We asked Chattanooga chefs about their favorite memories of holiday meals and how those memories shape their restaurants’ holiday menus today.
Michael Price, Whitebird at The Edwin Hotel
whitebirdchattanooga.com | Growing up, for Thanksgiving, my favorite thing was turkey and dressing, which was cornbread stuffing. What I enjoyed about it most was leftovers. At one point, I’d make turkey and dressing sandwiches with white bread and Duke’s mayo. Then, I’d run out of turkey and just make a dressing sandwich. I never thought about it until one day someone said, “You know you’re just eating a bread sandwich.” I looked at stuffing as its own food group.
Since Whitebird is doing modern Appalachian food, I will be trying to trigger food memories, where you give people things they understand from the area, from their childhood. There’s nothing wrong with serving a green bean that’s been slow cooked in bacon fat and fatback — instead of haricots verts that are crunchy and haven’t really been cooked and they’ve just got a little bit of garlic on them. It’s good if people think, “I can’t believe these are like the green beans my grandmother made.” For Thanksgiving, we’ll also add things from the dishes that were more than likely at first Thanksgiving, like venison. Maybe a dish using duck, quail, or rabbit.
Nathan Lindley, Public House
publichousechattanooga.com | My grandmother on my mother’s side was famous for her stuffing and would cover the dining table with bread for days, letting it dry before stuffing the turkey. That’s a fond memory.
At Public House, we have done savory bread puddings that would follow that technique: the drying of bread and then incorporating some moisture into it. We would call it a bread pudding, even though it’s savory not sweet. It’s kind of the same thing. It’s the same preparation technique. The ones that have been most popular have also featured local mushrooms. We also did one that used cornbread and featured crawfish.
Our menu changes seasonally, but really all year I think people come to Public House for the food they would like to cook at home but probably don’t have the time or the expertise or the access to the same quality of ingredients.
Enrique Matute, Puckett's
puckettsgro.com/chattanooga | Holiday meals were very important to me as a kid. That’s when everybody gets together, the family that you haven’t seen for days or months or years. Everybody is really excited — that’s happiness. At Christmas, I remember my family making roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, and gravy. The smell of roasted chicken coming out of the oven — I will never forget that.
Being a chef for me, especially when it gets close to holidays, is really exciting because we’re going to put some smiles on people’s faces. We’re going to make people happy for that day, even if they have the problems that everybody has. On that special day, my main concern is to make everything special. We put everything together to make that happen.
For the holidays, people love our cornbread dressing, our green bean casserole, and we just keep making and making our mashed sweet potato casserole. Those three are the big ones.
The original version of this article first appeared in a previous edition of our Magazine.