Winning ways 31 January 2020 Steve Groves, head chef of Roux at Parliament Square, on his National Chef of the Year triumph and tips on preparing for chef competitions
In this week's issue... Winning ways Steve Groves, head chef of Roux at Parliament Square, on his National Chef of the Year triumph and tips on preparing for chef competitions
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01 January 2000

Thanksgiving Day in the USA celebrates the first successful harvest when the Pilgrim Fathers landed in New England in 1621. It is the US equivalent of a British harvest festival and has deep religious and cultural significance for Americans.

As such, it is not a theme to make fun of. That doesn't mean you can't have fun in the restaurant, but it needs to be tasteful. The day itself is the fourth Thursday in November, though the celebrations can go on all week.

Thanksgiving Day without turkey is as unthinkable in the USA as Christmas Day without turkey is in the UK. Yet while there is not much excitement about roast turkey, there can be some homely American touches in the dishes that come with the turkey.

Cranberry sauce is popular both sides of the Atlantic, but Americans often have roast sweet potatoes brushed in sugar instead of ordinary roast potatoes.

To offer other typical Thanksgiving main courses, salt pork is one option, since that was the only meat the Pilgrim Fathers took with them across the Atlantic and led to the development of Virginia ham.

Fish is another authentic ingredient, since the coastal settlements of the Founding Fathers quickly made use of the abundant stocks of cod, herring, turbot and shellfish. New England chowders almost certainly started in the early years when any vegetables or shellfish to hand were made into a nourishing soup.

Vegetable dishes can include such classics as Boston baked beans, which were the forerunner of today's baked beans, mashed pumpkin and honey-glazed carrots. Desserts should reflect the autumn with fall pie made with autumn fruits, ice-cream with maple syrup and chopped nuts, or baked Betty, a version of apple crumble with cinnamon in the crumble.

Drinks promotions have to be modern in their approach, with Californian wines and American bottled lagers, but you could offer a hot punch promotion with the punch laced with a typically American flavour such as maple syrup or cinnamon.

Keith Harrison, head chef at Buckinghamshire College, High Wycombe, has run several US theme days. His advice on planning is to find some American students or ask for help from the United States Embassy Customer Services Department.

Harrison decorated the 280-cover Buckinghamshire College refectory using streamers in autumn colours and artificial leaves. The servery area was decorated with cardboard cut-outs and orange and black balloons to stress the harvest theme.

The sheer size and variety of the USA should come across in any scene-setting. Have posters of prairie landscapes, coastal views, national parks and the New England fall. Tourist boards will be good sources for this promotional material.

Background music, particularly for a more serious event, could include material by Gershwin, Bernstein's West Side Story, and show tunes by composers such as Cole Porter.

As ever, fancy dress can give added zest. For a New England-style evening, have staff in Pilgrim Father or native Indian costume to recreate the original 1621 Thanksgiving feast. n

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