AUDIE CORNISH, BYLINE: Thanksgiving is, of course, a uniquely American holiday. But millions of American families add cultural twists to the typical holiday menu. Chef Candice Kumai knows all about mixing ethnic foods with the traditional Thanksgiving standbys, given her family's mixed cultural background. Kumai trained at Le Cordon Bleu, she authored two best-selling cookbooks and she appeared on the first season of Bravo's "Top Chef." She joins us from our studios in New York. Candice, welcome to the program.
CANDICE KUMAI: Thank you, Audie. It's a pleasure.
CORNISH: So, tell us a little bit about your background.
KUMAI: Well, you know, I grew up with your typical upbringing of a Japanese mother and a Polish-American father. We grew up with everything from kielbasa one night to sushi the next; miso soup one day or pierogies next. It was very, very multicultural.
CORNISH: So, how does that inspire or affect your holiday cooking?
KUMAI: I think that the inspiration in general to cook came from my mother. Watching her sort of adapt to my father's background and heritage, because she learned how to cook Polish, obviously, from my Polish grandmother. I just fell in love. And what happened was she started to bring a lot of her culture into all of our holiday tables, which meant, you know, you always have green tea to finish, she uses flavors like soy sauce and ginger, garlic. Roasted sesame seed oil is one of my favorite treats. But there are these spices and flavors that we have in there, like (Japanese spoken), uzu; things like that, that are very comforting and regular for myself.
CORNISH: Now, where do you think people can be most adventurous when it comes to the Thanksgiving Day menu? When is it OK to sort of mess around with or add a kind of cultural spin?
KUMAI: Here's what we have: we have potatoes 50 different ways. So, now that I'm on the East Coast, I go see my Polish side of the family for Thanksgiving. So, scalloped potatoes, potato latkes. We have, obviously, mashed potatoes, then I bring the cinnamon-sugar sweet potatoes. Some of my Polish cousins married Brazilian girls. The Brazilian potatoes were like these creamy, rich, indulgent potatoes - cream on top, cheese. They also made a really nice flan, which they brought for dessert, which is really beautiful. It's easy but the Polish side is really old school. It's like mesmerized by the flan.
CORNISH: Candice, lastly, do you have any tips for people who are bringing something new to their Thanksgiving with their family or maybe they're cooking for their family for the first time and they come from different cultural backgrounds?
KUMAI: I think the most important thing is that you should share part of your background with other people. When it comes to food, it's about sharing that, and the memories that you grew up with. So, by all means, you know, if you're Ethiopian, you know, bring it to the table. If you're Chinese, bring in some five spice. You know, if you're Polish or German, like, bust out the sausage and sauerkraut, but, you know, don't be afraid. Just share that.
CORNISH: Chef Candice Kumai. You can find her online at her blog, Stiletto Chef. Candice, thanks so much and good luck with your menu.
KUMAI: Uh-huh. Thank you, Audie.