Preparing a Thanksgiving meal for the masses

Are you anxious about hosting Thanksgiving?

Imagine how Tim Fetter feels.

The general manager for Parkhurst Dining at the Highmark Blue Cafe, Downtown, Mr. Fetter is expecting to feed 800 people for Thanksgiving dinner, and that will be next week, on Nov. 8.

That's the Thursday he'll do Highmark employees' most popular meal of the year.

"It's hands down, no question about it, our busiest day of the year," says Mr. Fetter, who's worked at the employee-only cafeteria for more than five years, until this summer as executive chef.

Now he'll be working with new chef Cameron Clegg as they cook about eight turkeys and 120 turkey breasts, real gravy, plus bread stuffing, real mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, steamed broccoli and pies.

Customers have been asking about the annual feed for months, and it's been scheduled for at least a month.

They'll even expand hours to feed everybody -- from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. rather than 11:15 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. that Thursday.

Marking the holiday this way in a food-service setting like this is standard for Parkhurst, Mr. Fetter says. "It'd be easy to look at it and say, 'You're going to have Thanksgiving in a few weeks anyway.' " But, "If we did not offer it, I think we would have a lot of upset guests."

Parkhurst will be presenting other big, early Thanksgiving feeds, according to Eat'n Park Hospitality Group spokesperson Grace Zarnas-Hoyer.

On Nov. 14, Parkhurst is doing a family-style Thanksgiving dinner for 600 students, faculty, staff and friends at Chatham University. The gym there will be transformed with tables covered with white linens as well as turkey platters, pies and relish trays and all the other accoutrements of a home dinner. Says Ms. Zarnas-Hoyer, "The international students really like this because they never experience American holidays."

At Highmark, diners like it so much that Mr. Fetter says they've considered doing it twice a year and holding a Thanksgiving in July.

But meanwhile, he has to recover from this one in time to cook dinner for about 30 people at his house on the real holiday.

He's proud of all the real ingredients and scratch preparation that make the special meal he's doing at work so popular. "I know this isn't your healthiest of meals, but if it's done with the right ingredients, so much the better."

Brine for Roasted Turkey

General Manager Brian Fetter says they'll be using this preparation for the turkeys and turkey breasts served at Highmark Blue Cafe. Chef Cameron Clegg notes that brining does two essential things: it adds flavor and adds moisture to what you are making. Brines are very forgiving and can be adjusted in many ways. The aromatics such as the herbs and garlic can be changed out with anything you prefer. You can also change the sugar to honey, molasses, agave nectar, or any other sweetener. Brines are especially popular for smoked items, and smoked turkey can be a great way to change up your normal holiday dinners.

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 4 garlic cloves
To make the brine

Place all ingredients in a stock pot and bring to a boil.

Cool to below 40 degrees. (You could boil only half of the water then add ice to make 1 gallon if you are short on time.)

Using the brine

This brine could be used for a lot of different meats such as pork and chicken. For turkey, simply submerge the raw turkey or turkey breast in the brine. Make sure that it is covered and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours. Once you are finished brining, discard brine, rinse the turkey under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Then roast as you normally would.

-- Chef Cameron Clegg, executive chef, Parkhurst Dining at Highmark Pittsburgh

Bob Batz Jr.: or 412-263-1930. First Published November 1, 2012 4:00 AM


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