A Table of Possibilities

Published November, 2008

Chef Douglas Rodriguez enjoys a U.S. holiday with a Cuban touch

Miami-based chef Douglas Rodriguez, 43, fondly remembers his Cuban-born grandmother’s inability to get the hang of the American turkey. "I remember her putting a turkey into the oven around 6am and eating around 6 or 7 in the evening," says Chef Rodriguez, “so you can imagine how overcooked the turkey was! She treated it like a piece of pork.”

The cookbook author and owner of award-winning restaurants across the nation, including Ola in Miami, Alma de Cuba in Philadelphia, Deseo in Scottsdale, Arizona, and DeLaCosta in Chicago, waxes romantic about his childhood surrounded by food, as a young boy in New York City and as a young man in Miami. There, his family, including his parents, Gloria Blason and Frank Rodriguez, and his grandmother, Kate Josefa, relocated when the chef was a teenager. "My grandmother lived next door to us in New York, in the same apartment building, and my fondest and oldest memories are always of her with an apron, in the kitchen. I don’t have any memories of my grandmother that doesn’t involve food, rice pudding, flan, or some sort of treat for us."

The Cuban-American household’s holiday repertoire, the chef says, was mostly about celebration. "In Latin culture, we use any excuse to have a party and Thanksgiving was the perfect opportunity and it’s still one of my absolute favorite holidays," he says.

While Rodriguez’s cooking reflects his Cuban background, he also pays tribute to Japanese, American, and European techniques, which he says are a direct result of his family’s unconventional Thanksgiving spread. "We never had traditional stuffing at our Thanksgiving table, we had beans and rice and yucca and that sort of thing," says the chef, who has been hailed as the Godfather of Nuevo Latino Cuisine. "Besides family values, what I took from my family's Thanksgivings was a sense of possibility. I change my holiday menu [up] every year, trying to never repeat dishes and making food influenced by many regions of the world."

Douglas Rodriguez's Chorizo Cornbread Stuffing
Chorizo and cornbread are key in Douglas Rodriguez's Cuban-inspired dish

Thanksgiving is Douglas Rodriguez's favorite holiday, a day that belongs to family, one dedicated to remembering the old days, relaxing with his relatives, and telling stories. Chef Rodriguez loves this stuffing recipe, and no turkey in his home is served without it. This recipe uses chorizo, calling to mind his Cuban roots.

2 cups chicken stock or broth
1/2 cup olive oil
1 small onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 stalk of celery
1/2 cup carrot, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 cups fresh corn kernels (from 4 ears)
1 pound chorizo sausage or salami, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 pound cornbread, crumbled
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves

1. To prepare the stuffing, reduce the chicken stock in a saucepan over medium-high heat to 1 cup.
2. Meanwhile heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottom sauté pan or skillet and add the onion, garlic, celery, carrot, bell pepper, corn, and chorizo and sauté for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the celery and onion are soft.
3. Stir in the crumbled cornbread and reduced chicken stock until thoroughly mixed together. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the scallions and thyme. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool completely, until you are ready to stuff your turkey. If you choose not to stuff the bird, bake in a casserole dish at 350 degrees F, covered, for 1 hour.

Yield: 10 to 12 servings, enough to stuff a 20 to 25 pound turkey.