Chefs Talk Turkey

Holiday Memories and Heritage Recipes

By Barbara Krause | October 26, 2017
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We invited local top chefs to share some of their memories of home-cooked holiday food with our readers. Their responses reflect the rich cultures that make up the Silicon Valley food scene—from traditional turkey soup to slow-cooked pork chile verde, Asian-inspired roast turkey and a great-grandmother’s cranberry pudding—dishes that will be found on their own dining room tables this holiday season.

In the holiday spirit of sharing, several gave us treasured family recipes. This special collection of recipes can be found on our Fall 2017 Recipe page. 

Kevin Mertens-Rowan
Chef de Cuisine
Plumed Horse, Saratoga

“I don’t ever remember having a holiday dinner at my parents’ house when it was just our immediate family. My mother always invites everyone to share our holiday dinner table—friends, friends of friends, colleagues. Sometimes we have so many people that my adult cousins and I find ourselves sitting at the “kids’ table” eating off paper plates.

The backdrop to all of this was the aroma of turkey soup softly bubbling on the stove, even before dinner was served. My father would carve the turkey in the kitchen and my mother would be elbow deep in the turkey carcass, starting the turkey soup. It would simmer late into the evening and our house would smell like the holidays for several days afterwards. I now scoot my parents out of the kitchen and make the soup myself, helping continue a tradition I love: turkey soup and sandwiches for the rest of the week.”

Get the recipe for Mertens-Rowan Family Turkey Soup.

Reylon Agustin
Executive Chef
Madera Restaurant at Rosewood Sand Hill, Menlo Park

“In a Filipino family, food is at the center of our celebrations and there’s an immense amount of love that goes into every dish. Going to different relatives’ houses for the holidays we would have different versions of pancit, a Filipino noodle dish. My favorite is pancit palabok but the close seconds are pancit luglog, malabon, sotanghon and canton.

Cooking with my elders is what inspired me to follow the path that I’m on as a chef. My fondest childhood memories are being in the kitchen with my grandmothers, making things like lumpia, pancit, bibingka, barquillos, palitao and polvoron. It was fun to taste in stages, get a little messy with ingredients like rice flour and get to see the end product. I think the biggest gratification for me in that entire process was watching people eat something I made, and smile with delight.”

Cory Armenta
Chef de Cuisine
The Catamount, Los Gatos

“The holidays have always meant spending time with family and sharing stories, our culture and recipes.

I’ve always felt I had the best of both worlds because of my California-Mexican and French-English mixed heritage. We roast turkey and prime rib at one holiday gathering, and sit around the kitchen table together making tamales at another. A pot of pork chile verde is always simmering on the stove. Getting to experience both traditions and create dishes that are familiar, yet approachable, has made me the chef I am today, and it is definitely something I bring to The Catamount in Los Gatos.”

Get the recipe for the Armenta Family Slow-Cooked Pork Chile Verde

Ross Hanson
Oak & Rye, Los Gatos

“It wouldn’t be Christmas for me without Great-Grandmother Aagot’s Cranberry Christmas pudding. This is a dessert rooted in her Scandinavian and English heritage and she always served it warm with a butter and sugar sauce. As a boy, I can remember watching her make it. After she passed away, my Grandmother Joan took up the torch and later passed it on to Aunt Barbara.

I didn’t want this family tradition to ever get lost, so I asked Aunt Barbara for the recipe. She gave it to me one Christmas as a gift, along with the perfect Bundt pan to make it in. I’m the fourth generation of family members making this dessert each year, and it always brings back memories of the excitement of Christmas and, of course, of the long line of cooks who made this pudding our family tradition.”

Get the recipe for Aagot's Christmas Cranberry Pudding

Yu Min Lin
Executive Chef
The Sea by Alexander’s Steakhouse, Palo Alto

“I didn’t grow up eating roasted turkey but our traditional dinners for Western holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas are influenced by my Chinese heritage. We prepare a Soy-Glazed Roast Turkey and serve it with traditional Taiwanese sticky rice on the side. We also celebrate Chinese New Year and that’s when we cook more traditional Chinese food like daikon radish cake and sweet rice cake. We are lucky to enjoy the best food in both cultures on different holidays!”

Get the recipe for Lin's Family's Soy-Glazed Roasted Turkey.

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