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Chef's Choice: Richard Samaniego

Plan ahead for Thanksgiving dinner



The key to a smooth sailing Thanksgiving dinner is not an expensive top-of-the-line turkey, or cranberries picked by hand, or a smorgasbord of sweet temptations.

The trick, from the man who helped feed more than 350 at last years Thanksgiving dinner, is to "plan ahead."

Don't be running to Nesters the day of, madly tossing vegetables in your cart. Don't go begging for the last tin of cranberry sauce. Don't vow never "to cook for this many people again."

You can do this: you just need a little bit of faith, and a lot of organization.

Chef Richard Samaniego, the executive sous chef at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, who overseas all food at the Fairmont's properties — in house dining, the Wildflower, the clubhouse, Portobello, the Mallard Lounge — said the trick to a getting it all warm on the table all at the same time is not to leave it all to the last minute.

Peel the potatoes a few days ahead and store them in water in the fridge. Get your veggies cleaned and prepped a day or two in advance. And if you're doing a statement piece, like the Fairmont's Cranberry chutney, that too can be done in advance and pulled out of the fridge with relish (zest, not the condiment) to the delight of your guests. (See related recipe).

When it comes to the piece de la resistance of the meal — the bird itself — make sure you don't overcook it in your zeal to cook it well.

"Overcooked turkey is the worst," said Samaniego. "It just gets dry."

Don't be shy with the butter. Baste it right under the skin.

Samaniego uses a meat thermometer to gauge his turkey — done between 150-155.

"It needs to rest for about 20 minutes before you go diving in to carve it," said Samaniego. "It makes for a juicier turkey."

Still, what makes Thanksgiving dinner really special is sharing it others.

Samaniego hails from a big family in New Mexico, growing up on farms and ranches.

"I've been around food my entire life, from the dirt to the table," he said.

He came to Whistler via the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn in California three years ago.

He has the added bonus of celebrating Thanksgiving twice — first in Canada and then a few weeks later the American version.

"For me it's about family," he said. "It's about cooking with your friends and your family and getting together and having that kind of get together that you normally don't do for the rest of the year."

And as a chef, he can't help but embrace the fact that Thanksgiving is that first official statement at the dinner table that the summer is gone and fall is here to be embraced and celebrated.

He's tired of looking at tomatoes. He welcomes the pumpkins and the parsnips and the cranberries and the Brussels sprouts and those fall spices like rosemary and sage.

"It's really a time to be able to highlight the products and the food that you typically think of as winter," he said.

Of course, if that all seems a bit overwhelming Samaniego can lend a helping hand. He's just a phone call away.

You can pre-order Thanksgiving Dinner — Turkey To Go — at the Fairmont.

The menu includes: slow roasted organic B.C. turkey, Chef Vincent Stufano's traditional stuffing, baked yams and butter whipped potatoes, roasted Pemberton valley root vegetables with thyme and maple syrup, pan gravy and sugar pumpkin pie with whipped cream.

It costs $195 plus taxes and its serves six to eight people.

Turkey to Go orders will be accepted until Oct. 12 at 11 a.m.

Best of all, you can take all the credit!

So "plan ahead" and store this number in your phone 604-938-8000 ext. 2018.

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