7 of Little Rock’s Best Chefs Share Their Favorite Holiday Recipes

Whether you’re looking for that one, game-changing side dish to add to an already tried-and-true menu or are in need of multiple recipe suggestions, including how to roast a turkey or make that perfect casserole, one thing is for certain: Thanksgiving Day doesn’t have to be stressful, and we know just the right people to help out. From appetizers to desserts and everything in between, we’ve got your full menu planned here!

Kent Walker
Kent Walker Artisan Cheese

Since dedicating himself full-time to the cheese-making business in 2011, Kent Walker has steadily produced a fine product, all right here in Little Rock. His company is currently in full production and prides itself in making delicious, handmade cheese from all-Arkansas ingredients.

Soirée: What is your favorite Thanksgiving dish?
Kent Walker: Cheese grits. My grandmother had an amazing recipe that put the grits under the broiler. The top was always so crispy.

SO: What is always on the Thanksgiving table?
KW: The canned cranberry sauce always makes an appearance. I never know why; no one ever eats more than a single bite.

Tide your Thanksgiving guests over with a tray of his habañero cheddar and Ophelia cheeses. The latter is a cow’s milk cheese, perfect for noshing, and pairs well with light red wines, pale lagers and olive tapenades.

The owner of Mylo Coffee Co. knows bread, and thankfully, he shared this crowd pleaser with us.

Roasted Grape and Rosemary Focaccia

(serves 6-8)

INGREDIENTS: 300 grams bread flour
  1 tsp. yeast
  200 milliliters room temperature water
  10 milliliters extra virgin olive oil
  10 milliliters milk
  1 tsp. sea salt
  250 grams red or black seedless grapes
  1 sprig of rosemary, chopped
  1 cup of toasted pecans
  1 pinch of raw sugar (optional)


1. Mix flour and yeast in a large bowl and stir in the water until combined. Set aside for 10 minutes before mixing in the oil, milk and salt. Once the dough has formed, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes, then knead another 10 minutes. Place the dough in a bowl sprayed with olive oil and cover it with plastic wrap. Set aside to proof for 1.5 hours, knocking it back every 30 minutes or so.

2. Flatten dough with a rolling pin into a 12×6-inch rectangle, 1/4 inch thick, then transfer to a parchment-lined baking tray. Leave in a warm place for 20 minutes. When it’s ready, it will look puffed and smooth and will bounce back slowly when pressed.

3. Preheat the oven to 425. Wash the grapes, then cut them lengthwise. Scatter the grapes over the dough, leaving a small margin in case they try to roll off during baking. Sprinkle with rosemary and sugar, reduce oven to 400 and bake for 25 minutes.

Soirée: What dish do you hate to see on the Thanksgiving table?
Stephanos Mylonas: You’re barking up the wrong tree here. I rarely meet a food I don’t like, and my general feeling about holidays is that anything goes. However, I could never get on board with Watergate salad — one of my wife’s favorites. How does pistachio pudding, pineapple, marshmallows and Cool Whip constitute a salad?

SO: What do you most enjoy about Thanksgiving?
SM: I love the way people just mill around the house together, stealing bites of food before the meal is ready, and just generally enjoying each other’s company. At Thanksgiving, it’s usually a given that no one is going anywhere — except, of course, for traveling between families. I feel that the rest of the year you’re competing with a million other things to get that time with even one person, let alone most of your family.

Start your meal off right with this hors d’oeuvres, a favorite of  Chef Matthew Cooper.

Fennel Encrusted Pork Loin with Apple Pear Conserva and Pumpkin Corn Risotto 

(serves 8-10)

  2 peeled pears, diced
  1/2 small onion, diced
  1 garlic clove, minced
  1 cup white balsamic or sherry vinegar
  1 1/2 cups sugar
  1/2 tbsp. finely ground coriander, cumin, fennel and cinnamon (sage optional)

1. Sweat onions in a little grape seed oil.

2. Add spices and vinegar.

3. Add other ingredients; reduce over medium low heat until chutney-like consistency.

INGREDIENTS FOR PORK LOIN: 1 quart apple juice
  1 tsp. whole cloves
  1 tsp. whole allspice
  1 cinnamon stick
  2 smashed garlic cloves
  1/2 cup brown sugar

1. Whisk all ingredients and pour over pork loin. Refrigerate overnight.

2. Remove pork from brine, pat dry, season with salt and pepper and rub with ground fennel.

3. Sear on both sides, then roast in the oven at 350 until pork has an internal temperature of 140. Remove from the oven and let it rest until it reaches an internal temp of 160.

Soirée: As a kid, what dish did you hate seeing on the Thanksgiving table?
Matthew Cooper: Oyster Bread Pudding is definitely something I remember hating at Thanksgiving. It was one of my mom’s traditions where she was from.

It’s a sin not to include sweet potatoes in the Thanksgiving Day mix. Chef Alexis Jones of Natchez has you covered with her twist on this classic dish.

Sweet Potatoes and Butternut Squash with a Parsley Pistou

(serves 10)

5 sweet potatoes
  3 butternut squash
  2 onions
  2 tbsp. butter
  kosher salt, to taste
  1 tbsp. each of paprika, cumin and cinnamon
  1 cup toasted pecans
1/2 bunch parsley, picked from stems
  1/4 bunch mint, picked from stems
  1 whole preserved lemon
  3 oz. roasted garlic
  kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
  (Mix all ingredients in food processor and serve)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cut sweet potatoes and squash into a medium dice, toss in oil, place in separate baking dishes and cover with foil.

3. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until fork tender. Add 2 tbsp. butter and bake, uncovered, for 10-15 more minutes.

4. Slice onions and caramelize in butter. After potatoes and squash are cooked, mix all ingredients together and season with kosher salt.

5. Toast dry pecans under the broiler for a few minutes, until fragrant, toss with a nut oil, along with a tablespoon each of paprika, cumin and cinnamon. Garnish dish with pecans.

Soirée: What are you most thankful for this year?
Alexis Jones: I am thankful for the love and support of friends and family, the restaurant team at Natchez and an end to the heat of summer! I love fall weather!

SO: What is the one thing you absolutely insist on making each year?
AJ: It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without cornbread dressing and gravy. I’ve moved around a lot and had several “friendsgivings” and I am usually the one taking over this recipe! Unless I am with family, then the dressing goes to my aunt and uncle.

Who better to serve the most iconic of Thanksgiving recipes — the beloved turkey and dressing — than someone whose name is synonymous with top-notch culinary creations in our town, chef Scott McGehee.

Cornbread Dressing

(serves 6-10)

INGREDIENTS: 1 cup pecans
  4 oz. unsalted butter
  4 cups crumbled cornbread, plus 1 cup torn-apart dinner rolls
  1 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
  2 ribs celery, diced
  1-2 carrots, peeled and small diced
  1/2 cup mushrooms, minced
  2 tsp. fresh thyme, minced
  1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  1 tsp. salt
  1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  1/4 cup white wine
  1/3 cup heavy cream
  2 cups double-strong (make chicken stock, then reduce by half) homemade chicken stock
  2 eggs


1. Heat oven to 425. Spread pecans on a baking sheet. Toast until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

2. Melt 2 ounces of butter in a small skillet. Cut cornbread and rolls into 2-inch-thick cubes. Spread on a baking sheet. Drizzle with melted butter evenly. Toast until golden brown, 10 minutes. Set aside.

3. Heat remaining 2 ounces of butter in a medium skillet on medium high heat. Add onion, carrot and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper; cook until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add white wine. Continue cooking until absorbed, about 1 minute. Add cream. Cook 30 seconds; remove pan from heat.

4. Put cornbread and bread into a large bowl. Add mushroom mixture and toasted pecans; toss. Whisk eggs into cooled double broth. Toss into cornbread mixture. Bake in a buttered 9×13-inch baking dish until stuffing is crusty and golden, about 20-30 minutes.

Oven Roasted Turkey

1. Season inside and out with salt and pepper. Put in trash bag and refrigerate for 12-24 hours.

2. Place on rack in roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil. Roast at 450 for one hour.

3. Pour a quart of apple cider and a quart of chicken broth over the turkey. Sprinkle with fresh thyme, sage, cracked pepper and coarse salt, to taste.

4. Turn oven temperature down to 170 (any more and the breast will be dry) and slow roast for 8-12 hours, depending on the size of the turkey.

Soirée: What beverages might we see on your Thanksgiving table?
Scott McGehee: We always start with bubbly, then red wine.

Thanks to chef Joël Autunes, boring casseroles have no place on this year’s table.

Organic Zucchini Casserole with Pork Sausage

(serves 8-10)

INGREDIENTS: 8 organic zucchini
  1/2 cup butter
  2/3 cup grated cheddar cheese
  1 lb. pork sausage
  1 egg
  1 cup sour cream
  1/2 tsp. salt
  Paprika, to taste
  1/4 cup chopped chives
  1 cup breadcrumbs or 1 cup crushed crackers
  1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese


1. Wash zucchini; boil whole for 5-10 minutes — no more.

2. Cut off ends and slice in halves lengthwise. Place in single layer in buttered casserole dish.

3. Sear pork sausage with butter until cooked; cool.

4. Melt butter and mix in cheddar cheese, sour cream, salt, paprika, chives and sausage. Pour over zucchini.

5. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs or crackers, then Parmesan cheese.

6. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes, or until bubbly.

From his peanut butter cookies to ice cream-filled jars, pastry chef Matthew Lowman’s desserts are unpretentious with a Southern flair, much like this pumpkin pie recipe.

Pumpkin Pie

(Yields one pie)

INGREDIENTS: 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  1/2 cup brown sugar
  1 tbsp. flour
  1/2 tsp. salt
  1 teaspoon ground ginger
  4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  Pinch fine-ground black pepper
  4 eggs
  14 oz. canned pumpkin
  1 cup heavy cream


1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Using a hand mixer, mix until smooth and homogenous. The pumpkin may be lumpy but the egg and spices should be completely incorporated.

2. I prefer using a graham cracker crust. You can use store-bought or make one by crumbling graham crackers and mixing with enough melted butter to make the crumbs stick to the side of a pie pan when pressed in. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the prepared pie crust.

3. Bake at 325 for 25-35 minutes, just until the custard in the middle of the pie starts to set up.

Soirée: What do you most enjoy about Thanksgiving?
Matthew Lowman: Fall is my favorite season in Arkansas, so I enjoy being outside with family; we usually play a lot of frisbee.

SO: What are you most thankful for this year?
ML: This year I have been very thankful about my work and the restaurant, along with the recognition I have received and all the support our friends, neighbors and customers have given us!

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