The New

Forget the origin story, chefs tell us to pay attention to what’s really important:
family, friends and food.

BY Stefanie Gans

Tim Ma, at his home in Newport, Arkansas, getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner (circa 1980)

“Thanksgiving is a big celebration for us,” says Tim Ma, the chef and owner of the American-Chinese Lucky Danger and forthcoming ExPat, a restaurant, bar and sportsbook.

“My Uncle Paul always had these big Thanksgivings, it was only second to celebrating Chinese New Year,” says Ma. Ma’s uncle ran Paul Ma’s China Kitchen in the 1970s and ’80s in upstate New York, and for Thanksgiving, he’d flip his restaurant’s menu into a dinner for family at home. 

The meal revolved around a turkey, but instead of mashed potatoes and marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes, there were spring rolls, ginger shrimp, Chinese greens with garlic and shaoxing wine. Ma’s dad brought soy sauced-green beans. It ended up being what Ma calls a “hodge podge of American-Chinese dishes.”

Later, the grownups played poker deep into the night. Ma and his cousins would sip whatever whiskey they could find in his uncle’s bursting liquor cabinet. The elder relatives would drink Baijiu, a grain liquor that Ma says “burns your throat.” 

Boil hot water, place a cup in that hot water and let Baijiu warm up from its surroundings. 

The best part of Thanksgiving has never been about whatever students learned in grade school. We don’t have to get into the legend, the catastrophe, the painful narrative we’ve been told for so long. But, we can still honor time together and take a moment to be thankful.

Thanksgiving is more than its origin story. It’s a message about being grateful and surrounding ourselves with those we cherish. And if those in the restaurant industry know anything, it’s how to encourage us to find meaning around a meal. 

Halfway across the country, Rose Previte’s family huddled around a few of the classics, but that was far from the extent of the spread.

“Here we are with this Lebanese family so dead-set on their food being the best in the world, but also liked the novelty of having stuffing and turkey,” says Previte, the owner of Maydan and Compass Rose in Washington, DC. 

Her restaurants tell a global story of family and food, always picking up on her Lebanese upbringing in Toledo, Ohio. She’s currently working on a Maydan cookbook, with her mom and aunt recipe testing, naturally. 

“My family is really proud of being American and this was a way to show it, but we still had to have our food.” Olive oil is the fat of choice in much of the Middle East and so Previte remembers being astounded by the rich, butter-fueled gravy at Thanksgiving and wondering why she couldn’t pour this over her plate the rest of the year. 

Next to the traditional bird was Lebanon’s iconic celebratory main: lamb. The family would buy the whole animal, breaking it down and eating it in a variety of ways, including raw (kibbeh nayyeh), baked (kibbeh bil sanieh) stuffed in a patty pan squash (koosa mahshi), diced and tossed with green beans and tomatoes (loubee) and stirred into rice pilaf. She’s pretty sure there were other lamb dishes, too. 

First-generation Ghanaian-American Eric Adjepong is grateful for the time holidays carve out in our lives. “We are thankful for being brought back together,” says Adjepong, a Top Chef star. It’s a day to cherish our loved ones and reflect on the year that’s passed.”

Ma’s family traditions flow into the day after Thanksgiving, too. Whomever is still around, whomever can make it over, gathers all day to make dumplings. It’s how the next generation learns this hot-water dough recipe. Rolling skins, sizzling pork and chives, nipping and tucking it all together. Repeating the process all day, cooking and eating. Together.

Simmer and Sip

While the turkey’s in the oven, start simmering this lo-fi sipper with lots of holiday vibes, from chef Eric Adjepong who will be featured in “The Great Soul Food Cook-Off,” premiering Saturday, Nov. 20 on Discovery+ and OWN.

Mulled Wine 

750 milliliters red wine, like merlot or cabernet sauvignon
2 cups apple cider
1/4 cup brandy
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 orange, zested and juiced
6 whole cloves
6 whole allspice berries
2 green cardamom pods
2 cinnamon sticks
2 whole star anise
orange slices for garnish
cinnamon sticks for garnish

In a slow cooker or in a medium sized pot, add all ingredients and cook on the lowest setting until hot, about 1 hour. Skim mulled wine and ladle in heat proof glass mugs garnished with orange slices and cinnamon sticks.

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