Chef James Tracey is the chef de cuisine at Craft’s flagship restaurant in New York, where he works with chef Tom Colicchio of Top Chef fame on directing the kitchen and menu of the renowned modern American restaurant.
Tracey is a Texas native and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. He first met chef Colicchio when he worked at Gramercy Tavern. Tracey has been in the kitchen at Craft since the restaurant opened in 2002, and has become adept at creating unfussy dishes based on high-quality, seasonal ingredients and solid techniques.
Trade cloyingly sweet store-bought marshmallows for homemade meringue in this update on a Thanksgiving classic from chef James Tracey. Sugary meringue whipped to stiff peaks turns golden-brown as it roasts in the oven atop silky, nutmeg-scented sweet potatoes. The result: a standard made elegant and exciting, thanks to a homemade twist.
How do you celebrate Thanksgiving?
I’m usually at Craft making the dressing. We cook the same meal for the staff as we serve for dinner, and everyone sits down together before service.
What is your number one tip for someone cooking Thanksgiving dinner?
Prepare as much of your meal before Thanksgiving so you can enjoy the day. Drink wine while you’re cooking.
What’s your favorite pick for Thanksgiving wine and why?
Oregon Pinot Noir. I’m not into Beaujolais Nouveau.
We would always have sweet potatoes with caramelized marshmallows at my Thanksgiving growing up, so it’s a fond memory.
Brine or no brine? And why?
I have had both and liked and disliked both. I prefer not brined because I like to stuff herb butter under the skin.
What’s your favorite way to use Thanksgiving leftovers?
I like to make sandwiches with the leftover turkey, and I’m definitely going to reheat the dressing and gravy.
What was your most memorable Thanksgiving dish and who made it?
Ambrosia salad by my very cool Great-Aunt Margret.
What was your favorite Thanksgiving dish when you were a kid and what is it now?
Dressing with gravy. It will probably always be my favorite.
What’s your favorite Thanksgiving dessert?
My mom’s pecan pie. She makes the best pie dough.
What does Mom or Grandma still make better than you?
My mom makes the best pies in general. My Grandma would make the classic green bean casserole with crispy onions, which I love. You don’t compete with these people!
What do you cook at home that you would never think of cooking at the restaurant?
Microwaveable rice for my kids. It’s good and it’s quick.
What’s your favorite kitchen tool?
Today, it’s a hemostat.
When it comes to food, what is your guilty pleasure?
Oreo cookies and milk.
What’s the one dish you’re always trying to improve?
All of them.