Famous Chef Shares Holiday Fare

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Famous Chef Daniel Young shares his Thanksgiving menu. The Denver-based culinary artist tells if he's excited about being on the short-list of candidates to be considered as President-elect Obama's executive chef in the White House.

KORVA COLEMAN, host:

Maybe you feel prepared for your Thanksgiving feast with pies already baked and cranberry mold jelling. But, if you're anything like me, you leave the cooking to somebody else. And for the lucky few, that's somebody like Daniel Young. He's a chef in Denver who once counted basketball star Carmelo Anthony among his clients. Young also cooked for the Democratic Party at their convention in August, and he's rumored to be under consideration to cook for the star player of that team - President-elect Barack Obama.

Joining us now to talk about what's cooking in his kitchen is personal chef Daniel Young. Welcome to the program.

Mr. DANIEL YOUNG (Denver-based Culinary Artist): Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here.

COLEMAN: First of all, what are you having for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow?

Mr. YOUNG: It's interesting. I have typically done a very classic Thanksgiving, you know, from the days of my father's cooking. And I'm actually going to try a different fair this year that might be a little more lighter and easier to digest just to make sure I can get through the night.

COLEMAN: What's that like?

Mr. YOUNG: I think I'm going to work with turkey breast, and my plan is to stuff it with some sort of organic vegetable mix with still the traditional gravy and mashed potatoes and make a homemade cranberry chutney turkey gravy and also a old-fashioned cornbread dressing.

COLEMAN: Chef Daniel, when did you get interested in cooking?

Mr. YOUNG: Quite young. I remember I was in the fifth grade helping out the teachers in the elementary, and they were pretty amazed with my knife skills, which I had watched my father growing up quite a bit. And it stuck with me through the years, and as I got older, folks continued to tell that I had a gift for cooking. So I kind of stuck with it, and 31 years later, I'm still doing it.

COLEMAN: Have you had any formal training?

Mr. YOUNG: I have. I went to a school in New York for a short time. I didn't really fit into the book sense of cooking at the school in New York, so the chefs that had recommended me to that school set me up in the apprenticeship program over 10 years around the country, where I was able to work, actually, with four master chefs during my tenure.

COLEMAN: Is that typical?

Mr. YOUNG: You know, it's becoming typical. You know, I recommend to a lot of students here in Colorado at JohnstonWells and the other school here to really get some in the field of training before moving on to taking on the role as a chef because I think it really helps for you to get more seasoned and more familiar with what you're doing in the kitchen.

COLEMAN: What did your father think when he found out what you had chosen to do?

Mr. YOUNG: You know, it was interesting. My father was - at the time that I made my real decision to continue cooking, I actually had a full scholarship in college for theater.

COLEMAN: Theater?

Mr. YOUNG: Yeah.

COLEMAN: Wow! OK.

Mr. YOUNG: Believe it or not. And I decided during my first semester that cooking was really my passion and had made the decision to embark on my cooking career and promised my father that I would basically get my masters in cooking and not just take it for granted.

COLEMAN: Get your masters in cooking. Well, he was OK with you going into theater. He must not have worried that you would end up living in an attic or something like that?

Mr. YOUNG: Yeah. Well, he saw that in high school I wrote a 175-page story for class that he thought was just amazing, and he pushed me into following up on that, and he thought I had gift in that. But unfortunately, he got me turned on to cooking as well, and I kind of stuck with that.

COLEMAN: Is your father still alive?

Mr. YOUNG: He is.

COLEMAN: And what does he think of your activities now?

Mr. YOUNG: Yeah. He is very proud of me right now, and I think because of the fact that I did sidetrack from theater and focus on cooking, I think he was probably a little concerned that I would not reach the levels that I'm reaching now. But after 31 years, he was just beside himself that I've reached this level.

COLEMAN: Was your dad a good cook?

Mr. YOUNG: Amazing, amazing cook. I say often that I owe a lot to him - a lot of the recipes that I use are recipes that he fed us as kids and because I was so into cooking that I actually was able to watch him and see his techniques and steal all his secrets. So it's funny. When I do certain events - and he may attend some on occasion - he'll realize that I'm actually using his recipes, and he gets kind of tickled.

COLEMAN: You're cheating. You're cheating.

Mr. YOUNG: Yeah, exactly.

COLEMAN: Chef Daniel, what dishes do you most like to cook?

Mr. YOUNG: You know, essentially, I was classically trained in French, and through the years, health and nutrition has been really impacting my career. So now, I'm working a lot with organic vegetable, all-natural meats, and things like that.

And I've been curbing my classic training into more healthy, health-conscious-type dishes which was, you know, a tough transition for me because I was so committed to the French way of cooking. But in this country, I think it was something I needed to do.

COLEMAN: Well, speaking of cooking for individuals or even cooking for a large group, what about cooking at the Democratic National Convention for President-elect Obama? What was that like?

