My mom had this deal going with the neighborhood,” Chef Henry explains, “On Monday all the neighborhood kids would go to our house for lunch after school, on Tuesday it was Mrs. Finley’s, and so on, so each would only have to cook once a week.”
Crowded tables were the norm in the Henry household—which consisted of Chef Henry’s grandparents, parents, and his three brothers. Sunday dinner meant the entire family crammed around the dining room table, breaking bread together. Brown bread, to be exact—an Irish staple, made fresh and best served warm, slathered in rich golden butter.
For Chef Henry, the holidays conjure up memories of his mother baking the Christmas turkey, but the showstopper was her signature stuffing, made from bakery fresh Batch loaf bread— soft and pillowy inside, crispy on the top “My mom would send me to the store to get the Batch loaf, I’d come back and she’d say ‘where is the batch loaf?’” he laughs. “Then she’d realize, I ate it on the way back. It was that good. Warm and fresh.”
Fast forward to 2020—the year that turned life for everyone-- especially chefs—on its head. Like so many, Chef Henry has been home since March, trading in his industrial kitchen at the Loews Chicago Hotel for his home kitchen, where a bustling dinner service is non-existent. A concept Chef Henry holds dear—that feeding others motivates his cooking—is harder than ever to execute. As the executive chef for Loews, his normally jammed schedule came to a screeching halt. Like many, the prospect of days, weeks, months out of the restaurant kitchen seemed impossible. He devised a game plan to navigate these uncertain times.
“One thing a day,” he pledged. “It doesn’t matter what it is. I make things. I build things. One thing that helps move us forward.” Finding a bright spot in a trying time, Chef Henry has used his “one thing a day” approach to explore new recipes and cooking styles, plant a full vegetable garden, dabble in the world of craft cocktails (like his Reverse Sphere Deconstructed Bloody Mary, but that’s a story for another day.)
Which leads us to the holidays—a time for gathering, a time for sharing, a time for raising a glass and breaking bread—together. The things we love about the holidays have us questioning what the holidays can—and will— look like this year. Large gatherings around a communal table may not in the cards this year. What does that mean for the traditional holiday meal? And can we still find a way to partake in our beloved traditions?
These are particularly complicated questions for chefs whose busy season may be non-existent this year. That’s why we—along with Chef Henry—suggest a silver lining in these wildly different times: Go big—but on a small scale. If this year has taught us anything, it’s to question our norms, and think outside the box. To Pivot. So use this holiday season to do just that.
If you’re a chef who—possibly for the first time in your professional life—will be able to cook your holiday meals in the comfort of your home, this is your year to pick up a new culinary skill. Stretch your culinary muscles. Switch up your Thanksgiving fowl by experimenting with duck, Cornish hens, or pheasant. Try a different cooking method too (Spatchcock duck, anyone? Beer can pheasant?). Maybe Christmas dinner is your perfect opportunity to finally master sous vide. For savory chefs, reach outside your comfort zone to hone your baking skills and wow your family with a souffle or crème brulee.
Your home kitchen is now your test kitchen. Use the few people you will be dining with as your test audience. Box up extras for your neighbors, if you only cook on a large scale. You’ll be the most popular person on the block!
Chef Henry shares some inspiration from his own holiday menu— Yes, including his classic Brown Bread (a dish you should add to your repertoire immediately), and a nod to his Irish heritage. Use this starter as a jumping off point to create your ultimate holiday feast.
Smoked Salmon with Cilantro Avocado Crema on Brown Bread Toast
Irish Brown Bread
4 cups Wheat Flour
3 tbsp. Sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. Baking Soda
2 tsp. Baking Powder
1½ cups Buttermilk
2 tbsp. Butter, melted
Combine flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in buttermilk and butter. Stir until blended (lumps are OK). Knead dough on a floured board approx. 10 times, or until it holds together. Form dough into a large ball, push down slightly and place it on a lightly greased baking sheet. Cut a deep cross in the top. Bake at to 400°F for 40 minutes, or until it tests done.
Cilantro Avocado Crema
2 large ripe Avocados, halved and pitted
5 sprigs Cilantro, finely chopped
¾ cup Greek Yogurt
¼ cup MINOR’S® Culinary Cream
Recommended layers: Avocado, Red Onion, Capers, Poached Egg, Tomato, Chives, Cilantro
Butter the toasted brown bread. Top in this order: tomatoes, salmon, avocado, red ion, capers, chives, dust with smoked paprika. Top with poached egg and Hollandaise. Season to taste with salt and pepper as you layer.
We love this dish because it is an ideal canvas to start out with classic ingredients and flavor profiles, and make it your own.
If this hasn’t been your year, make this your rebuilding year. Hone your skills, put a few new tools in your belt, try a technique that is outside your comfort zone. End this year with a new perspective and an arsenal of new dishes to share with enthusiastic diners.
As for your chef friends here at Minor’s, we’re still cooking, and we’re still just a phone call away. To spark your creativity, reach out to us. We’re here for you.