You’ll find a turkey on Antonia Lofaso’s Thanskgiving Day table, but don’t be surprised if no one’s carving it.
“My dad’s Sicilian and my mom is half Italian and half Jewish,” says Bravo’s Top Chef All Star. “There is so much good food happening at our dinner table—stuffed artichokes, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, lasagna, pasta, brisket, and potato latkes. There’s a turkey, but sometimes it’s more of a centerpiece.”
Lofaso, the executive chef and owner of Black Market in Studio City, CA, grew up in a vibrant Long Island, NY household. She laughs as she recalls some of the holiday traditions of her childhood: “We made rice balls every Thanksgiving and Christmas,” she says. “My family formed an assembly line. You’d play with it, stuff it, roll it in breadcrumbs, and then drop it into the fryer. We’d make so many of them. My family not only planned their meals; we planned the leftovers, too.”
After dinner, the Lofasos would play cards or a rousing game of spoons. She continues these traditions with her 13-year-old daughter Xea. “Cooking always brings us together,” she says.
The author of The Busy Mom’s Cookbook, Lofaso encourages parents to start new traditions. While it can take a sense of adventure and a little courage, it also creates great memories.
“When I was a kid, my mom tried to adopt a tradition of building a gingerbread house, but it failed miserably,” she says. “She couldn’t get it to stick together, so she was building it in the freezer. I’ll always remember that story. Had she tried it again the next year, it might have kept going.
“Traditions are built by that one person who starts something new and does it over and over again—even if it fails on the first attempt. That failed attempt becomes fun family story.”
Last year, Lofaso added a new food to her Thanksgiving meal: “I decided to make a brussels sprout salad instead of roasted root vegetables,” she says. “My friends were surprised, but everybody loved them. I love that you can veer off the menu and add something new. It can evolve into a new tradition.”
Lofaso says holiday traditions important because they remind you where you came from. “There’s nothing like going home,” she says. “The different tastes and smells bring you back to the time when you were warm and secure and nurtured. Those traditions help mold you into person you are. And when you come back to that, there’s a nostalgia that grounds people. Food does that to people. The smell and taste can bring you back to childhood conversations with grandparents, parents and siblings.”
Do you have a family tradition to share? Antonia Lofaso is the spokesperson for the “Dish up the Love” holiday campaign, benefiting the hunger-relief charity Feeding America. The campaign celebrates moments in the kitchen that matter most during the holidays—the sharing of food and favorite recipes with loved ones.
Through December 25, 2013, visit the World Kitchen website and share your story and recipe. For each recipe shared on the Dish Up the Love landing page, World Kitchen will donate $1 (up to $50,000) to Feeding America. You will be eligible to win prizes, including the grand prize of a trip for two to New York City on Valentine’s Day weekend. Click here for contest rules and to enter.