Talkin’ Turkey

Chef John Morris

It’s pretty safe to say that many of us range from mildly stressed to genuinely panicked when it comes to cooking a turkey dinner for Christmas. So would you believe me if I told you of a small team of wunderkind chefs, who prepare 120 hot turkey dinners with all the fixins over the course of two days, and barely bat an eye?

While the rest of us are hanging our stockings on Christmas Eve, or lazing about in our Christmas bathrobes on the very best morning of the year, Interim Executive Chef John Morris and a small team of NAC chefs are working hard in the kitchen so that 120 families can take things a little easier in the evening.

Each turkey feeds eight people, so call it dinner for 968.

How is this humanly possible, one might reasonably ask?

The NAC kitchen has two special ovens with four racks that fit four turkeys on each shelf. That’s 16 turkeys per oven – 32 at one time with the two ovens. Do that four times and you can cook more than 120 turkeys.

That answers the quantity question.

But – and many of us, regrettably, have to ask this every year – how do you cook them, and for how long?

Those special ovens we were talking about are called “Combi” or combination ovens. This means they use steam and convection at once. The convection circulates the heat so that the turkeys cook faster, the steam keeps the birds moist.

Chef John tells me he does the turkeys for a mere hour and a half at about 325 F. For the last 15 to 20 minutes, he does pure convection and raises the heat to 375 F. “That gives you all the colour, that golden brown turkey look with the golden, crackling skin,” he says. “But when you get to the meat, it’s juicy and moist.”

After that the chefs wheel the turkeys to one of the kitchen’s huge square counters, enfolds them in foil pans, and and put them in a warm cabinet until they are picked up.

Now, let’s talk potatoes.

How do you prepare mashed potatoes for 120 turkeys?

Well, start by ordering 275 kilos of potatoes.

That’s over 600 pounds!

There’s more. Baby carrots. French green beans. The team prepares the homemade cranberry sauce, stuffing and gravy a few days in advance. (And who can blame them?)

The whole scrumptious kit and caboodle is done and ready for pick-up, either on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day. John and his team wheel out the warming cabinets to the NAC Foyer. They’ll even load your dinner right into your car.

John says he doesn’t mind working Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. He’s worked in restaurants for so many years that he’s used to it. He and his team play special music and enjoy themselves. No one is forced to come in, he says. Every year people willingly sign up.

“It’s an honour to do this for people. In a way, you’re being invited into their home, because your food is there, and that’s very personal. You’re becoming a part of their tradition.”

Want to order one of Chef Morris’s delicious turkey dinners? All the Turkey Takeaway details are here

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