Mr. YOUNG: It was an amazing experience. The party that I was chosen to do was an after party for nomination night. In that mix, I was taking care of the State of Alabama for six days. The DNC was really focused on us working with being green and working with all-natural products and organic products. So, we were able to put together some pretty amazing dishes, which led from working doing a host party for the Poarch Creek Indians to senators from Alabama up to the nomination night. So it was a pretty diverse week.

COLEMAN: Did you get a chance to meet Mr. and Mrs. Obama?

Mr. YOUNG: I did not. Ironically, the president-elect was here in Denver early on in the campaign and spoke at Denver University, and I went down that morning primarily to - I was really curious about the support he was getting from across the board - not just from African-Americans but Americans in general.

And this election was such a historical swing that I wanted to really see if people were really backing him, and surprisingly, I got there early enough to where, when he came out to do the speech, I was right in line to shake his hand as he went up to the podium, and that was a pretty great experience.

COLEMAN: If you're just joining me, I'm Korva Coleman, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm speaking with Denver-based chef Daniel Young. Chef Young, you also cooked for a time at Fat Daddy's, and that's a diner on Denver's Capitol Hill. Are you used to cooking for politicians?

Mr. YOUNG: Here in Denver, you know, I'm pretty linked with the city government. So, I do a lot with government officials here. So, it's a pretty interesting clientele. You know, Fat Daddy's here in Denver actually was a urban diner that consisted of real old-style American fare, where we had collard greens to roast turkey to macaroni and cheese, which surprisingly went very well here in Denver, where I think I was doing close to 500 pounds of greens a week...

COLEMAN: Oh my God.

Mr. YOUNG: At this restaurant, which I had no idea that it would go over so well.

COLEMAN: You were also the chef for athlete Carmelo Anthony. Did you have to pay attention to special nutritional requirements for him?

Mr. YOUNG: With Carmelo, he's an amazing athlete that Steve Hess, the Denver Nuggets nutrition coach, worked with me to primarily learn about energy foods and foods that Carmelo could perform on without being bogged down, or - our goal was to make sure he could get through four quarters of play.

So that was an experience that opened my mind up to types of foods that you could feed athletes and just normal people that would allow you to perform at a high level. And then myself, training back in the early '80s for the '84 Olympics, really was ironic for me because my diet consisted of 85 percent carbohydrates, and today, a lot of athletes and just everyday people are staying away from carbohydrates, and that's a pretty weird swing in diets.

COLEMAN: Also, you were talking a little bit ago about the Olympics. What sport were you talking about?

Mr. YOUNG: I trained in the 100-meter high hurdles. You know, that kind of led into my passion for cooking, where cooking became a outlet for me. When I wasn't training, I was able to cook and kind of take my mind off competing.

COLEMAN: Chef Daniel, there have been a number of head chefs in the White House who've been African-American, from George Washington all the way through Lyndon Johnson. Were you to be selected as executive chef, would you research and bring back any of those recipes that were made?

Mr. YOUNG: You know, I've done researching over the last couple of weeks about the White House and that very question. It's really - you know, I get chills when I think about the opportunity to be a part of such a historical transition in Washington.

But, you know, again, I think I would approach it, you know, Barack Obama is a very disciplined person when it comes to working out and eating. So, I think I would try to create a format for him that would last at the White House or would be something that people will talk about for years to come.

But I think it would also be interesting to see exactly how former chefs approached it and how they dealt with it. So, how I approach clients like this is that I really get into their heads and really find out what foods make them feel good, what makes them feel bad. If they have problems in the morning as far as energy or in the middle of the day.

And I adjust food to kind of curb those, and that was a great exercise that I was able to work with with Steve Hess with the Nuggets. We probably can look at a game with Carmelo and say hey, he kind of lost steam in the second quarter, and we would make adjustments in his diet throughout the week and sit back in the next game and go OK, we got through three quarters this time. And the president obviously has a much more stressful regiment than a basketball player, but I would approach it the same way.

COLEMAN: Chef Daniel, finally, do you have any specialty dishes for the holidays that you might like to share with us?

Mr. YOUNG: Yeah. I was going to say, you know, on my website, I've loaded a turkey recipe along with turkey gravy, and what people love at Thanksgiving dinners is my cranberry chutney, which I would recommend everybody to go and try to make that this year.

COLEMAN: Chef Daniel Young is Denver-based chef and on the shortlist of candidates apparently to be President-elect Obama's White House chef. He joined us from member station KCFR in Denver, Colorado. Chef Daniel, thank you very much and happy Thanksgiving.

Mr. YOUNG: Oh, thank you very much, and I wish you a happy holidays.

COLEMAN: To see some of Chef Daniel's recipes for Thanksgiving, visit our website on the Tell Me More page of npr.org.

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