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What's Up Magazine

Chef’s Secrets

Nov 02, 2012 07:48PM ● By Anonymous

Choosing a Menu

Stick to recipes you know and are special to you. Every holiday since I can remember we have made my great-grandmother’s sauerkraut. It is an old family recipe that we’ve passed down for years. The sauerkraut simmers for two hours, and the secret is to boil it with a pork chop, apple, and onion. In my opinion, it is perfect for a family brunch, especially when you can pair it with a juicy pork chop.

Brigitte Bledsoe
Executive Chef, Miss Shirley’s, Annapolis

Do a buffet for New Year’s Eve. If you’re hosting a party, guests may likely be coming and going and eating at all hours of the night. An inexpensive way make a home buffet feasible is to buy disposable chafing dishes at the grocery store or most dollar stores.

Ian Douglass
Executive Chef, Old Stein Inn, Edgewater

Prepare a menu that is elegant, but also simple when it comes time to serve.  Planning ahead will allow you to relax and have fun with your family and friends.

Jodi Hair
Owner, Relysh Catering, Annapolis

Don’t get caught up in the “Food Network” hype and either attempt difficult recipes for the first time or ones that utilize techniques that are new to you for that big day. Professional chefs constantly work on dishes well in advance of them ever reaching a customer in the restaurant (having endured failures and adjustments). To think that you should be able to duplicate a dish on your very first try, when it took an entire “behind the scenes” kitchen may hours to prepare, is a perfect example of setting oneself up for failure. Be honest in assessing your culinary limitations and realize that your family will appreciate the calming effect it brings to the kitchen! /p>

David Kidwell
Executive Chef, Metropolitan Kitchen and Lounge, Annapolis

Cook things you know you like. People are always curious about whether “this will match with that.” If you have three things you know you like, and you mix them together, you’re probably still going to like it. But if you don’t like onions, you’re probably not going to be able to cook something fantastic with onions.

Alfredo Malinas
Executive Chef, Level, Annapolis

Put items on your menu that are chilled or stored at room temperature. This will allow you to not heat the house and spend more time with your guests. If food is cooking, your attention will most likely be in the kitchen not with the friends and family you have invited. Also, make time for your guests on your itinerary. Once your meal is planned, prepare some dishes the day before, save simple things to be done the day of the party, which will give you more time to be with your friends and family.

Joseph Misero
Executive Chef, Rod N Reel, Chesapeake Beach

Balance your dishes. When I say this, I mean make a balance of hot, cold, easy, and hard dishes. You don’t want guests showing up waiting around for your turducken. Have some salads, have some sides, do some hors d’oeuvres, and then knock them out with the main dish. Multiple dishes will keep people eating, happy, and everything will fall into place as a great event.

Justin Moore
Chef, Vin909 Winecafé, Eastport

Use a fresh ham. I’m not a fan of the spiral hams. But, much like a turkey, you can also brine a fresh ham. A little bit of sugar and salt, you can do some fresh herbs in there, too. Brine it at least a day, though two days would be great.

Brian Murnane
Executive Chef, Ruth’s Chris, Eastport

When it comes to the main entree, I like to serve slow cooked meats. That way, I can do it early in the morning and forget about it for the rest of the day. Last year I did Braised Beef Short Ribs with Sautéed Garlic Kale and Herb Roasted Fingerling Potatoes. While I started the short ribs in the morning, I chopped the kale and sliced the fingerlings. Thirty minutes before serving, I added the potatoes to the oven (I always add tons of fresh herbs to the potatoes), so they were ready at the same time as the short ribs, and then I cooked the kale at the last minute. For me, the holidays are all about food and family. I like to spend as much time enjoying the company, so I try to stay organized.

Joseph Tis
Executive Chef, Paladar Latin Kitchen and Rum Bar, Annapolis

Don’t be afraid to try something new. Pick a recipe that you feel comfortable with and give it a try. Nothing too complicated; it’s food and it should be fun, not stressful.

Geoff Williams
Executive Chef, The Main Ingredient, Annapolis

Somebody always makes turkey, it’s tradition, but I do seafood for an appetizer—I get a bushel of oysters, go outside, and turn the grill on. When they open up, squeeze a lemon on it and a little blue cheese, you can’t get any easier then that. The cheese melts right on the oyster; it has great flavor.

