How different would our traditional Thanksgiving spread be if the Pilgrims had landed on the Gulf Coast instead of New England? That's the question chef Randy Rucker is posing with an upcoming dinner that's as much a meal as it is an intellectual exercise.
Original Thanksgiving on the Third Coast
Nov 16, 5 p.m.
1834 Westheimer Rd.
"I love history and the story of food in general," says Rucker, "and wanted to explore the 'what if.'" Though his hands have been full working on the long-awaited Restaurant Bramble—expected to open soon in the old Mancuso's Italian Table location on Voss—Rucker has lately devoted some of his time to creating a colorful menu of Gulf Coast-inspired dishes for a Thanksgiving pop-up dinner planned for November 16 at Paulie's. The supper will be served family style for $65 a person, which includes wine pairings from David Keck, who runs the adjoining Camerata wine bar.
"I've always been into wild and indigenous foods," notes Rucker. "I've always sourced first and cooked second." To wit, he's still scoping out ingredients for the Thanksgiving feast next Sunday evening, though he has already found a few that will probably be incorporated in some way: "Working with acorns and black walnuts from east Texas has been entertaining, and I assume they'll make a guest appearance at dinner."
Also on the menu: plenty of shellfish in lieu of, say, turkducken. "I'm pumped for the shellfish," says Rucker. "I love the simplicity of them. There's no need for any extra bullshit. They're kinda perfect just the way they are." A photo showing a basket of freshly caught blue crab Rucker posted to his pop-up dinner's Facebook page exemplifies this sentiment.
While Rucker gained local fame for using foraged ingredients in his cooking at inventive pop-up dinners and stints at restaurants such as The Rainbow Lodge, he says there may not necessarily be as much foraged for this meal. "The one unfortunate thing about foraging is mother nature is dealing the cards," Rucker says, "and if she isn't giving it up there is no coaxing her into it." That said, he promises: "I've got a bunch of southern boletes that I harvested a month ago that have been air dried and ready for use. I will also head down to my bay house on Bolivar to scoop sea beans, coastal golden rod, sea rocket just to name a few."
What you won't find on the menu are non-native foods, says Rucker: "Everything will be [sourced] from our coastlines, prairies, and forests." That means no sweet potato casseroles topped with marshmallows and no cranberry sauce in the shape of a tin can, though that doesn't mean all bets are off for foods that native Texans were eating around the time of the first Thanksgiving.
"The Karankawa Indians were known cannibals," Rucker points out, "so I reckon that's off-limits."
Tickets for Rucker's "Original Thanksgiving on the Third Coast" are on sale now.