9 Phoenix Chefs Share Their Biggest Thanksgiving Cooking Disasters

From burned turkey to lumpy mashed potatoes, there are plenty ways to ruin Thanksgiving dinner. And when you're a chef, the stakes are even higher. You cook for a living, and the expectations will be great. But the truth is chefs are just like the rest of us, and believe it or not, even they have messed up a dish (or two).

From bloody stuffing to outcooking your mother, here are the Thanksgiving dinner disasters Phoenix chefs have had to endure.

What's your biggest Thanksgiving cooking disaster?

Cullen Campbell of Crudo and Okra
Cullen Campbell of Crudo and Okra
Evie Carpenter

Cullen Campbell, chef/co-owner of Crudo and Okra Cookhouse & Cocktails

I was baking a cake the night before Thanksgiving one year and had too many beers. To make a long story short, I passed out and burned the cake.

Robert Nixon of Geordie's at the Wrigley MansionEXPAND
Robert Nixon of Geordie's at the Wrigley Mansion
Lauren Saria

Robert Nixon, chef at Geordie’s Steak at the Wrigley Mansion

One year, my aunt left the gizzards inside the turkey. She also put stuffing inside the raw turkey and then cooked it all together. The outside was a nice golden brown, but the stuffing was blood-soaked and filled with raw gizzards. It turned out to be more like Halloween than Thanksgiving.

Bob Tam of Bitter & TwistedEXPAND
Bob Tam of Bitter & Twisted
Lauren Saria

Bob Tam, executive chef at Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlor 

Wasn’t so much a disaster, but one year while I was still in culinary school, I decided to challenge myself and make a turducken for my girlfriend’s family, with all the trimmings. I’ve never seen nor made one before, and back then, there was no Internet, so I was completely in the dark. I slowly . . . patiently . . .  agonizingly figured out. Twelve hours later, I served it and my girlfriend’s dad’s reaction: ”Oh, that’s easy.” Needless to say, I never made another a turducken again.

Jacques Qualin
Jacques Qualin
Nikki Buchanan

Jacques Qualin, chef of J&G Steakhouse 

Luckily for me, the closest we’ve come to a true Thanksgiving disaster is one time we were a little short on staff, which is always tricky on such a big dining holiday. But our staff is a bunch of pros, and they handled it well. That said, I think every chef has had the haunting nightmare of not ordering enough turkeys and running out.

Brian Konefal of Coppa CafeEXPAND
Brian Konefal of Coppa Cafe
Lauren Saria

Brian Konefal, chef/owner at Coppa Cafe

I have a huge family, so every Thanksgiving is nearly a disaster. It is the one day to get together, do nothing but be with each other and eat. What a day. I think the only Thanksgiving disaster I had was when I had to work them in San Francisco. I just kept thinking, why don't these people go eat turkey somewhere else!

Brian Archibald
Brian Archibald
Lauren Saria

Brian Archibald, executive chef of The Boulders Resort & Spa

Many years [ago] in a resort I was in charge of a Thanksgiving buffet for 1,200 people. It was my first big event (coming from always running fine dining restaurants). So basically halfway through the RSVPs, we ran out of turkeys, so I had to drive around picking up turkeys from my chef friends to get us through the day! It was terrible and we were all scrambling so the guests wouldn’t notice.

Rick Phillips, owner/menu development at Bootleggers

Attempting a bad brine … Can’t remember what was in it that I thought at the time would be clever and delicious. FAIL!

Christopher Gross of Christopher's and Crush Lounge
Christopher Gross of Christopher's and Crush Lounge
Evie Carpenter

Christopher Gross, chef at Christopher’s and Crush Lounge

One time I made a sous vide turkey that everyone ended up liking better than my mom’s. I’m not allowed to cook turkey anymore — mom’s orders!

Chysa Robertson of Rnacho Pinot
Chysa Robertson of Rnacho Pinot
Evie Carpenter

Chrysa Robertson, Chef/Owner of Rancho Pinot

My family had a house in San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico, from 1973 til the mid-1990s. Our first Thanksgiving down there, my mom wanted to still do a traditional meal. She brought a turkey down and put it in the oven early in the morning like she always did (we eat at mid\day). After about an hour, she's in the kitchen cursing, smoke pouring from the oven. "What the hell is going on??!?" My brother walks in, looks at the temperature dial, says, "Mother. This oven is Celsius. You are incinerating this turkey at nearly twice the temperature it should be." Then he calmly calculates a conversion chart for the oven and tapes it to the cabinet. The turkey was edible, but extra crispy. The next day, we brought the leftovers to the shack near the beach where the family lived that rented horses. Our idea was to give them to the poor scrawny dogs hanging around there. As we were getting ready to leave, my sister comes running yelling "Mom!! Those guys are eating the turkey skeleton we brought for the dogs!" Sure enough, the family was behind their shack, picking that carcass clean. A memorable lesson about poverty, generosity, and kindness was had that day.


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