Seasonal Cooking Class: A Holiday Demonstration

There are more than a few ways that the Holiday’s take on a look of their own in Phoenix; chiefly, our gardens are teeming with life — all of those hardy greens and root vegetables, among other little treasures the rest of the country must forgo (if they’re shopping locally, of course). Our citrus trees have bared rio red grapefruits, meyer lemons, key limes and blood oranges that span the color spectrum.

And we get the best of both worlds, too, because Dave Jordan, the farmer behind Two Wash Ranch and whom we work closely with at our restaurants, has beens raising a flock of turkeys for precisely these few months. They’ve lived good lives and are at their peak; something we love to showcase for our Holiday dinners at the restaurants, and which we use in our homes, as well.

This year we decided to do a cooking demonstration at the Chamberlin offices to do more than strut our turkey know-how from behind closed doors. My team and I wanted to teach a couple classes full of curious home cooks how to best prepare a turkey that shines so well — with lean, complex turkey flavor — by doing actually very little. In these classes our aim was to also show you what to best surround that turkey with on the plate — in this case, a root vegetable gratin made from the produce that, like these turkeys, couldn’t be more flavorful.

The tables were set for two classes of just over 20 attendees. My wife and mother were in the crowd on the second day; I was thrilled to be able to do turkey dinner just a couple weeks after a warm Thanksgiving with the family.

Once everyone was seated we began with our simple recipe for turkey à l'orange — sauce à l’orange being what’s, in it’s essence, a French caramel of fresh citrus juice cooked down with some sugar, and butter instead of cream (oh, and sure, a little turkey stock and Grand Marnier too). What could be a better way to make use of Arizona’s winter citrus? Some of the citrus I’d gathered from my own back yard, not even a couple miles from our offices.

After pouring some white wine for everyone in attendance, we invited the audience to freely move about the office’s open kitchen to take a close look and to ask questions on a whim.

The turkey, already finishing cooking so that it could be on time with the heavily herbed, creamy root vegetable gratin, had provided juices for the sauce. The audience watched as it caramelized off to the side as we worked on that gratin, layering thin slivers of root vegetables with cream, onions, bacon — each level topped generously with grated asiago cheese.

What would a great meal be without dessert? Our pastry chef for our restaurants, Sarah, made a olive oil cake trifle — layers of white chocolate cream, cake, citrus zest and, last but not least, over-the-top sweet persimmons from our farmer friend, ‘Big Foot’ Reevis, which have one of the shortest growing seasons of anything that we work with in our kitchens. A splash of Grand Marnier in the mix would give the trifle the French-rum profile we were looking for, and echo its use in the sauce à l’orange earlier in the meal.

“It’s great as a tea cake in the morning. It’s great as a wedding cake. Great as a birthday cake,” said Sarah. “The best part about a trifle, and this one in-particular, is that it only gets better as it sits. Everything will meld together if you make it the day before.”

“It’s so easy to customize to your own taste buds,” she added. “If you don’t like olive oil, use coconut oil. If you don’t like Grand Marnier, use rum.”

The atmosphere then shifted from watching and waiting to, suddenly, eating. And eating some more. And yeah, I snuck in a few bites. Who could resists Dave’s birds?

We aim to do more cooking demonstrations as the seasons change and our gardens transform once again. Remember to check back here, on my blog, and on our social media pages to see what we’ll be cooking next.

Alex Leiphart