Marc Chew
Owner, Marcoritaville Tiki Bar and American Grille, St. Michaels

I love to make a huge pot of seasonal soup for the holidays. You can prepare it a day or two ahead and slowly reheat it the day of. It has so many advantages: You can free up some of your time by making it in advance, so you can interact with your family and guests; you can feed many people, either as a first course with a great loaf of bread, or you can pass it in demitasse cups as an amuse; and it gives you an opportunity to use fun, seasonal ingredients, or prepare a family favorite. Not to mention it can be a great accompaniment to that turkey sandwich you will probably be having for lunch the next day.

David Clark
Owner, 208 Talbot, St. Michaels

[When making duck] I suggest the White Pekin duck, grown in Long Island, for its meaty breasts, consistency, and fatty skin. I’ve even seen it sold in regular grocery stores. I like to roast the whole duck starting at 400 degrees for about 20 or so minutes, and then reduce the heat to 350 for an hour. This time will soften up the tough legs. Cook the duck over chopped up carrot, celery and onion. You can then add flour to the pan and chicken stock to make home-cooked gravy. Strain the sauce removing the roasted vegetables to serve.

Andrew Evans
Owner, The BBQ Joint, Easton

Cook what you like. You cook what you like the best. I hate sweet potatoes, so I don’t make a sweet potato casserole because how would I know what it should taste like?

Patrick Fanning
Owner, The High Spot, Cambridge

Keep the hors d’oeuvres light, such as fresh veggies and dip, oysters on the half shell, and maybe shrimp cocktail, since dinner is a feast.

Kelly Phipps
Owner, The Narrows, Grasonville

Stick with the classics. You could do oysters Rockefeller, shrimp cocktail, things that are simple that people like. Ostentatious is out. Go with tried and true. If you get the best ingredients you can, you can’t go wrong.

Thomas Ronning
Executive Chef, Caroline Country Club, Denton

Because my family is Jewish, I make a great Beef Brisket. The secret is to use what is called the “first cut” of the brisket; they usually weigh around 4 pounds. First, you brown the outside. Then you wrap in aluminum foil with four cloves of garlic, three sliced sweet onions, three sliced and peeled carrots, 1 sprig rosemary, three bay leaves, and the secret ingredient is two packs of Lipton Onion Soup Mix sprinkled on top, and then two cups water. Place in a roasting pan and cook until fork-tender around 3 ½ hours at 325 degrees, basting every hour.

Michael Rork
Executive chef, The River House, Easton

Buy local, buy fresh and organic—even the turkey. Use produce stands and farms; the food is not as processed and corrupted as something you buy at the grocery. Even the seafood! A lot of people make oyster stuffing, and that’s all stuff you can buy local.

Ivano Scotto
Owner and Chef, Commerce Street Bar and Grill, Centreville

You can never go wrong with just a whole beef tenderloin. It’s the easiest thing—just use rosemary, sea salt, and coarse-ground pepper; rub it with bacon fat; and mark it on a grill. Then 25 minutes in an oven, and it’s ready. The main tip is any beef that’s done has to be pulled out and set for 15 minutes before you cut it, particularly a prime rib that has been in the oven for more than two hours. The same goes for the tenderloin.

Paul Shively
Executive Chef, Hunter’s Tavern, Easton

Visualize your refrigerated storage space while you are planning your menu, and again when doing your final shopping trip. Put your cold salads and cold side dishes into Ziplock bags in a cooler filled with ice until you need to plate up, in order optimize your cold space. Those things will stay colder in a cooler than they will in the refrigerator you are going to open a hundred times the day of your meal. Likewise, thawing, marinating or chilling the Thanksgiving bird in a cooler will save you a lot of time searching for things and re-organizing your refrigerator around that turkey.

Daniel E. Baldwin
Executive Chef, George Martin’s Grillfire, Hanover


Getting Ready


One thing I stress to everyone, pro or home cooks, it's all about the prep. Do your prep a day ahead and stress less the day of!

James Barrett
Executive Chef, Breeze, Annapolis

It seems obvious, but be organized. Make a timeline and schedule for all your preparations, everything from decorations to the food. Make a chart with what to do each day, so when it comes down to the last minute, you’re not running around, freaking out.

Russell Brown
Executive Chef, O’Learys, Annapolis

Make sure you’ve planned what you’re going to put things in—if you’re doing a buffet, make a map so that you know what’s going in what dish. If you need to borrow a big dish, then you know to do that.

