Eric Klein has cooked Thanksgiving meals for thousands of people, but has never celebrated the holiday himself.
“To be honest with you, during the 15 or 16 years I’ve been in America, I haven’t had the time off yet to do the Thanksgiving,” Spago’s executive chef says. “My wife gets the end of the stick. I told her already, this year on Thanksgiving, we won’t do Thanksgiving on Thursday—it’d not be fair. We’ll do Thanksgiving on Sunday.”
Despite growing up in France and missing all those Thanksgivings since he arrived in the United States, Klein still has a fondness for our culinary tradition.
“I love the rolls, the turkey, the vegetables—all of it,” he says.
When asked to cite his favorite holiday menu item, Klein pauses to think carefully about his response. “I think of a menu like a child,” he says. “Which one’s your favorite child? You can’t have a favorite child, because you love them all. It’s the same thing with my dishes; I love them all. I love all the good things the soul needs to feed on.”
Klein is also associate partner at Spago, which means he has his hands in all aspects of the operation. “I make all the recipes, I make all the food, I decide what goes on the menu, what doesn’t go on the menu,” he says.
Klein, whose Wolfgang Puck experience includes Spago Beverly Hills, came to Las Vegas in 2005 when Steve Wynn brought him to town to open SW Steakhouse. He moved to Fix at Bellago before returning to his Puck roots, making the move to Spago in 2007.
While the Puck name carries serious weight, Klein says it takes more than brand power to keep his dining room full. “It’s not about who we are; it’s what we did,” he says, offering up every chef’s favorite saying: “We’re only as good as the last meal we serve.”
Things haven’t changed since he took the helm. “I’ve always wanted customers to come and say—excuse my French—‘Fuckin’ eh, this is awesome. I feel today is the best $40 or $50 that I ever spent,’” Klein says. “And at the end of the day, everybody loves eating.”
“Smaragd Grüner Veltliners from top producers like Prager have a complex combination of fruit flavors (like mandarin, apricot and lime) in conjunction with spices (like anise and pepper) and minerality,” says Tim Wilson, Spago director of beverage. “They also have abundant extract and an excellent acid structure. This profile is a perfect complement to the butternut squash soup, which is quite rich and accented with flavorful holiday spices.”
If this producer or vintage is not available, look for Smaragd Grüner Veltliners in any recent vintage from Rudi Pichler, F.X. Pichler, Alzinger or Knoll.
Savory Squash Soup
A dish you can make using your Thanksgiving leftovers
- 3¾ cups of pumpkin or butternut squash (canned may be substituted)
- 1 acorn squash
- ¾ stick unsalted butter
- 1 white onion, diced fine
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ⅛ teaspoon fresh-ground white pepper
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ginger
- ⅛ cardamom, ground
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- juice of ½ lemon
- 4 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- cranberry relish, to garnish
Preheat the oven to 350.
Cut each squash in half and discard the seeds. Brush cut sides with 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Arrange squash cut side down on rack placed in baking tray, bake until tender, 1 ½ hours, then scoop out insides of the squash once cooled. (If using leftover squash that has already been cooked, do not re-cook.) Purée the flesh in a food processor. Reserve.
In a medium stockpot, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. Over low heat, sweat the onion. Do not allow it to brown. Add the puréed squash and cook over very low heat until heated through, stirring occasionally. Do not allow it to bubble up. Season with the salt, pepper, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, brown sugar and lemon juice.
Pour in the stock and bring to a boil, still over low heat, stir often. Cook 20 minutes.
In a small saucepan, heat the cream with the rosemary sprig. Remove the rosemary and pour the cream into the soup. Transfer to a blender or food processor and process, in batches, for 2 or 3 minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
To serve, ladle the soup into heated bowls. Place a tablespoon of cranberry relish in the center.