Chefs’ Guide to Shopping Locally for Thanksgiving
Hit up the farm stands, markets, and specialty shops frequented by some of Boston's top chefs to impress your guests this holiday season.
Volunteered to bring the appetizers, fix the sides, or even roast the turkey this Thanksgiving—and freaking out a bit as the holiday draws near? Take a deep breath, and give thanks for Massachusetts. Regional farm stands, neighborhood farmers’ markets, and Boston boutiques have everything you need to set the table this season, and we contacted a trio of hospitality pros to help navigate them.
Take inspiration from Mary Dumont, who brings farm fresh fare to the heart of downtown Boston at Cultivar; Dan Amighi, who lets farmers guide his menus not only at Café du Pays, but also at home; and Tracy Chang, a first-generation American who shares some of her family’s nontraditional traditions at her restaurant, Pagu.
Go there for fresh flowers for the table, cheeses, crackers, and other accompaniments for pre-feast noshing; fresh-baked rolls and desserts, organic produce and locally raised turkeys—and cheery vibes. “It’s a festive holiday experience when you go in,” says Dumont, who was a partner at Harvest restaurant for nearly a decade before she opened her ownership debut in June 2017.
While both of Dumont’s suggested Metrowest farms are an easy drive from the city, Amighi stays closer to home for his farm-fresh fare. The Café du Pays chef is a regular at the Union Square Farmers’ Market, which finishes up the season this Saturday, Nov. 17, from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
“Kimball’s there, Drumlin’s there—just the rockstars of farm world,” Amighi says. “I pick up whatever looks nice. That’s my style of cooking anyways. It sets you up for success. It’s nice for the farms, as well.”
Recent scores include squashes, of course; apples, and sweet potatoes. “Strangely enough, the lettuces are the best right now. For whatever reason after the frost they get a little sweeter; chicories and stuff like that are less bitter in the fall. And kale will always be there when everything is gone,” Amighi says.
He also recently bought local ginger and turmeric roots from the market. Adding one of those flavors to, say, regular old mashed squash is “a really easy way to completely change a dish.”
Growing up in an Italian-American family, Amighi says his grandmother’s turkey was always “extra,” almost an afterthought, never the star of her table. It’s still not his favorite protein—but if he makes a turkey, he’ll source an Amish-raised bird via D’Artagnan, online. “Amish turkeys are definitely the best,” he says. “Buy a nice turkey, and treat it as well as you can. I just load it up with butter.”
Turkeys aren’t always on Tracy Chang’s table, either. When she and her cousin told their Taiwanese family about the American Thanksgiving traditions they learned about in grade school, the family adapted them to their tastes.
“We didn’t really know what American stuffing was,” Chang recalls, so with the help of her aunt, the young girls stuffed a roast chicken with sticky rice.
Using Cornish hens, Chang introduced that unique take on stuffed poultry as a special at Pagu. She also uses holidays to practice large-format cooking techniques—she’s considering a dry-aged prime rib from Savenor’s this year, she says.
Since a formative experience living and cooking in Spain, Chang has been adding pintxos to holiday appetizer hour. One of her favorite local finds is an Australian feta cheese, Meredith Dairy’s Farmstead Sheep and Goat Cheese, which she buys at Central Bottle Wine & Provisions. Another crowd-pleasing appetizer she always gets for the holidays is a tub of Bonilla a la Vista patatas fritas, a Spanish brand of crispy, olive oil-fried potato chips, available at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge. “We like to have those kinds of snacks out to start,” Chang says. “And wines.”