Welcome to Chow Bella's Bites & Dishes, where Valley chefs and restaurateurs respond to a question New Times food critic Laura Hahnefeld has on her mind. Have a question you'd like to ask? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Miss a question? Go here.
Holiday cooking catastrophes are nothing new, but when you're in the restaurant business, they can be doubly disastrous.
This week, Valley chefs and restaurateurs share their holiday cooking horror stories and let us know how they recovered from them.
Chef Taylor Domet, North, Kierland
Five years ago, I was working at a resort restaurant and let my executive chef help me with a Christmas event -- a plated dinner for 120 people. He said, "I'll take care of the chickens." Ten minutes before plating, he left for the night and I assumed he did what he said. The first five plates we sent out came back with undercooked chicken. It was almost a disaster. We managed to bring the chickens up to temperature and execute by the skin of our teeth! Lesson: Always double-check your misé en placé -- even if the executive chef prepped it himself!
Silvana Salcido Esparza, Chef and Owner, Barrio Cafe and Barrio Queen
My biggest cooking screw-up was Christmas 1991. I was starting a new catering project, and it was my first paying gig. My staff was on site, but I got stuck at a train crossing and I had the food. I got there 15 minutes late and the host had already ordered Domino's. My staff and I went home, with hundreds of dollars worth of shrimp and finger foods, and had our own party. The following day, I signed up for culinary school in Scottsdale. To this day, I have a phobia about being late for catered events.
Chef Michael Racioppi, Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel
This year we brined the turkey in Dr Pepper, black sea salt, and brown sugar, resulting in a purple turkey. Yikes! We fixed the turkey by adding extra gravy to disguise the blooper.
Chef Chris Mayo, North Fattoria Italiana
The first time I cooked a holiday dinner for my family, I tried to replicate my grandmother's sweet potato and apples dish. It never came out right and I ended up making three separate trips to the grocery store to buy more stuff. Finally, I gave up and had my mom come over early to walk me through it.
Chef Stephen Jones Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails
One year I passed out (after drinking lots of wine) and forgot the turkey in the oven. I woke up a couple hours later to a smoked-out house. After that, it was a scramble. Burritos, anyone?
Chef Christopher Nicosia, Sassi
Letting my wife cook a holiday meal. Maybe she purposely sabotaged herself so she would never have to cook a holiday meal again. It worked!
Chef Michael O'Dowd, Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel
One year, my wife was cooking dinner for our guests, and I saw what could be a potentially undercooked turkey. Intervention! I made a quick call to de-bone the turkey and finished it on the mesquite grill. Best turkey ever! And, of course, my wife got the well-deserved credit!
Josh Hebert, Chef and Owner, Posh
About five years ago, I made a batch of about 500 tamales without any salt. I just completely forgot to put salt in the batter. I fixed it by explaining it to the people I made them for and not charging them. They were good sports about it.
Joe Johnston, Owner, Joe's Real BBQ, Joe's Fresh Farm Grill, Liberty Market, Agritopia
We like to use the smoked turkey breast from Joe's Real BBQ and just reheat it on Thanksgiving Day. It's always moist and easy to carve. The first time we did it, we used the pan juices to make gravy, which ended up tasting like cigarette gravy due to the smoking. We rushed, got prepackaged chicken stock, and remade the gravy.
Chef Chris Knouse, Litchfield's at The Wigwam
I mis-measured a brine recipe for turkey. The final product was a little salty, so we served it with a bland gravy. That seemed to go over well.
Jon Lane Owner, O.H.S.O.
I burnt an apple pie so I deconstructed it, placed the filling in Ball jars, and completed as individual crumbles.
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SHOW ME HOW
Chef Stephen "Chops" Smith, Searsucker Scottsdale
I've blocked it out of my mind, and I don't appreciate you dredging up the past.