Holiday Meal Tips from Utah’s Best Chefs

Ever heard the term ‘busman’s holiday’? The old phrase dates from the 1880s, and refers to a bus-driver whose vacation involves driving to their holiday destination. That’s what the holiday season is like for chefs. The holidays are a crazy time—chefs’ concentration and culinary imaginations are focused on one of the busiest seasons of the year, making sure all their clientele have a delicious and merry holiday. Cooking, cooking, cooking. But what about a chef’s holiday at home? It’s also based on cooking, cooking, cooking. How is this a holiday? We wondered, so we asked local chefs: Once the restaurant cooking frenzy is over, do you just feel like ordering a pizza for the festive at-home holiday meal? Do you bring home leftovers? Or is it Netflix and chill?


Spencer’s Steak & Chops
255 S. West Temple,

Chef Sebastian Lowery 

“Sometimes the holiday season in a restaurant can become a problem, not a joy,” says Chef Sebastian Lowery. Because Spencer’s is a hotel restaurant, it stays open through every holiday. “And more people are going out for their holiday dinners,” says Lowery. “Thanksgiving and Christmas are two of our busiest days. I think some families think there will be less drama if they’re eating in public. But my experience is everyone brings the same baggage to the restaurant dinner that they bring to the family table. And often take their frustration out on the servers.” So Lowery tries to do something special for the restaurant staff for the holidays. He buys a giant turkey and serves all the same special dishes the restaurant guests are eating. As for his family Thanksgiving, it’s celebrated the next day.  At Christmas, Chef takes the day off for a quick trip home to visit his big Italian family. “My mother, the youngest of eight children in a family with roots in Abruzzo, always served traditional American turkey for holiday dinners,” remembers Lowery. “But she also always made lasagne.” And still does.

350 Main
350 Main St., Park City,

Chef Matthew Safranek

We’re closed on Thanksgiving,” says Safranek. “It’s the last hurrah before the season starts and the restaurant will be open seven days a week for the next few months.” 350 Main is even open Christmas Day. So that’s a non-starter. So Safranek makes his Thanksgiving holiday a holiday first and foremost,gathering together a Friendsgiving of friends and restaurant workers—usually feeding 8 to 12 people. It’s casual—sometimes people have to bring their own chairs, says Safranek. “I keep it pretty traditional, but mainly I keep it low-key. I’m not shy about taking shortcuts—this is my day off and I don’t want to be stressing out in the kitchen all day.” Safranek cooks a turkey (“the smallest I can find; I don’t want leftovers,” he says.) but he also does a beef rib roast. He likes those leftovers. Although he loves baking and has won prizes for his pies—open-topped and top-crusted—he buys his pies for Thanksgiving, often from Smith’s. At the restaurant, his kitchen bakes their own bread, cuts their own fries, makes the pasta in house. But at home for Thanksgiving, Safranek makes the traditional green bean casserole, complete with all the shortcuts—canned cream of mushroom soup and Durkees canned fried onion rings. “I usually make a cranberry chutney but I also always have the canned cranberry jelly that you push out and keeps its canned shape. Everyone remembers that from their childhood Thanksgivings and it’s visually comforting.”  “My whole goal is for it to be an easy, restful day. I want to serve a solid meal but don’t want anything to destroy the peace of the day with elaborate preparations.”

Hearth on 25th
195 25th St #6,

Chefs Ann and AJ Hubbard

“The restaurant isn’t open on Thanksgiving,” says AJ. “But it is open for Thanksgiving dinners to-go the day before.” Last year, 150 people came to pick up their dinner the day before Turkey Day. (If you’re interested, check out the website.) “So, basically, we bring leftovers to Thanksgiving dinner with the family. We’re fortunate to have an extended family that loves to cook and is good at it.” The restaurant’s big business is off-premise catering at the holidays, so staying open for Christmas Day is counter-productive. Hearth on 25th is closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day. “We do a big pairing dinner New Year’s Eve, then we sleep all New Year’s Day. Then we go to Mexico,” he says. Because of Shana’s Jewish heritage, the big celebration is Hanukkah, which the couple celebrates at home, so there is some flexibility as to which night to cook. For one of the eight nights, AJ cooks a lamb shank from Cross Quarter Circle Ranch and, of course makes latkes to go with it. “I put in leeks and thyme then fry them in a cast-iron skillet in orange-infused olive oil.” Hearth carries an exclusive selection of flavored oils and vinegars. House-made gravlax is served with sour cream, pomegranate and grapefruit drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette serves as salad. Homemade challah is made into bread pudding with caramel and apples.

