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Holiday Menu Inspiration & Creation

Photos: Cole Hilton and Diwas Photography

Any aspiring chef past microwaveable-meal level knows that dish quality—and often the costs of ingredients—is best served using seasonal produce. For the unveiling of Tuxedos and Tennis Shoes’s fall & winter menus this year, we grilled Chef Chris on where he finds inspiration and how he chooses what to craft for Seattle’s modern palates.

Q) What were your influences for our Fall/Winter, Holiday, and Fall/Winter TNT To Go menus?

“Ingredients can be a bit heavier in the winter. A grilled steak with a light salsa verde is appropriate for summer, but turns to a slow-cooked short rib with a rich red wine sauce in colder months.  Winter squashes and gourds make their appearance as well as citrus and other winter fruits including pomegranates, quinces and persimmons.  Holidays remind me of spice—the scents of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.  November is the time for cranberries and pumpkins too.  Growing up, I thought pumpkins only belonged in a pie, but they are such a versatile ingredient and make an excellent soup, pasta filling, or simply roasted in a vegetable dish or salad.”

 Q) Where do you find inspiration for creating new menu items?

“After so many years in the business, I have developed a lot of culinary relationships.  Social media has been a great resource to stay connect with past colleagues.  The advantage of looking to current or former associates for inspiration is I know how they think and generate ideas.

Other resources I like to browse are the websites: sbs.com.au/food, seriouseats.com, bbc.co.uk/food, and, of course the New York Times. Finding inspiration from distant lands keeps things modern and new.”

Q) How do you anticipate new food trends?

“Chances are if I get excited about something, others will too.  By staying involved with producers, farmers, and vendors, you can be exposed to products and ingredients before they are trendy.”

Q) Who else is involved in creating our new menus?

“We have a solid team in the kitchen that is very creative.  Our pastry chefs, Brideen and Roman, are constantly coming up with new ideas for desserts.  Our event chefs—Seth, Cesar, and Jamie —all have contributed to custom menus.  During our morning pre-shifts, we talk about food a lot and discuss our goals and visions. As we work throughout the day, we continue to challenge each other’s ideas, and this forces you to really think it through to ensure that we are on the right path for our clients.”

Q) How do you think our Seattle clients vary in tastes from other regions of the country?

“Guests want wholesome foods.  They want to know where their food comes from and that they were developed in a kitchen, not a lab.  It might not be the location so much as the times we are living in.  The processed food from the 1980’s may have some nostalgia, but you can taste the 11 letter ingredients in a Twinkie, you can taste the antibiotics and hormones in meat and fish.  Sometimes we have a request for grass-fed beef, Halal chicken, or lamb or meat from a local ranch.  It is interesting to see the variety we use and how each option satisfies different requests. 

As far as dietary restrictions and allergens go, I believe this is a sign of the times more than the region as well.  I think it’s interesting how many people are gluten-free, but if you have a killer pizza, they give it a nibble.  I once worked an event where we had a dairy-free guest.  We omitted the cheese on their salad and the butter sauce on their fish, but when the special dessert we prepared did not get served, I wondered why—only to find out later they could not pass up the cheesecake.” 

Q)  What fall and winter menu items from last year did we decide to bring back or re-make into new variations?

“The pumpkin spring roll was very popular last year. This year we switched from pumpkin to butternut squash in an effort to keep up with demand.  We also modified the maple dip to make it a vegan item.

Marsala wine braised beef short ribs are always a favorite as they embody that winter comfort food feeling. And who doesn’t like roasted Brussels sprouts and delicata squash? Simply prepared and only available in the later months of the year. 

As far as desserts go, the pumpkin cheesecake bars are back, but the dessert I am asked most frequently about is the butterscotch pot de crème with the salted cashew cookie. It is house-made goodness and something about the sweet, rich creaminess with the nutty saltiness of the cashew cookie is to die for, or so I’ve been told.”


To see some of Chef Chris’s creations and the behind-the-scenes happenings at DSquared Hospitality Company, check out Tuxedos and Tennis Shoes Catering on Instagram or Facebook at @tuxedosandtennisshoes. If you’re also partial to New York sports references, you can find Chef Chris on Instagram at @chef.crispy.