Chefs’ Picks: Fall Traditions and Treats

Find out where the chefs go to have fun (and find seasonal treats) now that autumn is here.
French Toast from Cook

Chefs’ Picks tracks down what the pros are eating and cooking from coast to coast.

Changing leaves and cooler weather signal the arrival of autumn, as do seasonal activities such as hayrides, pumpkin patch visits and apple picking — especially in the Midwest and Northeast. And with autumnal activities come fall treats, which are as plentiful as the brilliantly hued leaves drifting to the ground. Chefs take advantage of this time, too, as few can resist the allure of the crisp fall air that beckons when they get a break from the kitchen. Here are some of their favorite fall traditions and the seasonal snacks they indulge in along the way (it seems chefs really love their cider doughnuts!).

Pumpkin Patches and Hayrides

For Executive Chef Paul Turano of Cook restaurant in Boston, Smolak Farms in North Andover, Mass., is the best place to spend a fall day. “We get our pumpkins, take our hayrides, we pick apples, indulge in their cider and especially their cider doughnuts, which are pretty famous here in Massachusetts,” Turano says. In addition to enabling Turano to engage in a host of autumnal-themed activities, the trip also serves to stoke his culinary imagination. “The whole experience is both a great way to celebrate the season as well as a great way to kick up my creative juices,” he says, noting that the annual trip always inspires a new menu item at his restaurant. Turano’s most-recent foray to Smolak Farms, for instance, resulted in the baked French toast on Cook’s brunch menu. “Featuring baked streusel, bourbon-cider glazed apples and raisins, it’s delicious!” Turano says.

Chef Craig Couper's Family
Apple Orchards

When Chef Craig Couper gets a break from the busy Michael Jordan Steakhouse, he heads to Edwards Apple Orchard in Winnebago, Ill., for apple picking and other fall fun with his wife and two children. “The orchard is an institution for anyone living in northern Illinois,” Couper says. “It's family-run with pumpkins, a ton of apple varietals, great unpasteurized cider — UV-treated instead — and truly amazing cinnamon apple cider doughnuts that, when eaten hot, are the best culinary experience in all of Winnebago County, in my opinion.” The seasonal trip holds special significance for Couper and his wife, as it is an opportunity to pass along a tradition that both of them also experienced in their childhoods.

Apple Cider Doughnuts
Apple Cider Doughnuts

Sandra Holl, executive baker at Chicago’s Floriole, is also a big fan of Edwards Apple Orchard. “Edwards has the best warm apple cider doughnuts around, Holl says. “We usually eat a couple while we are there and buy a dozen to bring back to the city and share with friends.”

Chef Jimmy Bannos ( Heaven on Seven) and his son, Chef Jimmy Bannos Jr. ( The Purple Pig), love going to Goebbert's Farm in Barrington, Ill., with Jr.’s two daughters. It’s a tradition that Bannos Sr. started with his kids and has continued with his grandkids, even if it is challenging to take time away from the restaurant. Their favorite thing to eat? The apple cider doughnuts. “While gourmet doughnuts may be a huge trend right now, nothing beats the cinnamon and the flavor of their fresh, warm doughnuts,” Bannos Sr. says.

Channel the flavors of the season in your own kitchen with with Bobby Flay's recipe for Apple Cider Doughnuts.

Corn Stalk Maze

Corn Maze

Photo by: ryasick/istock ©Rich Yasick 2012

ryasick/istock, Rich Yasick 2012

Straw Mazes and Seasonal Games

An annual trip to Goebbert's is also a family tradition for Chef Tony Priolo of Piccolo Sogno, who can’t resist the siren call of the farm’s sweetest treat. “I can't help but indulge in cider doughnuts each year,” Priolo says. “Then we head to the straw maze and run through it. After, we always head over to the corn kernel slide area where we play knee-deep in dry corn!”

Photos courtesy of Cook, Craig Couper and Rich Yasick

Next Up

Chefs' Picks: Holiday Traditions

Whether they’re behind the stove or for once letting someone else tie on an apron, these chefs (and their families) know how to put the “eatings” in "season’s greetings."

Chefs’ Picks: Favorite Movie Treats

When it comes time to watch the action unfold on the movie screen, even chefs who spend their days making masterful dishes prefer to cozy up with low-fuss snacks.