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Top Chef Alums Reveal Their Thanksgiving Traditions

From their dishes to post-feast rituals, how they get into the holiday spirit.

They're masters in the kitchen 364 days of the year, but how do Top Chef alums get into the foodie spirit on the most holy foodie holiday of the year? Past alums Eli Kirshstein, Ariane Duarte, Zac Young, Sarah Grueneberg, Kevin Sbraga and Paul Qui share their rituals, must-have dishes, post-feast activies...and what they do with their leftovers.


Eli Kirshtein, Season 4

My Yearly Traditions
Every year we always have a ton of people over to my parents house. It has often become the home for the wayward cook. When cooks or chefs can't make it home for the holiday, or if they are from a country that doesn't celebrate the holiday, they get included in the party. The only rule they have to abide by is to bring one dish that they would cook at home for a special occasion.

How We Get Into the Thanksgiving Spirit
To get into the holiday spirit we usually spend the day before the holiday shopping and cooking together. It gets a bit crowded and there is a bit of finger pointing on who made what mess, but we are all together and happy none the less.

What I Cook
I end up making a pretty elaborate spread, but the stalwart that I always go back to is a sticky toffee pudding recipe. I've been making it for years and it always gets requested. Every year we end up cooking three turkeys, so in order to brine all of them, I buy a new large rubber made trashcan and put a bag in it. I pour the brine in there and then drop the birds in. It's efficient, cheap, and clean. And if its cold outside, which it usually is, I can just leave it on the back porch.

The One Dish We Have Each Year
I always find that at our table the cranberry sauce out of the can makes and appearance. Its beyond tragic how bad the stuff is, but it hits for a lot of people on a nostalgic level.

The Leftovers
We end up with tons of freezer bags of left overs, so they get handed out as goodie bags to all the departing guests. I always feel like I get a little gypped that I didn't get enough, but I do get tired of stuffing 3 days in a row.

Post-Feast Activity
I always have the ambition that I can round up everyone for a football game, but it rarely materializes. So we end up watching football and talking about how we will have a game next year.


Ariane Duarte, Season 5

My Yearly Traditions
Tradition for many years was spending it in Chicago with my husband, Michael's family.Now with everyone's busy schedules and a daughter and nieces in college it is tough to get there. So now we spend it with my family in New Jersey.

What I Cook
I am in charge of the turkey. I change it up every year. This year I will cover in cheesecloth soaked in wine and butter.

The Leftovers
Leftovers are always sandwiches. And I make turkey soup!


Zac Young, Top Chef Just Desserts

My Yearly Traditions
A whole day devoted to food and family? Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Every year I get up and watch the Parade on TV, my favorite part is the Broadway shows that perform while the parade is winding it's way down Herald Square.

How We Get Into the Thanksgiving Spirit
We drive Meals on Wheels to homebound seniors. It's a family tradition that my parents started with my sister and I when we were in grade school. It's truly the most rewarding experience, it's so much bigger than just delivering food. It's about sharing joy and warmth with someone who is isolated. I think everyone should do this, or volunteer at a homeless shelter for the day. It will change your perspective on the whole holiday season.

What I Cook
Every year I make a side dish of brussel sprouts with apple and bacon. Everyone expects me to bring a pie, so I never do. Surprise!

The One Dish We Have Each Year
I love cranberry sauce out of a can. My grandmother insists on making it from scratch, I smuggle the can in.

The Leftovers
I eat them cold out of the 3am.

Post-Feast Traditions
We have a book in my family, every year, on Thanksgiving, and we each write what we are thankful for. It's fun to go back and see the progression over the years.


Sarah Grueneberg, Season 9

My Yearly Traditions
Football, Hot Toddies, Jigsaw Puzzles, and of course, casseroles!

How We Get Into the Thanksgiving Spirit
We all force our way to the kitchen, have a toast! With all the family, the energy is the spirit of the Thanksgiving!

What I Cook
I make homemade cranberry orange mostarda. No canned cranberry jelly for me!

The One Dish We Have Each Year
Hash brown casserole. My Aunt B makes this dish from hash brown potatoes, cheddar, sour cream, and buttered cornflakes. My must-have!

The Leftovers
I have to have leftovers. We toast sourdough bread then strategically build our sandwich: bread, cranberry sauce, corn bread dressing, turkey, hashbrown casserole, gravy, bread.

Post-Feast Traditions
Texas A&M vs UT football game, but now it is the Texas Tech vs UT game. Football is a must.


Kevin Sbraga, Season 7

My Yearly Traditions
For me as an adult I love to have the day off and just enjoy home cooking made by someone else. But the past few years I have cooked. I like to get ahead and start prepping the Monday before Thanksgiving. For me, Thanksgiving is an all day eating affair. It’s not just one meal but an all day buffet.

How We Get Into the Thanksgiving Spirit
Thanksgiving is and has been for a very long time my favorite holiday. So it’s easy to get into the spirit.

What I Cook
I really enjoy making the turkey. It is the crown jewel of the table.

The One Dish We Have Each Year
I come from an Italian-American home so we always had pasta and gravy.

The Leftovers
I make sandwiches for the first few days, maybe a soup or a salad as well. Now my father on the other hand is old school, he wraps its all up and freezes it. He eats Thanksgiving leftovers for weeks. Gross!

Post-Feast Traditions
A nap and football.


Paul Qui, Top Chef Season 9

My Yearly Traditions
Our thanksgiving Traditions are about hanging out with family. I usually don't cook, but act as a helper to whoever is cooking.

The One Dish We Have Each Year
Turkey is always on the table and [my wife] Deana loves green bean casserole. We get into the festive spirit by being around our family and friends.

The Leftovers
They're the best part of thanksgiving! Coming up with dishes to cook from the leftovers is the fun part.