When it comes to turkey, Webster is a dark meat fan. But for the holiday he knows the whole turkey is an important part of tradition. In fact, he brings the gorgeous golden turkey to the table whole, then takes it back to the kitchen for carving, then presents it again.
“My daughter looks at me like, ‘Hey Dad, when can we eat?’ ” he says with a laugh.
Webster used to slip just butter under the skin of the turkey before roasting it. But after four years working for chef Michael Schwartz at Michael’s Genuine in the Design District, he learned a lot about fresh ingredients, including all sorts of herbs.
So now he tucks butter as well as fresh thyme, rosemary and sage under the skin of the turkey before roasting it at 325 degrees for as long as the cooking instructions on the package direct. “Just smelling the herbs makes me think of the season,” he says.
He recommends buying 1 pound of raw turkey per person. “This allows for seconds and plenty of leftovers, which really are the best part of Thanksgiving,” he says.
He also suggests roasting two small birds instead of one large one if you are feeding a crowd. That way the cooking time is less and you’ll have plenty of drumsticks, white meat and crisp skin to go around.
For a side dish, he tosses crisp green beans in a rich mixture of reduced heavy cream and Parmesan cheese. Then he tops it with the de rigueur fried onion bits. “It’s a new spin on a very identifiable dish — green bean casserole,” he says.
For another side dish, try roasting a Seminole pumpkin. Webster opts for this variety because it is a Florida native enjoyed by the Indians and early European settlers. He gets his pumpkin fresh from a Homestead farm, following his farm-to-table philosophy.
“I believe in buying as local and as sustainable as possible. Not just for the good of the environment but because it tastes better,” he says.
If you can’t find a Seminole pumpkin, use whatever type is available at your market.
Webster cubes it and then sprinkles it with plenty of fresh sage, rosemary and thyme, ground allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg as well as a sprinkling of brandy.
He tosses the roasted pumpkin with melted white chocolate that adds a velvety texture and just a hint of sweetness, then garnishes it with toasted almonds. It reminds him of a savory sweet potato pie.
For dessert, pastry chef Whalan offers a recipe for pecan pie with the addition of chocolate and a subtle touch of allspice.
“It puts a real holiday spin on this traditional pie,” says Whalan, who not only makes pastries for the café but has his own bakery business, Avant-Garde Cakes & Sweets.
This year, Thanksgiving is particularly important to Webster, who will cook dinner for his family, enjoy leftovers in sandwiches and, most of all, give thanks.
“This holiday we’ll stop and look over our shoulders and think about that Toys for Tots truck and think about living from hand to mouth, which we did for a while. But now I’m in a good place where I don’t have to be afraid,” he says. “The electricity is on.”