But the kicker was this Charlotte with apples and braised thigh meat. Slices of brioche were buttered and lined into a mold, stuffed with the meat-and-apple filling and soaked with spiced rum custard. It felt so fun and was so delicious that I begged to keep running it as a special even after Thanksgiving was over.
What was your favorite Thanksgiving dish when you were a kid and what is it now?
As a kid, it was smoked ham smothered in a mix of mustard and honey and then baked to a crusty deliciousness. Now, I like to pretend I’m a pilgrim and eat oysters until I’m stuffed like a turkey.
What’s your favorite Thanksgiving dessert?
I think the only time of the year I ever eat sweet potato pie is Thanksgiving. I especially like it with coconut and pecans mixed in and a big spoonful of (gasp!) Cool Whip.
What does Mom or Grandma still make better than you?
The chef in me insists on cooking green beans lightly to retain their crunch and nutritional value, but there is something to be said about the way my grandmother cooked the living bejesus out of them until they became almost caramelized.
What do you cook at home that you would never think of cooking at the restaurant?
I make a lot of Asian-style noodle soups, and the only reason I don’t do them in the restaurant isn’t that they aren’t restaurant worthy but that they just don’t fit into the scope of what we cook.
What’s your favorite kitchen tool?
Off-set serrated knife. Single-beveled Japanese knives are essential but limited in their application. Nothing cuts through dense root veggies, crusty breads with soft interiors, delicate tomatoes or delicious apple pies better than a serrated knife.
What do you think is going to be the next big trend in dining?
A return to simplicity. The whole farm-to-table movement is really about letting the products speak for themselves without overly fussy intervention from the chefs.
When it comes to food, what is your guilty pleasure?
New York Deli Kettle Cooked Jalapeño potato chips. At 50 cents a bag I get two: One for eating and one for putting on top of my ham and Swiss on a roll with everything.
What’s the one dish you’re always trying to improve?
Champvallon. When Jean-Francois Bruel (now executive chef at Daniel) was my sous chef at Café Boulud, he introduced me to the dish—basically a lamb pie in a potato crust. The lamb and vegetables are moist and stewy inside; the bottom layer of potato tender and giving; the top crisp and crunch. I’ve made it with lamb, venison and beef and my dream is to one day get the moisture level right so that I can actually cut slices of it for serving. But I am happy to eat it right out of the dish, too. I ate so much of the giant serving at Au Pied de Cochon (in Montreal) that I couldn’t sleep.