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Chefs confess to turkey-free Thanksgivings

L to r: Chefs Susan Feniger, Bill Telepan and Eric Ripert all say no to the traditional holiday entree.
L to r: Chefs Susan Feniger, Bill Telepan and Eric Ripert all say no to the traditional holiday entree.AP file, Getty file

By Krista Simmons, TODAY contributor

Though turkey may have been the center of Norman Rockwell's classic Thanksgiving painting, many chefs prefer not to serve a bird at their holiday table. 

Some, like Le Bernardin's Eric Ripert, opt out because they think the taste of the giant fowl is, well, foul. Others, like Susan Feniger, prefer a vegetarian feast for both ethical and logistical reasons.

Feniger, a “Top Chef Masters” competitor and owner of Street in Los Angeles, has prepared a vegetarian feast for friends and family – around 30 of them, in fact – for the past four years. “I don't think one person misses the turkey,” she said. “Thanksgiving really is all about the sides, and I kind of go overboard. We do some traditional dishes, like mashed potatoes with butter and sour cream, and then some fun stuff like yams with ginger lime and honey.”

According to Google, searches for vegan Thanksgivings are up 35 percent, so it should come as no surprise that chefs like Feniger opt for a meat-free holiday table as well. Instead of serving Tofurkey, Feniger just amps up the quantity of fixin's, making sure there a few globally-inspired dishes with lentils or beans on the table. 

Chef Bill Telepan, who owns an eponymous restaurant in New York, agrees with Feniger in her statement that fixin's are the best part of the holiday meal. When it comes to the protein, Telepan prefers to go with game meat like venison that's indicative of the autumn season. 

Telepan isn't the only one dabbling in game meats and off-cuts during the holidays, though. Dale Talde, “Top Chef” alum and owner of three popular New York area restaurants, fondly remembers his family's unconventional yet endearing Thanksgiving meals.

“I’m a first-generation Filipino-American, and turkey just isn’t a Filipino thing,” Talde said. “There was always oxtail stew, stir-fried noodles, wonton soup. We did catch on to the Thanksgiving ham and my mom did it well — I think it’s because of the deep Filipino love of all things pork.” 

Talde says he'll be cooking a ham or rib roast for this year's feast. 

David LeFevre of James Beard Award-nominated MB Post will be hosting an-ever-so-SoCal seafood boil at his home in Manhattan Beach, replete with lobster, king crabs, and killer wine. The spread will be served on a table covered with newspaper overlooking the Pacific. “It should be 72 degrees and clear skies,” he said. “I'm really looking forward to spending more time with the family and watching some football.” 

Cheers to that.

Krista Simmons is a Los Angeles-based multimedia journalist. Follow her on Twitter. 

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