Celebrity chef Jo Chan wasn’t into entertaining until recently, after she and her wife bought a house in South Austin. She never had room for parties at her apartment in New York, where she worked at Barbuto and Nobu Fifty Seven (and made salads for cofounder Robert De Niro and Al Pacino during her first week).
Chan never had time to host, either. The California-born chef says she moved to Texas in 2018 to “finish off the trifecta” of America’s great food regions with her first executive chef role, at Eberly, an American restaurant near downtown Austin. The role kept her busy until she competed on Bravo Top Chef’s nineteenth season, in Houston, where she says she had fun cooking for her heroes, Padma Lakshmi and Gail Simmons.
Now, post–Top Chef and post-wedding, life has slowed down somewhat, if you don’t count the opening of her first restaurant, Bureau de Poste, a French bistro serving Chan’s riffs on classic recipes like poisson à la plancha (skate wing) and duck-leg cassoulet. Launched last month, inside Tiny Grocer’s new Hyde Park location, the restaurant is a collaboration with the shop owner, Steph Steele. Chan and Steele are friends who enjoy specialty items and value small producers, and they hatched the plan for Bureau de Poste one day at breakfast once Chan knew she wanted to stay in Austin. After Top Chef, when a lot of contestants feel lost about what to do next, “Austin lifted me up and celebrated me,” Chan says.
Even though opening the new restaurant has thrust Chan back into a hectic work schedule, she plans to continue regularly having friends over for dinner, including this Thanksgiving. She and her wife often host more casual dinners, with pots of Bolognese and Filipino food nights, but cooking a full Thanksgiving spread is Chan’s favorite. She got a lot of practice from her traveling executive chef role for Marcus Samuelsson, in which she cooked Thanksgiving dinners at his restaurants in Scandinavia. “I definitely do all of it,” she says, tossing out an idea for a turkey roulade served with mac and cheese, green beans, and mashed potatoes. Ever the consummate host, she’ll bake sweet potatoes if one of her guests requests them. Her favorite Thanksgiving dish is the stuffing. “We’ll get some good bread . . . and whatever everybody else brings,” she says. “It’s the best holiday of the year for me.”
For those of us who aren’t quite Top Chef level in the cooking department, Chan says the best way to elevate home cooking is to shop at specialty stores such as Tiny Grocer, which sells many of her must-haves for entertaining. Here are some of her favorites.
Chan discovered these “apron tuxedos,” as she calls them, after she first wore a chef’s coat by Tilit while working at Barbuto. She says the herringbone denim fabric looks great on top of a dressier shirt, and it’s perfect for when you want to wear an apron to stay clean, “but don’t want to wear one that’s like a ‘Kiss the Cook’ kind of situation.”
For holiday meals, or any kind of entertaining, Chan recommends having about 75 percent of the meal already prepared before guests arrive. She says she uses the baking dishes from Made In, an Austin-based company, because they forgo the Pyrex of your mom’s casseroles and go straight from oven to table.
La Boîte is a spice-blend company by Mastering Spice coauthor Lior Lev Sercarz, who worked in Daniel Boulud’s restaurants in New York. Chan uses the Shabazi spice at Bureau de Poste for Sunday lamb roasts. Inspired by a Yemeni condiment called zhug, it includes cilantro, green chiles, garlic, and lemon. Chan says it lends a je ne sais quoi to any kind of meat.
Chan first heard about Blake Lively’s Betty Buzz tonics from Steele, who carries them at Tiny Grocer. Lately, Chan and her wife have been mixing the plain tonic water with their favorite Scottish gins for refreshing and easy drinks to quickly make for guests. Chan likes these particular tonic waters because they have a nice amount of quinine, which she’s had trouble finding in other American-made tonics.
Barefoot Contessa Family Style: Easy Ideas and Recipes That Make Everyone Feel Like Family, by Ina Garten
“When it comes to entertaining, I don’t think anyone writes a better recipe than Ina Garten,” says Chan. She refers to Garten as her first culinary school, and she still aspires to achieve the classic aesthetic of the Barefoot Contessa. Chan goes to Garten’s recipes as bases for her own, “because she shows you how it’s supposed to be done,” she says. One recipe she keeps remaking for the holidays is this saffron risotto with butternut squash.