22 E. 100 South #200, SLC,

Chef Ed Heath 

“The trend is for families to eat out more on holidays,” says Ed Heath, chef at Martine. “We used to go out, too, when we lived in Napa.” But that changed when he took charge at Martine. “For a little while, the combination of work and home holidays resulted in a totally overworked sense. We felt we were so pushed.” But family traditions changed. “Our family—both sides—love to cook. So a  bunch of amazing family cooks, including some chefs, would cook for us. Instead of eating a traditional meal, we reinvent old favorites, like from-scratch green bean casserole. We adapt an amazing salad on the Martine menu: Little Gem lettuce made an hour or so before with blue cheese, a variation on a soaked salad. Jenny’s family is in Illinois, so there are Midwestern dishes like Granny’s corn casserole (green chilies, eggs, bread crumbs, whole kernel corn), gooey butter cake and toasted ravioli.” And, says Heath, the family incorporates some really odd traditions: “ I love Stouffers Stove Top stuffing,” he admits. “It’s one of my favorite childhood memories.”

Harbor Seafood & Steak Co.
2302 Parleys Way, SLC,

Chef Justin Jacobsen

“We—Harbor co-owner Randall Curtis and I— agreed from the beginning that we would not open the restaurant on holidays, but reserve that for time with family or to volunteer our time. Randall spends much of Thanksgiving and Christmas Day at the women’s shelter,” says Harbor Chef Justin Jacobsen. “Yes, we miss out on business but we feel personal time is worth it.” Christmas Eve, however, is sold out. “We run about ten special dishes that time of year,” says Jacobsen. “We always offer cassoulet, a hearty French bean and sausage casserole, and we usually do something special with tuna—it’s a meaty fish that has the heft of beef without the fat.” Holidays mean long hours for employees and Jacobsen and Curtis emphasize the importance of staff meals. “We sit down and eat together every day.” As for holidays at home, “I don’t cook myself. We alternate spending holidays with my family and my girlfriend’s family. She’s a good cook—she brines the turkey and cooks it in a bag with butter under the skin, and gets creative with the stuffing.” Often, people feel uncomfortable cooking for a chef, but it’s not the food that matters, it’s the act of cooking for someone.

165 W. 900 South, SLC,

Chef Jennifer Gilroy

Jennifer Gilroy, chef-owner of Meditrina, has a simple attitude towards the holiday season: “I don’t give up my own personal holiday for the business. Every year, we get more and more phone calls from people wanting reservations for Thanksgiving or Christmas. But there’s no dollar sign you can put on time with your family.” Last year, as her personal thanksgiving after a health scare, she did open the restaurant for the holiday—but only to her family. Grandparents, brothers-in-law, nieces, siblings all gathered for a big feast. “I always do a brined turkey, but last year I bought a whole picnic ham from Beltex Meats and brined it too.” It was, she recalled, over the top. Gilroy also roasts Brussels sprouts with browned butter, roasted hazelnuts and a pomegranate demi-glace. But not every year is so elaborate. “Some of my favotite Thanksgivings have been spent at Stein Eriksen’s,” she says. “Zane’s [Chef Zane Holmquist] mashed potatoes and gravy is amazing.” We change things up every year, Gilroy says. “What is that Emerson quote? ‘Foolish consistency is the hobgoblins of little minds’? If I feel obligated to do the same rote thing every year, I don’t enjoy it.”

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Mary Brown Malouf
Mary Brown Malouf
Mary Brown Malouf is the late Executive Editor of Salt Lake magazine and Utah's expert on local food and dining. She still does not, however, know how to make a decent cup of coffee.

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