Gathering with Friends: Meet Robert
It wouldn’t be a true gathering with friends without delicious food to share stories over, and we were lucky enough to have our chef at Styer’s, Robert, plan and cook an amazing menu for our dinner this year. And since so many of us will be cooking and entertaining in our own homes in the coming weeks, we sat down with Robert to get his expert tips on building the best cheese board, how to get a perfectly roasted bird, and which part of Thanksgiving dinner should always be made a day in advance.
terrain: What’s the most rewarding part of cooking for a big group like this one?
Robert: Preparing a meal for other creatives is always a good time because even though we don't share the same craft, we share the same creative spark and energy for the things we love. When we share these skills with others in an enthusiastic and nurturing way, we create something bigger than ourselves. That's why I love to cook. Cooking allows me to not only create, but also nurture others by providing them sustenance to carry on in their lives. It's an incredibly intimate act of love, whether you know the person preparing the meal or not. That in and of itself is a reward.
terrain: The cheese boards at the terrain cafe are works of art. Can you give us your guidelines for creating one for gatherings at home?
Robert: Whether the group you're entertaining are fans of artisanal cheeses or grocery store slices, there are a few rules you should always try to stick with.
1. Choose at least four cheeses - I try to pick a hard cheese, a soft, a blue, and a goat variety.
2. Before serving, pull the cheese out of the refrigerator about 20 minutes before serving. This allows the cheeses' full flavor to blossom in a way that would be muted if you were to serve it cold from the refrigerator.
3. Make sure you have a good mix of accompaniments for your cheese plate. Nuts, sliced fruits, jams or chutneys, and crackers should always be a part of your cheese board. Try to stay seasonally appropriate when picking your spreads.
4. Opt for a nice large cheese board to allow your cheeses to spread out. When assembling, try to keep the different cheese varieties from touching.
terrain: We know you have them, so – tell us your Thanksgiving turkey cooking tips please!
Robert: Cooking a turkey can be the easiest item on your menu for Thanksgiving if you plan ahead. A few tips to a successful bird are as follows:
1. Plan ahead and be sure you have all the tools you need before starting. Nothing is worse than having to run back to the store on Thanksgiving day because you forgot something.
2. I would highly suggest cooking the breast and legs separately but if poultry butchery is not your strong suit be sure to brine your bird before roasting. A basic brine recipe is 10oz. salt per gallon of water. Be sure you make enough brine to cover the entire bird. Brines like this normally take about 6 hours to fully marinate the bird. So again, plan ahead.
3. Cook your turkey at a low 300F, basting it every 30-45 minutes until the bird is fully cooked. Allow it to rest before putting it back in the oven with broiler on to crisp up the skin. Allow to rest one more time before serving.
terrain: With so many different dishes on the Thanksgiving table, it can get confusing when to start preparing each. Can you give us some of your organizing tips for a stress-free cooking experience?
Robert: First, take a good hard look at your menu and determine what needs to go in the oven and for how long. Typically, the problem we run in to at home is not properly scheduling oven time and space! Otherwise, here are a few guidelines to follow:
1. Cranberry sauce, chutneys, vinaigrettes, and most sauces can be done days in advance.
2. Dishes like macaroni and cheese, bread pudding or stuffing, blanched or roasted vegetables can be prepared, or partially prepared, the day before. Just a quick flash or final bake in the oven is all they need!
3. Desserts should always be made the day before. Make desserts that can last a day or two out of the refrigerator so you're not wasting precious refrigerator space. Let desserts be simple, self-serving items that you don't have to excuse yourself from conversation to fuss over last minute.
Robert encourages everyone to put a new spin on their Thanksgiving classics, saying “I know I would be disappointed if I didn't have my father's deliciously comforting macaroni and cheese every year. Tradition, however, can get a bit boring...so introducing new preparations and new ingredients, while also sticking to tradition and pleasing the crowd,” is always a fun challenge.
Loved what Robert had to say? Meet more of our Gathering guests here, here, and here.