Richard McClure
General Manager, Carrol’s Creek, Annapolis

Review recipes step-by-step before getting started.  At Stoney River, we often get new recipe books and it is important to not only read over the steps when preparing a dish but also review the ingredients to ensure you have all the ingredients required for the recipe as well as the correct measurements. There is nothing worse for a chef than getting halfway through the process and realizing you missed a step or misread measurements and have to throw out your ingredients and start all over. 

Aaron McDonagh
Executive Chef, Stoney River, Annapolis

Be safe, and wash your hands as much as possible. Try not to buy the stuff too far ahead of time—items go bad five or six days away. Serve the food clean, and keep your cutting board and knives clean.

Aaron Musinski
Executive Chef, The Chop House, Annapolis

Serve everything family-style. It is a great way to get people talking. I always serve food family-style when I’m entertaining because it forces all my guests to interact with each other, and it creates an inviting energy in the room.

Josh Brown
Executive Chef, Bridges on Kent Narrows, Grasonville

At about a week out from Turkey day, clean the turkey platter and other serving dishes. Use Post-It notes to mark the foods to be placed in each platter and bowl. Also, start making extra ice for drinks and store in Ziplock bags in the freezer so you don’t run out.

Matt Cohey
Chef, The Narrows, Grasonville

Set up different stations around the house before dinner. For instance, all the fellas’ like to hang out outside or in the garage with oysters, usually around the grill. The women hang around the kitchen and dining room, so we have vegetable dips and crab dips and that sort of thing for them. Usually we have chips and nuts around the TV because there’s usually a football game.

Michael Roberts
Executive Chef, Harris Crab House, Grasonville

Keep a clipboard in your kitchen. Make prep lists. Make shopping lists. Make itineraries. If it’s on paper, you can’t forget about it, ignore it, or miss it.  

Matt Whitehair
Chef, Osprey Point Restaurant, Rock Hall

Prepare as much as you can in advance so you are not trapped in the kitchen over the stove. Cut cheese, fruit, and vegetables the day before. Par-cook the vegetables or par-roast. Make it easy so you’re just finishing the cooking process the day of. Pre-set your table the night before.

Vincent Savignano
Executive Sous Chef, Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort, Cambridge


Preparing the Food


If you have children, involve them in the cooking. It can be a bonding time, or keep them out of trouble or from being bored. Even if they are young or don’t have experience in the kitchen, you can give them tasks such as mashing potatoes, or stirring the green beans. The extra hands never hurt!

Chris Burbank
Executive Chef, Cadillac Ranch, Annapolis

The trick to a flavorful and juicy prime rib is the seasoning mix and the actual roasting—but the seasoning doesn’t mean anything if your beef is over cooked. I like to start by rubbing the dry seasoning mix over the whole rib roast. When cooking, place the thermometer into the roast so that the last inch of the thermometer is in the middle. We want about 130° F. for the final temperature. Remove from oven and the rack and immediately wrap in foil. The roast will continue to cook for quite a while and “rest” at the same time. “Resting” keeps the juices from running out when carve your roast. Place in a warm spot and let sit for an hour (I put it on the back of the stove). The final temperature for medium rare is between 140 and 145° F.

Jim Eriksen
Executive Chef, Pusser’s USA, Annapolis

Your sauce is only going to be as good as your stock. If you can get some chicken bones—it’s close enough to turkey—or a portion of a turkey, make a stock in advance. Brown the bones and vegetables in the oven, and then throw them in the pot with leeks, carrots, onions, celery, bay leaf, thyme, and parsley, and let that cook for a day, at least. Then I’ll strain it and take the fat off, and then reduce it with some white wine. If you’re looking for a thick gravy, make a small amount of roux and add it. Season to taste. I would do that ahead of time because it can sit in the fridge for quite a few days. It’s a laborious thing, but a meal is only as good as the sauce you put on it so I try to emphasize that.

Victoria Fabian
Chef, Grapes Wine Bar, Annapolis

Involve your guests in what you’re doing with the kitchen. Everyone says they want to learn how to cook, but never do it. You choose the simple things for them, and as long as they’re in the kitchen, they’re having a good time. They don’t need to be slicing thin, old-style cuts, but then they can say they helped make the meal, and it’s a lot better for everyone involved.

Executive Chef, Chart House, Annapolis

Season the food at every step in the process. People often salt their food at the end, but the best way to build flavor is to continually season individual components. Along with that, you need to taste your dish as you make it. You can’t wait until the dish is completed before you taste.

