Thanksgiving Spice – Chef Michel Despras

Le St. Germain - Indian Wells

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Promising a new world where people could live free, America became a melting pot of cultures ever since the Mayflower landed in Plymouth, Mass. The “land of opportunity” fuses more ethnic flavors than any other country in the world.

Throughout the centuries, as people continued to emigrate from every continent in the world, many adopted the “American” way of doing things. However, certain ethnic customs and influences have thankfully simmered through, mixing and mingling in the most delightful ways, especially in the area of gastronomy.

Three desert chefs — one Italian, one French, and one Mexican — who moved to the States to pursue their culinary dreams, talk about how their love of dishes from home influence their celebration of the traditional American holiday of Thanksgiving.


“Do you want to know a secret?” Michel Despras whispers with an anticipating smile, ready to divulge the French method for rendering the most tender, juicy turkey.

“Take the entire turkey; split and debone it. Put sage, butter, salt, and pepper in the center, and then wrap the entire turkey in caul fat [the fatty membrane that encases the internal organs of pigs, cows, and sheep]. Roast it for an hour and 15 minutes, and — voilà — you will have the most succulent Thanksgiving Day turkey!”

For Despras, who moved to the United States in the early ’70s from Avignon, France, celebrating Thanksgiving each year with his wife and children at Le St. Germain has become a tradition.

Whether meals are prepared for a holiday celebration or any other day, Despras believes in cooking with organic and local produce whenever possible.

6 oz. unsalted butter
8 oz. yellow onions, chopped
1/2 lb. white mushrooms
1/2 lb. shitake mushrooms
1/2 lb. oyster mushrooms
Salt and pepper to taste
3 T. lemon juice
8 oz. dry white wine
12 oz. chicken broth
12 oz. heavy cream
2 T. dry sherry (optional)
2 drops white truffle oil
6 oz. chopped chives
4 oz. sliced black truffles (optional)

Sauté onions in butter over medium heat until softened. Add mushrooms, salt, and pepper and cook 10 minutes. Add lemon juice and wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced two-thirds.

Add chicken broth and continue heating 15 more minutes. Add cream and simmer an additional 15 minutes.

Blend soup in blender or with electric mixer until smooth. Whisk in sherry if using. Check seasoning and make any adjustments. Serve in soup bowl with drizzle of truffle oil and sprinkle of chives (and truffles if using).

Serves 4

2 Pekin (Long Island) duck breasts (1 1/2 to
2 lbs. each)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 orange
1/2 c. water
2 T. duck glaze
1/8 t. sugar
1 T. Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored
1 T. balsamic, sherry, or red wine vinegar (or
more to taste)
1 1/2 T. cold, unsalted butter
Pepper to taste
Orange wedges

Score skin side of duck breasts in two directions, about 20 slashes per direction. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Refrigerate.

Cut one end of the orange so it can stand on a cutting board. Slice off two 2-inch strips of peel; julienne the peel and blanch 1 minute in water. Juice the orange; strain juice into saucepan and boil until reduced to about 1 tablespoon.

Heat a sauté pan over medium heat and sauté duck breasts, skin side down, 8 to 10 minutes. Turn over breasts, adjust heat to high and cook 1 more minute. Remove breasts from pan and set aside. Pour out fat. Deglaze the pan with the reduced orange juice. Whisk in glaze, sugar, Grand Marnier, orange peel, and vinegar. Simmer about 30 seconds. Adjust thickness of sauce, if necessary, with water.

Whisk in butter, keeping the pan and whisk moving until the butter is melted. Season to taste with pepper and, if necessary, add a few more drops of vinegar.

Slice breasts crosswise, arrange on heated plates. Spoon sauce over breasts and decorate with orange wedges.

Serves 4

1 puff pastry dough
1/4 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar
5 large golden delicious apples
Powered sugar for garnish

Place oven rack on lowest position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Spread butter over the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch, ovenproof skillet. Sprinkle sugar on the bottom.

Peel and then cut all apples in half, removing core. Going in a circle, place eight apple halves in skillet standing up vertically. Keep going in circles until you have reached the middle of the skillet. Fill gaps with remaining apple.

Place skillet in oven for 20 minutes.

Remove skillet from the oven and place on stove burner, cooking over medium heat about 30 minutes, gently shifting apples side to side to prevent sticking. Remove from heat.

Flatten dough and cut to fit over skillet. Place dough over apples and return skillet to oven. Cook an additional 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool two hours (do not remove from skillet).

Place a plate, cake circle, or round cardboard on top of the skillet and flip. Garnish with a sprinkling of powered sugar.

Serves 8 to 10

Le Saint Germain
74985 Highway 111
Indian Wells, CA 92210-7136

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