Outsource Your Thanksgiving

Turkey and the fixings take hours to prepare, and plenty of skill. Why not pay an expert to feed your family this holiday?

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A few years ago, Ellen Percival, a magazine publisher in Calgary, found herself buried in work and social obligations. She just couldn’t face the prospect of making a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for the 30 extended family members scheduled to convene at her home for the holiday. So instead of stressing over stuffing, she saved her dinner by outsourcing it.

Percival ordered a cooked turkey and several sides from the Hyatt Regency Calgary that she picked up the day before and warmed in her oven as her guests began to arrive. While the warming required a little bit of kitchen work, and she still had to set the table and make sure her place was clean, she was saved from days of planning, grocery shopping and all that basting and mashing.

“If you choose the right place to order from, you’re getting really wonderful chefs. So it’s as good as you can get,” Percival says. “Life had intervened and decided it was a whole lot easier for everyone to chip in and let someone else take care of the food.”

Letting a professional prepare holiday dinners... is becoming increasingly popular across Canada.

While this may seem horrifying to those of us who equate Thanksgiving with family traditions and our grandmother’s secret recipes, letting a professional prepare holiday dinners – whether it’s in a restaurant or bringing home a precooked meal – is becoming increasingly popular across Canada.

Over the last several years, holiday hosting has shifted to younger generations where the household cook also has a full-time job. More Canadians are also living alone – 28 percent of households in Canada are one-person, according to the latest Census data – and simply can’t do all that food prep by themselves. As well, younger cooks can make killer stir-fries and barbecue a perfect steak, but don’t have enough experience with turkey to ensure it’ll come out just right.

Dine in or take out

Some families are heading out to restaurants for white tablecloths and chef-prepared gravy – leaving the kitchen at home totally spotless. Restaurants across the country, like Calgary’s River Café, Toronto’s Café Boulud, Vancouver’s West and Maxime’s in Winnipeg have all offered dine-in Thanksgiving dinners, which generally range from $35 to $85 per person.

The “turkey-to-go” concept is increasingly available at higher-end hotel chains, such as Fairmont, Hyatt and Westin, and other restaurants and stores like Whole Foods and Calgary Rocky Mountain Resorts’ Urban Butcher shop. The per-person cost usually works out to less than $40, with some offering portioned-out servings of turkey and others providing an entire bird (either fully cooked or ready to pop in the oven).

“With offering both Thanksgiving dining in our EPIC restaurant and Turkey to Go, we fit various needs of our guests,” says Robert Mills, executive chef at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto. “Our Turkey to Go option is a chance for people to experience Thanksgiving dinner in the comfort of their own homes.”

While Percival’s Thanksgiving dinner saved her sanity during a stressful time, she’d do things a bit differently the next time. Mainly, she’d take the time to put together a few side dishes her family loves.

“I did miss my special cranberries, and things like Uncle Gord’s broccoli cheese casserole,” Percival says. “If we were to do it again, we’d supplement it so that the special traditional dishes were still being made at home, but the turkey, potatoes and rolls and other staples were taken care of for us.”

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