Dave McCabe
Owner, Punk’s Backyard Grill, Annapolis & What’s Up? Eastern Shore restaurant critic

A great way to incorporate flavor into your food is to use fresh herbs. In the time of the year when so many people are packing on the pounds—and everybody does it—it’s a great way to flavor a meal without fat. The herb of Thanksgiving is sage. It can be dried, it can be fresh, but fresh, I think, is always best.

Zachary Pope
Chef & Owner, Roundz Gourmet Market, Gambrills

Butter, butter, butter! My mashed potatoes—it’s butter with potatoes, not potatoes with butter. Two pounds potatoes and a half-pound of butter. Salt it right, and add a little heavy cream to make it rich. People might only take four string beans, but they’ll take a pile of mashed potatoes.

Ken Upton
Owner, Ken’s Creative Kitchen & Back Porch Café, Annapolis

When sautéing anything, a good rule of thumb: Start with a hot pan. Use grapeseed oil or safflower oil to start cooking for a good brown on fish, chicken, or beef , but finish with butter or olive oil for flavor. 

Chris Agharabi 
Owner, Theo’s Steaks, Spirits, and Sides; Ava’s Pizzeria and Wine Bar, St. Michaels

It’s all about the turkey. A lot of people cook a turkey, and it’s dry. My suggestion is to always brine. All you do is put it in the brine and let it soak for 24 hours. It seals the turkey with the juices inside it.

David Hayes
Executive Chef, Harbour Lights, St. Michaels

The bottom line is everything has to be hot all at the same time. I make the dinner the day before and put everything into aluminum pans. My stuffing, my spuds, my greens, whatever it is. My dad hates this because it takes away from the time-honored tradition of carving, but I have everything carved and laying in a 9x9 pan. I make turkey stock with the carcass and use that to reheat everything. When you take something out of the oven, you’re in a race against the clock. There’s a lot of pressure to have it done at 5:00, so it’s the only way to do it.

Brendan Keegan
Executive Chef, Brasserie Brightwell, Easton

A pizza stone in your oven can aid in a great deal to roasting a turkey, making pumpkin pie, or doing breads. The stone conducts lots of heat and acts as a heat reserve. Most home kitchen ovens are bad at retaining heat because the door is so large, every time you open it, you lose heat and you put your dish in at the wrong temperature. The stone acts as a heat reserve and the temperature more quickly recovers. It allows that product to cook more evenly and thoroughly.

Douglas Rae
Head baker, Evergrain Bread Company, Chestertown

For a time-saving way of roasting the turkey, ask your butcher to take off the legs and the thighs of the turkey. Just roast the breast on the plate and it takes an hour, versus three or four hours. The legs take the most time to cook.

Mark Salter
Owner and Chef, Robert Morris Inn, Oxford

Don’t stuff the turkey. Cook the stuffing on the side. If you feel you must stuff the turkey, stuff it with fresh fruit such as apples, pear, and oranges. The turkey will cook faster, and you don’t have to worry about bringing the stuffing all the way up to temperature. To bring the stuffing up to a high enough temperature to serve safely, you generally overcook the turkey.

Paul Wernsdorfer
Executive Chef, Fisherman’s Inn, Grasonville


Wine and Cocktails


Look at wine pairings for holiday meals—with their bountiful mixture of favorite and once-a-year recipes—one of two ways: Pick one or two “flexible” wines that will pair well with a variety of dishes, or raid the wine shop and offer something for everyone. While I like the challenge of the first option, I usually opt for the latter, choosing a smattering of reds and whites with various levels of acid (to pair with the rich dishes) and sweetness (to pair with just about everything else). Tip: Blends tend to be more complex and able to pair with more dishes, and wines with a hint of sweetness are great catch-alls, as well.

Kevin Atticks
Executive Director, Maryland Wineries Association

Provide a set of very versatile wines. For white wines, I always recommend Alsace wines from the northern part of France. There, they grow a lot of Germanic grapes like Riesling, Pinot Gris, Sylvaner, and Gewurztraminer. All of those wines tend to be a little richer and heftier, meaning they can stand up to a holiday table. When we think about the holidays, it’s usually a variety of foods all in one plate, you pretty much hit every flavor note, so you want versatility. For reds, it comes as a surprise to people, but we always recommend a red zinfandel. They tend to be lower in tannins, which makes them a little softer for drinking on their own. It won’t overpower turkey or poultry on the table.

