Tom Colicchio

Tom's take on what makes a good Thanksgiving.

on Nov 22, 2006

The Elimination Challenge asked the five chefs to reinvent the traditional flavors of Thanksgiving with a cutting-edge twist. The chefs were given an hour in the kitchen to plan, and then a chance to prep and cook in their lofts -- a rough simulation of a home kitchen (if your home kitchen had a camera crew hovering overhead). This was a tough challenge in that it was asking for clashing concepts -- traditional and cutting edge -- to work together. Sadly, the group got off to a mundane start. Rather than spit-balling ideas -- how to get the flavors of turkey, cranberry, stuffing, etc. across in unexpected ways -- the group's meeting became little more than a chance for Betty to divvy out tasks. Surprisingly, iconoclastic Marcel suggested that they work together to find inspiration as a team. He was quickly shot down in favor of individual courses -- mistake number one. Love Marcel or hate him, the man at least has ideas. The group sorely needed another idea person to help break down their conventional mindset right from the start, but Elia was still too preoccupied and angry to contribute in a meaningful way. Now, I love Thanksgiving -- it's one of my favorite meals. Every year my son Dante and I make our way over to Craft early that morning to make the stuffing (the kid's a whiz with sausage). And while I don't necessarily prepare a cutting-edge Thanksgiving meal for my own family, I liked this challenge because I thought it would really give our chefs a chance to break out and get creative. Imagine if the group had worked together to reinvent the meal as we know it, maybe by taking traditional stuffing ingredients -- bread, oysters, sausage, fennel, sage and wrapping them in turkey skin to form an avant-garde sausage? Or how about a turkey confit with oysters, poached in butter and finished with cranberry gelee and a fine dice of sauteed sweet potatoes? Thinking along these lines would have meant breaking down the concept of a Thanksgiving meal into its individual flavor components, and then playing with them in a skillful, imaginative way.