Making the Most of Thanksgiving as a Working Chef

Chefs have a lot on their plates during major holidays, especially when they have to manage personal and professional responsibilities. Learn how to manage them effectively.

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November 5, 2019 4 min read


Chefs have a lot on their plates when it comes to major holidays. Not only is it a distinct possibility that your restaurant will open on a day many others have off, but you may be counted on as a culinary professional to prepare something delicious and memorable for family and friends.

Thanksgiving is one of the most food-focused holidays of the year, so it’s not surprising that many chefs feel the pressure of responsibility in both their personal and professional lives. Let’s look at how online culinary school students just like you can successfully manage these needs, now and in the future.

A pie with a lattice crust on a table.Desserts are among the easiest things to prepare in advance for your personal Thanksgiving gatherings.

Reducing stress and making the most of Thanksgiving

On the job

A love of food and the camaraderie it encourages is one of the factors driving an increasing number of restaurants to open on Thanksgiving. Another is pure economics, turning what is traditionally a day off into a profitable venture for a restaurant. Both of these elements mean chefs across the country are preparing for special holiday service at the end of November.

How can you make this day more manageable, especially if you also want to enjoy some quality time with your own friends and family after your shift ends? If you’re in a position to make recommendations or influence your restaurant’s strategy for this holiday, you might consider:

  • A limited menu that focuses on Thanksgiving, whether with traditional foods and preparations or a unique spin on the well-known menu of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and more. With the right advance preparation, there’s a smaller, more manageable set of offerings for customers. That can cut down on prep time and help you finish service more quickly.
  • An emphasis or exclusive reliance on reservations that helps your kitchen plan for the needs of customers ahead of time and ensures there’s a clear start and end point for service.
  • Reduced hours that center around the usual early afternoon timing of Thanksgiving dinner. This strategy can help servers, staff and management alike serve customers and close the restaurant with enough time to make it home for their own celebrations while aligning with the preferences of diners.

With friends and family

If you have to work on Thanksgiving or in the days leading up to it and you have friends and family who expect the chef they know to contribute to the festivities, you may feel as if you’re in a time crunch or up against a lot of pressure. The good news is your professional knowledge and experience can help you choose dishes that are easy to prepare and then drop into the oven at the right time, or cook completely, in advance.

Desserts are often among the easiest things to prepare in advance. If you have the day off or even just a free night before Thanksgiving, you can prepare everything from pumpkin pie (perhaps this chocolate variety, if you’re feeling adventurous) to death by chocolate, in all of its many forms, ahead of time.

When it comes to main courses and sides, there are many options for cooking ahead. Vegetables from Brussels sprouts to corn and mashed potatoes can easily be prepared the night before, or in the morning ahead of your shift, then skillfully reheated or served as is. Bon Appetit offered a list of no fewer than 85 Thanksgiving recipes that can be made ahead of the big day, which you can use as a starting point for your own plans.

To develop the skills that will have customers, friends and family alike craving your cooking on major holidays and throughout the year, consider a proven, dependable online culinary school program.

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