A 52-Pound Turkey, 26 Small Ones and The Cooks Behind Them

Nov 26, 2015

For most of us the highlight of Thanksgiving is the food. So this year we thought we’d hear from people who cook for a living—professional chefs—and see what their Thanksgiving meals and traditions look like.

In Laconia

Kevin Halligan is the owner and chef at Local Eatery in Laconia. When he gets off work Wednesday around midnight, he goes home and slides the turkey into the oven. His turkey has to start cooking early – because it is enormous, a 52-pounder.

“They’re awesome. They’re huge. It takes up the whole oven. You can’t fit anything else in it,” Halligan said, adding that it feeds about seven people.

Halligan has been cooking a gargantuan turkey for his family for about a decade. Golden Shamrock Farm in Loudon sets aside its biggest bird for him. Halligan makes all the side dishes too, and the dessert. And he also raises his own pigs, right in the backyard.

On average Kevin Halligan cooks a 55-pound turkey for his family every Thanksgiving.
Credit Kevin Halligan

Halligan shuffles between his home kitchen and the restaurant all morning pulling things in and out of ovens.

Halligan’s wife, Gillian, was, to say the least, a little surprised the first year he walked in the door with a turkey the size of a small golden retriever. “I think that was one of the biggest ones too, actually. I think that was like a 57-pounder that year and it just – it’s like putting a dinosaur in the oven,” Halligan said laughing.

“It’s just so much leftovers! I think we could feed our town,” Gillian added.

And she says her four kids' enthusiasm outshines any skepticism she has. “I honestly don’t know if they’ve ever seen anything smaller. They’re so used to our big bird that I don’t even know if they’d recognize a small one,” Gillian said.

Kevin Halligan is particularly excited to see the look on his 3-year-old son's face. “I think he weighs 33 pounds. So the turkey’s definitely bigger than he is,” he said with a huge chuckle.

In Concord

Chefs at the Common Man restaurant in Concord have been working all week to get ready for this year’s Thanksgiving feast, said general manager Kristie Edmunds.

“[For] us in the restaurant industry, holidays don’t mean the same as they do to other people,” Edmunds said. “Because we tend to be here a lot of the time. You’re not always guaranteed that you’ll have the time off. This is our family. And we bring in treats for each other and snacks and make jokes and try to make the best of it.”

If the Thanksgiving crew at Common Man is a family, it’s a big one: eight servers, five people working the bar, five support staff and seven people in the kitchen.

“[For] us in the restaurant industry, holidays don’t mean the same as they do to other people,” said Kristie Edmunds, a manager at The Common Man in Concord.

But if you were hoping these folks might make Thanksgiving dinner for you this year, sorry—Edmunds said they’ve been booked solid for a month.

“We started getting calls for reservations in August,” she said. “It hasn’t stopped, and actually it intensifies the week before.”

The restaurant’s cooks have been spending the week assembling hundreds of what are called “Thanksgiving to go” kits, which include turkey, pumpkin pie and everything in between. “We prepare it all for them, put it in individually wrapped containers and directions for reheating,” Edmunds said. “Then they take that home and heat it up tomorrow and pretend that they were the cook!”

The restaurant closes early on Thanksgiving Day. For workers, it’s a shorter day, but a busier shift, with no mid-afternoon lull in traffic.

And, maybe, a chance to sit down at home and have someone else serve the turkey, cranberries and pumpkin pie this year.

In Manchester

Chuck Kalantzis owns Penuche’s Restaurant on Hanover Street.

And Thanksgiving time is one of his busiest times of year in the kitchen – that’s because for the past seven years he’s been serving Thanksgiving dinner at no cost for anyone who needs it.

“It’s just nice to have – let people have a nice Thanksgiving – they deserve it,” Kalantzis said.

A tradition, he said, that was inspired by his mother. “So, our upbringing was to always help people – I just continued that – it was never about us, it was about helping,” he said.

And this year he’s cooking 26 turkeys along with 150 pounds of potatoes, 50 pounds of squash, stuffing, cranberry sauce and even pumpkin pies.

This sign has been sitting outside Penuche's Restaurant in Manchester all week.
Credit Paige Sutherland/NHPR

“The traditional Thanksgiving dinner – we don’t go without anything on that plate,” Kalantzis said.

The oven at Penuche’s can only fit four turkeys at a time, so Kalantzis begins roasting them Monday night. “That’s a lot of work – so yes – I have not had any sleep. So, if I am mumbling and jumbling, I have definitely not had any sleep,” he said.

That’s because Kalantzis cooks this all by himself – he also picks up the tab himself too. A cost, he said, that goes up every year. “If it costs me a thousand dollars, two thousand – it cost me whatever. The value of the money it does not mean nothing,“ Kalantzis said.

Last year more than 150 people came for dinner and this year he is expecting even more. “When we open up the door at nine o’clock there will be a line out the door.”

And who shows up Kalantzis said is a mix bag from, ”people that are living on the streets, to like I said families that cannot afford it, a lot of students that are stuck here because they couldn’t go back home because of the break.”

But once everyone who wants a free meal gets one – Kalantzis’ job isn’t over. He then serves a turkey dinner for his own family -- roughly 40 or so people. And after that he opens the place back up for the public -- starting at four.