Runner-up in this year’s award for the "foodiest town in America" – given out by the venerable Bon Appetit magazine – Traverse City is a culinary mecca. If you don’t mind a little chill in the air and maybe a snowflake or two, November is a good time to visit when the summer tourist rush is over.
And if you’re still looking for a place to spend Thanksgiving where you can let someone else handle the cooking, the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa, located just northeast of Traverse City in Acme, has a Thanksgiving buffet at the Aerie Restaurant & Lounge, one of three dining spots within the complex. This year, the restaurant also offers a "Thanksgiving-to-go" option where you can pick up a complete meal for your family – no roasting required.
For those of us staying closer to home this holiday season (add my name to the list), I was able to track down the resort’s executive chef, Joseph George, to answer a few questions and offer an amazing Thanksgiving feast recipe of spiced sirloin, pumpkin potato gratin and mushroom-braised Swiss chard!
What three ingredients do you always keep stocked in your pantry?
At home, you can always find different types of cheeses like brie, chevre and baby bell – which I love to eat with rustic breads from local bakeries. I also drink lots of orange juice with eggs, and deli meats for sandwiches and cereals.
Your favorite meal to make or serve?
My favorite meal to make is braised short ribs. The there are several cooking techniques involved, which I love, from marinating to searing, to braising to proper cooling so the meat stays moist. You can make this dish multidimensional by pairing it up with several different types of sides.
We all have a favorite indulgence; for a chef like you it must be something spectacular?
I have a sweet tooth. When I indulge, I go for the chocolates in life. I enjoy a rich smooth chocolate infused with different flavors in a truffle – or a bonbon. It is quite a treat so I love to analyze it: Is it smooth? Is it flavorful? Is it tempered correctly? And the list goes on.
What’s one of your worst cooking mistakes?
One of my worst cooking mistakes happened when I was 19 trying to force my knife through an onion. The knife was dull, slipped and I cut myself pretty bad. Needless to say, I am a big advocate of sharp knives from then on out, since most injuries occur with dull knives, not sharp ones.
There are so many great Michigan-made food products. What is your pick?
My favorite is a new one I just discovered this year, and that is the honey cream line from Sleeping Bear Farms. It is a richer form of honey that they produce plain, with lemon or cherry. Great product for home and for a professional kitchen.
What do you suggest for first-timers to Grand Traverse Resort & Spa? What menu item should they make sure to try?
When staying at the hotel or a local going out to dine, I highly recommend eating breakfast in Sweetwater bistro and ordering my favorite: salmon Benedict. For dinner, I would go right to the top of the tower in Aerie Restaurant and Lounge to try the Tuna Tartaki appetizer, followed by the Maytag Encrusted Filet.