Skip to main content

“Top Chef” Whitney Otawka Talks Turkey

whitney otawka
Chef Whitney Otawka of “Top Chef” fame and is the culinary director at the incredible Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island off of Georgia.

She’s worked in some of the best restaurants in San Francisco, Atlanta, and New York, but it’s the Greyfield Inn, with its almost two acres of fresh fruits, herbs, vegetables and even honey, mixed with the island’s pristine beaches and melancholy ruins that she loves.

Related Videos

No matter where you find yourself this Thanksgiving, Chef Otawka has some advice you’ll be grateful to have.

top chef contestant whitney otawka

Are heritage/organic/free range turkeys really worth the higher price?

“YES. The flavor is superior and the ethical eating will satisfy your stomach and your soul.”  

Mary’s Free Range, Organic Turkey is an excellent source for this kind of bird. BN Ranch is dedicated to ethically raised, healthy animals, especially turkeys. Heritage Foods USA can trace their turkeys all the way back to the 1840s and these guys are pasture-raised, antibiotic free, and not horrifying Frankenstein-esque breast-monsters that can’t even stand up like some supermarket brands offer.

What’s the greatest cooking sin committed against turkeys?

“There are two serious crimes in the world of turkey: overcooking and under seasoning.”

Can the turkey be salvaged if it comes out dry?

“If your turkey is dry, your best bet is a really amazing gravy. To be honest with you, gravy can be used to save a lot of bad cooking technique.”

What’s the best way to prep the bird?

“It depends on how you plan on cooking it, but a tried and true method for most techniques is brining the bird at least one day ahead of cooking it. You can infuse the brine with any number of aromatics which will add a personal touch to the process.”

Stuffing: Cook in the bird or on its own?

“Stuff the bird! If you are planning on roasting the bird whole, it would seem to be that there is no debate. When you stuff the bird all of the juices and fat from the turkey drip into the stuffing, infusing it with such a rich flavor. What a loss to just roast stuffing on the side.”

Any tips on how to time the cooking so it all comes out at once?

“To be honest with you I have two methods I will be using this year for the six turkeys I am making. I will be deep frying three and smoking three.

“For the three I smoke, I will breakdown the bird into six pieces which will allow me to control the cooking times on each individual cut. Deep frying is my preferred method of cooking whole birds. They stay incredibly moist with perfectly crispy skin. It can seem like an intimidating task, but for those who love to cook, it’s a must for Thanksgiving at least one.”

When it comes to the whole meal:  “Plan ahead. Make sure to choose sides that can be served at a range of temperatures (hot/ cold/ room temperature). For your hot sides use a range of cooking methods that include roasting, stove top, and even your grill. Also do as much prep starting at least one day ahead of time so you’re not overwhelmed.

“Another idea would be to make your celebration a pot luck, make it a shared responsibility.”

If someone wanted to change things up, do you have a good suggestion for an exciting alternative to turkey?

“Instead of replacing the turkey, I like the idea of spicing up the original preparations. I really love the thought of shaping an alternative Thanksgiving that highlights other cultures. For instance, making a Thanksgiving that is inspired by the flavors of Mexico. Roasted Turkey with mole poblano and fresh tortillas… count me in.”

Your must-have side dish for Thanksgiving dinner?

I am crazy about good vegetables and when it starts to get cold out I crave sweet potatoes. I like to wood roast a few and turn them into a perfectly silky, buttery side dish.”

See Chef Otawka’s recipe below:

Wood Roasted Whipped Sweet Potatoes

Serves 4-6 people

  • 3 pounds sweet potatoes*
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ teaspoon espelette pepper

To cook the sweet potatoes, build a small fire in a wood grill. Let the fire burn down until the coals are white. With the lid closed, the temperature should be between 323-350 degrees. Place the sweet potatoes on the grill and close the lid. Cook for around 45 minutes or until cooked through. The sweet potatoes will be extremely soft and easily pierced with a wooden skewer. Remove the potatoes from the grill and set aside.*

While the sweet potatoes are cooking, in a small pot combine heavy cream, thyme, and bay leaves. Bring this to a simmer over low heat. Turn off and set aside, allowing the herbs to steep into the cream for 10-15 minutes. Strain the cream. Add the cream back into a pot and warm with the butter until melted.

Peel the skin off of the warm sweet potatoes. After they have been peeled you should have a little over 2 pounds of sweet potato pulp. Place into a food processor. Add in the warm cream mixture and salt. Pulse until smooth. At this point the sweet potatoes can be cooled and stored for up to 4 days or served immediately. I like to garnish my sweet potatoes with espelette pepper, which gives them a little kick. Alternatively you could garnish with toasted pecans, a dusting of cinnamon, or a little brown sugar. Enjoy!

* When making this recipe, make sure to adjust cooking times for size. This recipe was made using small sweet potatoes that were grown here on Cumberland Island. Your standard grocery store sweet potato will be a little larger and need a little extra time to cook.

Editors' Recommendations

A major change is coming to In-N-Out, and people have feelings
In-N-Out is expanding, and people are Double-Double excited about it
in n out is expanding east 4362007789 b397b0fce5 k

After years of excited whispers and rumors, it appears it's finally happening. The popular California fast food chain, In-N-Out, will open its first location east of the Mississippi. The catch? Apparently, it won't be happening until 2026. So don't start studying that secret menu just yet.

In-N-Out is celebrated, and sometimes nearly worshiped by what can best be described as a near-religious following. To be sure, the food is delicious, but the conviction of the restaurant's fanbase is intense, to say the least. Perhaps it's due to the refreshingly old-fashioned simple menu. Maybe it's the high standards of freshness the restaurant holds. It may also have something to do with every employee's somehow always authentic smiles and warmth. And there is something to be said about being "in-the-know" on that secret menu. Whatever the reason, the burgers are damned good, and the more people who can enjoy them, the better.

Read more
5 food and drink trends the experts wish would just go away
Food trends can be fun, but these are a few we're totally over
food and drink trends that should die in 2023 molecular gastronomy

We all love food trends. There's something exciting about being in on the fun and chatting knowingly about delicious newcomers like butter boards and cloud bread. Every now and then, it's good to jump on the bandwagon because you may find you love something you might not have otherwise tried if not for TikTok or Instagram. We're all for unique experiences and constantly learning and trying new things. Sometimes, though, these trends outstay their welcome. Sometimes, they just won't take the hint, which means it's time to drop the nice manners and scoot them out the door. We've chatted with some experts in the food world to find out which of these trends they're most eager to see go, and we have to admit — we couldn't agree more.

Molecular gastronomy
Marissa Johnson, professional event planner and founder of Inflatable Blast, says, "This trend has been around for a while, and it's time for it to go. We're all for experimentation in the kitchen, but some of the 'molecular' dishes we've seen look more like science experiments than food."

Read more
The best (and worst) stadium food in the US, ranked analyzed over 100,000 reviews to bring you the best and the worst foods at U.S. sports arenas
Baseball food — chili dog and chili fries.

The beginning of winter is a time for sports highlights. Baseball is in the midst of free agency, the NBA season features marquee matchups throughout the holidays, and the NFL is tilting toward the playoffs. Whether it’s in your hometown or an excursion on the road, heading to a sporting event is an iconic way to experience a locale. Sports stadiums like to show off local culture, and there are few better ways to do this than with stadium food.

M&R Glasgow
The best stadium food

Read more