“I’m not a big fan of a whole roasted turkey,” says Joshua McFadden, executive chef and owner of Ava Gene’s and founding partner of Tusk restaurant in Portland, Oregon. It’s not exactly the kind of statement you expect to hear from a guy who is about to host a Thanksgiving meal for sixteen people in a matter of mere hours. But, instead of obsessively basting or worrying about his brining time, McFadden is pan-searing turkey meatballs, his Thanksgiving secret weapon.
McFadden calls the turkey meatballs a “happy accident”—he first thought of making them the centerpiece of his Thanksgiving feast about two years ago, when he was up at Suttle Lodge cooking a Thanksgiving meal with friends. “We didn’t have a turkey we had ordered and brined, but we were able to find some ground turkey, and we combined that with some really traditional Thanksgiving flavors like sage and thyme,” says McFadden. Thus, the Thanksgiving turkey meatballs were born.
For this feast, he’s serving them alongside an assortment of vegetable-centric dishes from his cookbook, Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables. There’s the Roasted Squash with Yogurt, Walnuts and Spiced Green Sauce, which brings a bit of levity to the traditional squash side dish, and the Onion and Pancetta Tart, with a sweet, pecan-based crust that offsets the savory filling. And for dessert, a vibrant and not-too-sweet carrot pie served with whipped cream and Bee Local honey that’s enough to have guests re-thinking their annual pumpkin pie tradition.
McFadden describes his ideal Thanksgiving as “more like a party than a traditional dinner,” which is part of the reason he’s hosting at the sprawling Jacobsen Salt Co. Warehouse in Portland, Oregon. It has plenty of space to cook, mingle and enjoy a meal at a long table. It also happens to be the home base of his longtime friend, local salt maker Ben Jacobsen. The two met when Joshua first moved to Portland—Joshua admired Jacobsen’s ultra-flaky finishing salt and the clean graphic of his company’s logo. When he opened his first restaurant, Ava Gene’s, he stocked it with Jacobsen Salt and the staff all wore Jacobsen hats.
As guests trickle in, each one finds a way to pitch in—Peter Cho, the chef-owner of the buzzy Han Oak restaurant helps Joshua prep the salad, Jessica Baesler, General manager at Tusk restaurant shakes up cocktails, and local artist Camille Schumann hand-paints the menu on butcher paper.
Eventually, the meal is ready and the guests carry finished dishes from the prep area to the buffet, where Joshua serves each guest, joking with them to add an extra scoop of butter on that Parker House roll or scoop up more of his signature kale salad. At the table, florist Megan Arambul leads a toast to the chef and then the table immediately falls silent as everyone digs in—a universal sign of a meal well-received.
See more of our day spent with Joshua McFadden and friends in the video below.
Join us in stores Thursday, November 2nd at 6:30 p.m. for our Open Kitchen Technique Class, which highlights the casual feast that Portland chef Joshua McFadden created in collaboration with salt maker Ben Jacobsen. We’ll be making mashed potatoes with celery root, carrot pie and, yes, those turkey meatballs. See all upcoming classes and events, and contact your local store for details.