Katie Callahan
Assistant Manager, Bin 201, Annapolis

When making cocktails, use fresh ice (preferably any kind without the hole in the middle) and freshly squeezed lemon, lime and orange juices (grapefruit optional). Never compromise on ingredients—don’t buy the knockoff/cheaper brand. Good winter mixers are mulled cider, pear, cranberry, eggnog, which is a good recipe when made fresh.

Christopher Cook
Co-Owner, Blackwater Distilling, Stevensville

Everyone seems to love cranberry margaritas. Margaritas are the number one mixed drink, and then you add cranberries, and everyone loves them. I would use tequila, Triple Sec—Grand Marnier is a little too sweet—Ocean Spray frozen cranberry juice, and Minute Maid frozen lime juice, and then add a little water. You can float the cranberries and garnish with a lime. It looks pretty.

Donna Duran
Owner, Broadneck Grill, Cape St. Claire

I always like to start out my holiday gatherings with a glass of bubbly! It tends to put everyone in a celebratory mood right from the start. Sparkling wines like Italian Prosecco or Spanish Cava are great options because they are less affordable and still taste great. To make things even more fun, I use stemless sparkling wine glasses and have peach nectar or Schnapps available to transform them into Bellinis for guests that prefer a sweet option.

Laurie Forster
Wine speaker and educator, The Wine Coach

[When hosting a party], we had a bartender who was stationed in a far end of the house in a place you could not congregate. So when you went to the bar, you had to leave the bar. The bartender got to see everybody, but there was no way you could hang out—because it’s not a bar, it’s a house.

Dennis Hager
Owner, Two Tree Restaurant, Millington




The Creme Brulee Pumpkin Cheesecake with Caramel Drizzle** has become my favorite dessert to take to any holiday dinner or event. This one is an explosion of flavor in your mouth, but because I like to fire the crème brulee fresh, it does require that you travel with the torch. My family and friends no longer think anything of it when I show up to a party with some sort of cooking tool. You can fire it ahead of time, but I’d recommend cutting the cheesecake into slices first. 

Lisa Bolter
Owner, Red Red Wine Bar, Annapolis
** See the recipe for the Crème Brulee Pumpkin Cheesecake, along with other favorite holiday recipes from local chefs, at

For holiday cocktail parties, the best desserts to serve are bite-size. It can be tempting to put out a beautiful display of cakes and pies, but chances are many people won’t dig in because it’s messy and cumbersome. Petit fours, cookies, cream puffs, and even cupcakes are your best bet.

Kristin D’Angelo
Owner, Sweet Hearts Patisserie, Annapolis

Never store cupcakes (or other baked goods) in the refrigerator. Refrigerators suck the moisture out of cupcakes. The best way to store them is at room temperature in an air tight container. If you must keep for more than a couple days the best thing is to do is to keep the cupcakes in the freezer in an airtight container, and pull out a couple hours to let thaw before eating.

Lauren Fiel
Pastry Chef, Jojo’s Cupcakes and Cream, Annapolis

Add little pie crust cutouts of holiday shapes over the top and rim of the pie. Then, brush melted butter over the crust and sprinkle with vanilla and sanding sugars before baking.

Rachael Powers
Owner, Cakes by Rachael, Edgewater

For holiday cocktail parties, the best desserts to serve are bite-size. It can be tempting to put out a beautiful display of cakes and pies, but chances are many people won’t dig in because it’s messy and cumbersome. Petit fours, cookies, cream puffs, and even cupcakes are your best bet.

Kristin D’Angelo
Owner, Sweet Hearts Patisserie, Annapolis


And in the end…


Above all else, keep it simple and have fun! Whenever someone asks me for advice or tips on planning a party, I like to quote the world’s first “rockstar” chef, Auguste Escoffier, who, back in the early 20th centurym was known as “The king of chefs and the chef of kings!” It is Escoffier who made famous the line, “above all else, make it simple.” Years later, another rock star chef, Julia Child, in a variation of that quote, said, “above all else, have fun!”

George Betz
Executive Chef, Boatyard Bar and Grill, Eastport

Don’t cook! Come see us instead.

Gabby Haddad
General Manager, Carpaccio Tuscan Kitchen, Annapolis

Don’t stress out. Don’t try to do everything the day of your party. We all work by prep lists every day [in the restaurant business].

Lisa MacDougal
Owner, Pope’s Tavern, Oxford

At the end, take everyone’s offer to help clean up. Many hands make light work!

Caleb Taylor
Executive Sous Chef, Sherwood’s Landing, St. Michaels