Whether you’re luring home a college freshman with only four days off from school, or just want to skip washing dishes this year, Thanksgiving at High Camp elevates your holiday experience. Pun intended.
By Thea Marie Rood
Photography by Ben Arnst
Thanksgiving dinner is both easy and tricky to navigate, even for a home cook. On the one hand, there’s nothing difficult about shoving a turkey in the oven or mashing up potatoes. But you are also faced with this conundrum: how to placate your guests’ longing for traditional food they’ve been eating all their lives, yet still inject some level of culinary excitement.
For professionals trying to please hundreds of holiday diners, the conflict is no less an issue. “Chefs want to be creative,” says Andrew Gregory, On-Mountain Chef for Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows. “But Thanksgiving is Thanksgiving. You don’t want to mess with it too much.”
So at this year’s feast, held in the newly renovated Terrace Restaurant & Bar at High Camp (and where guests will arrive via Squaw’s aerial tram), “there will be turkey,” says Gregory with a laugh. “White meat, dark meat. But I’ll approach it a little differently. I like to wrestle with foods that are familiar.”
For instance, he will use an apple cider and herb brine. He will also do a roulade of thigh, sliced, and a crown roast of breast—all available at the carving station (the dinner will be served buffet-style). There will be sweet potatoes and green beans, too, but all their flavors will ratchet up a bit. “How about a baked apple and rosemary stuffing?” Gregory says. “And the Brussels sprouts will have some balsamic and prosciutto. The carrots will be roasted in some duck fat. We’ll have mashed potatoes, but they’ll be truffle garlic mashed potatoes. You want to maintain the integrity (of a traditional menu), but also feed the ambition of the chefs.”
This fits Gregory’s culinary philosophy, which began forming as a child. “It all started with my parents saying, ‘Don’t play with your food,’ and I said, ‘To heck with that—I want to play with everyone’s food,’” he jokes. But in a more serious vein, he also talks about his grandfather, who had a large backyard garden when Gregory was a boy. “I’d pick green beans with Grandpa, bring them in the house, and Grandma would cook them,” he says. “And I’d help her.” Green beans have stayed on his menus—including Thanksgiving Day—and are something he grows in his own garden now at his home in Russell Valley outside Truckee. “Every time I’m out there, working in the garden, I’m thinking about my childhood. It’s reminiscent of how I started and invokes a lot of memories.”
In fact, sourcing ingredients locally remains a priority for him, both at home—where he also raises some poultry and pigs for his own use—and at work. “For me it’s not just a philosophy, it’s a lifestyle,” he says. But he also admits there are inherent challenges for Tahoe chefs, especially at High Camp. “Living in the mountains, there is an accessibility (issue),” he says. “And at High Camp, we are dealing with an aerial tram. How do we transport products and people?”
Gregory, however, has some ideas. For one thing, he rejects the idea nothing can grow at 8,200 feet, especially in winter. “I’m growing a garden at High Camp, with just some herbs (so far),” he says. “But I’ve got a greenhouse set up and plans for raised bed gardens—we’ll start with greens and lettuces.”
He also forages on the Squaw property for wild ingredients, mostly in autumn. “At the Granite Bistro, located at High Camp, we have an item on the menu called Chef’s Jam,” he explains. “It’s an herb grilled chicken breast, served on focaccia, with goat cheese, arugula and elderberry jam. I personally forage enough elderberries—from wild-seeded bushes—to get through the winter serving that dish.”
Finally, Gregory works closely with the Tahoe Food Hub, a nonprofit that links regional farms to local restaurants. “We are able to get amazing products,” he says. “And not just produce—we can source dairy, eggs, some meats, like charcuterie.” Several farms in Nevada are even moving into greenhouse, hydroponic and aquaponic farming, which provides organic food year-round. “Let’s do things as locally as we can,” he says. “Either raising it ourselves or by having local partners—anything we can do to minimize that footprint.”
Somewhat amusingly, Gregory doesn’t ski or snowboard. “I shared that with my bosses when I interviewed here and said it might be a deal breaker—but they said, ‘No, we’ll capitalize on it,’” he laughs. “At least they know I won’t not show up on a good powder day.” But that means he actually prefers these shoulder seasons—particularly fall. “In autumn, as the weather cools off, and you know snow is coming, you can find wild edibles, and it’s hunting season,” he says. “I start thinking about braises, roasts and stews.”
One of his favorite dishes this time of year, perfect for preparing at home, too, is osso buco. “Do a venison shank in red wine, shallots, garlic, onions, tomatoes and a nice, rich stock,” he says. “Braise it until it’s tender and serve it with a butternut squash risotto.” Another suggestion: roast duck braised with (more of those) pickled elderberries on a sweet potato puree.
But the high point—at High Camp—is clearly Thanksgiving dinner, especially in the renovated new space, where floor-to-ceiling windows allow you to gaze out at the lake, Mount Rose and other iconic Tahoe landmarks. “We’ll have two seatings and the sun will still be up, so you can see the views,” he says. The sunset is also lovely of course, with the room facing east for later diners to watch the alpenglow over coffee and dessert.
Which brings us to one last critical consideration: Will there be pie? “Cortney Hadley is our new pastry chef here at High Camp,” says Gregory with a smile. “She does all the pastries and wedding cakes—she’s phenomenal. So I am envisioning an assortment of pies and petit fours, but I will leave the details up to her.” In fact, he suggests the culinary team is one of his greatest pleasures: “We’re having a lot of fun here in our kitchen, and I think that directly relates to the quality of the plates, the quality of the food.”