Chef Nyesha Arrington On Bringing Friendsgiving Back With A Bang — And An Unconventional Menu
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While there’s some debate on when exactly the holiday season begins (some say Nov. 1, others believe it’s the day after Thanksgiving), there’s no doubt that people are currently planning, with excitement, how they’re going to celebrate with loved ones. After the pandemic threw a wrench in plans last year, it’s go big or stay home for many people. But just because you may want to go “big” doesn’t mean whatever you cook, namely for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, needs to be heavy — or the same old traditional dishes for that matter. This is especially true for those looking to celebrate Friendsgiving, the occasion where friends come together to collaborate and dine on a meal around Thanksgiving. Nyesha Arrington, Top Chef alum and star of the upcoming cooking competition show Next Level Chef with Gordon Ramsay, knows a thing or two about doing Friendsgiving right — but with a twist. 

She’s partnered with sparkling water brand S.Pellegrino for a holiday video series, S.Pellegrino presents Kitchen Reunion, which is now live. In the videos, Chef Nyesha and the brand are encouraging people to reunite in the kitchen by making atypical dishes for the holidays, perfectly in line with the unconventional last year and change we’ve had. She teaches viewers how to make fare that is both intriguing and mouth-watering, including skipping turkey for a whole roasted Branzino, making room on the dining table for carrot turmeric wellness soup, and switching out the usual pies for a chocolate cranberry ganache tart. All this dishes are inspired by her LA beginnings and the people who have been a part of it. 

We chatted with Chef Nyesha about her partnership, her holiday plans and ways we can make this Friendsgiving, Thanksgiving and overall holiday season, one to remember after all we’ve made it through. 

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ESSENCE: Last year, people didn’t have the chance to be with their family, let alone their friends. How can we go big as hosts and make this an extra special Friendsgiving celebration? 

Chef Nyesha Arrington: Making any gathering extra special is easily accomplished by a thoughtful parting gift. I like to make spiced popcorn balls, chocolate truffles or mixed nuts for guests to take home with them. You can find fun, festive bags and ribbons at your local craft store to personalize your offerings. 

For those hosting a Friendsgiving for the first time, it’s an unconventional event so like your collab with S. Pellegrino, we can be unconventional with what we make for our circle. What would you recommend a host try to cook that’s different but not too difficult? 

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Large format cooking is always the best approach when cooking for a large group. Whole roasted vegetables like squash, side of salmon or even a Thanksgiving inspired pasta with ground turkey can be an amazing way to feed a lot of people with not a lot of knife work and prep.

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What are you looking forward to most, including in terms of seasonal dishes from yourself or others? 

I’m looking forward to my mom’s collard greens and her almond green beans. She makes them every Thanksgiving and me, my sister and dad love them so much. She uses toasted, slivered almonds in the green beans, which adds the most delicious flavor and aroma. In the collard greens, she uses a mixture of mustard and turnip greens in addition to the collards, which is a nice way to have textures in the braised greens.

Why are you and S. Pellegrino opting to reunite friends over a good but unorthodox meal? And tell us the inspiration for some of the unconventional offerings, including the Branzino and your carrot turmeric wellness soup. 

I have been a long-time fan of the S.Pellegrino brand and all that they do for the chef community. With the ever-changing dietary awareness of how food affects the body as fuel, I wanted to create something that was a bit non-traditional and less heavy for my Friendsgiving this year. 

Plus, for me, there’s no better way to celebrate and express my gratitude than creating a unique, delicious meal that pays homage to my friends, family and hometown. Together with S.Pellegrino, I hope to inspire others to do the same as we reconnect in the kitchen and create special moments with loved ones this holiday season. 

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