DOWNTOWN — Family traditions are often so ingrained in us, it’s hard to remember how or when they started. When it comes to a day like Thanksgiving, many of those traditions have been handed down generation to generation. However, Yousef Ghalaini, the new chef at FIG restaurant, can clearly remember the origins of his holiday memories.

As a native of Lebanon, Chef Ghalaini didn’t experience the all-American holiday as a very young child. “I didn’t see a turkey before I was 12,” he said.

However, after moving to the United States with his parents, he quickly adapted and forged strong memories of that first meal that stick with him to this day.

“I remember my Aunt preparing everything the day before,” he said. “As a family, we were all starting a tradition and I love all those things. I like the mashed potatoes to be simple and to this day I still love cranberry sauce out of a can.”

Ghalaini said his ideal Thanksgiving is one that adheres close to tradition, whatever your home traditions may be.

“I love Thanksgiving, it’s the one holiday that I take off from work,” he said. “It’s all about the nostalgia and you don’t want to mess with those memories and traditions. You want it to taste good and you want it to be comforting.”

That’s not to say he doesn’t have opinions on the meal. As graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley and a chef with experience in high-end restaurants nationwide, he has a trick or two to bring to the table. For Thanksgiving, his focuses his efforts on the big bird.

He said the mechanics of the cooking process are more important than the type, style or kind of turkey that you choose. Roasting the bird for about 20 minutes on high heat and then continuing at a lower setting for about 20 minutes per pound will yield a well-cooked bird.

Ghalaini said the process becomes unwieldy when attempting to cook a bird that is too large. He prefers a 10-15 lb turkey per eight people and recommends that cooks hosting large gatherings prepare two rather than attempt a giant turkey. Not only will they cook more evenly, he said two birds doubles the amount of often sought after delicacies like crispy wings or legs.

Regardless, Ghalaini said every bird benefits from brine. During the brining process, the bird is submerged in a seasoned liquid prior to cooking. Brining a turkey infuses it with flavor, but the extra moisture also provides somewhat of a cushion for the nervous cook and he said the technique is something home cooks can apply to other dishes.

“Once you get the brine down, you can make awesome bird,” he said. “Imagine roasting a chicken throughout the year and you can always pick the meat and make soup afterwards.”

While Ghalaini has traditionally taken Thanksgiving off, he will celebrate his first holiday in Santa Monica at the restaurant.

For those that want to spend the holiday away from home, FIG is offering a four course family style meal. The menu includes brown butter cauliflower soup, herb and citrus roasted turkey breast, chestnut and dried cranberry cornbread stuffing, and more for

$69 per person. For reservation: (310) 319 – 3111.

The restaurant is also hosting a holiday celebration and food drive to benefit OPCC and Olympic High School. The event, called “Meet Me Under the FIG Tree, will be held on Dec. 14 from 2 – 5 p.m. The day’s festivities include: live entertainment, pictures with Santa Claus, whimsical gingerbread houses, seasonal crafts, holiday story readings, a bounce house and more. Attendees are asked to bring nonperishable food items to contribute to the largest canned food drive on the Westside.


For a 10-15 pound turkey


2 gallons water

1 cup sugar in the raw

2 cups kosher salt

10 juniper berries

1 tsp cloves

1 tsp allspice

1 tsp fennel seeds


Place all ingredients in a stock pot and bring to a boil. While brine is cooking, place turkey in a sanitized thick walled cooler and cover with ice. When brine comes to a boil, remove from heat and pour over ice making sure not to pour any of the hot liquid directly on the turkey.

Brine for a maximum of 18 hours (you’ll have to do a reverse timeline so that the brining begins and finishes on time)

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...

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