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How to avoid Thanksgiving cooking disasters with Preppy Kitchen's John Kanell

Keep calm cooking and manage Thanksgiving disasters with TV chef

john kanell
Lily Waddell
Premium Content Editor
21 November 2022
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Preppy Kitchen's John Kanell has lifted the lid on how people can keep their cool in the heat of the kitchen on Thanksgiving and how to deal with any huge disasters.

Read about Al Roker's upcoming Thanksgiving in our digital issue here

Working on live TV can be chaotic and the chef has plenty of experience - having cooked up a storm on Good Morning America, The Drew Barrymore Show and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Also, the food influencer - who in recent years made Reese Witherspoon’s birthday cake - has worked as a TV judge for Food Network’s Chopped: Sweets and Disney’s Magic Bake-Off.

For our digital Thanksgiving special starring Prue Leith on the cover, John has revealed his secret to keeping the festivities running smoothly on Thanksgiving.

In a discussion with HELLO!, the dad also revealed Drew Barrymore is the kindest celebrity he knows and he spoke candidly about living on a farm with his husband and their twins…

What are your top tips on how to keep cool, collected and calm in the heat of the kitchen for Thanksgiving?

Make a list and divide things up with some of your guests. People love to help and every bit counts. Plan ahead! Prep out as much as possible and start on Monday. Lots of things can get frozen and baked the day of, or made the night before.

Have reasonable expectations, you don't have to make everything yourself to have a wonderful meal. If you're making a show-stopping dessert you might need to pare down the side dishes. Don't forget to defrost the turkey, and while you're at it make the compound butter you'll be rubbing over and under the turkey's skin the night before.

john sons

John loves cooking with his boys

Plan your oven rotation out. Most of us have limited oven space so figure out the sequence you'll be baking things. Remember that you have a seat at the table too. Being a host should not be stressful so plan ahead and prepare so you can have an enjoyable day too.

What can people do if they have a cooking disaster on Thanksgiving?

Give yourself some grace! Good and bad things happen in the kitchen every day, it's not as much the perfection of the meal you enjoy as the welcoming spirit you bring as a host and the quality of the time you spend together. If things really go left, a great cheese board, some crudités and wine or sparkling cider will buy you some time while a plan b is sorted out.

Can you share a list of your ideal Thanksgiving menu?

A persimmon salad (from my book).


Copyright: 2022, John Kanell. Photography 2022 By David Malosh.

Reproduced by permission of Simon Element, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.

A lovely roast turkey, herbed rice (my mom's recipe), sweet potato casserole, blanched asparagus with a citrus dressing, fresh out of the oven dinner rolls with lashings of butter and of course some garlicky mashed potatoes.

For dessert we have pumpkin pie and chocolate silk pie, both with CRISP butter crusts, silky smooth fillings and mountains of whipped cream.

What advice do you have for people cooking for lots of people for the first time this Thanksgiving?

Plan things out. DO NOT do things the day of unless you have to. Most things can be prepped in advance, casserole dishes can be made a day or two ahead and baked the day of.

The turkey should be defrosted a few days ahead, and desserts like pies can be baked the night before. You should be doing very little on the actual day so plan it out and make a list of what needs to be done and when so you can have a good time on the actual day.

What is so special about cooking on Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is the best nostalgia come to life. We grew up enjoying special dishes our family made every year and look forward to creating those memories for our family and friends.

How are you spending Thanksgiving this year and are you in charge of the kitchen?

I am in charge of cooking however when my mom visits we are co-captains in the kitchen. We love having all the grandparents and siblings over with their families.

What are you personally thankful for and what do you love most about Thanksgiving?

My family and health! I love having my family together at the table and reliving past gatherings through the dishes we make.

How did the request come about for Reese Witherspoon’s birthday cake?

I got a DM on Instagram from her out of the blue and after discovering her favorite flavors I made a funfetti vanilla cake with Swiss meringue buttercream decorated with three dimensional flowers and butterflies I painted onto the cake using a pallet knife. She was so kind and gracious and it was one of my favorite cakes I've ever made.

Who is the kindest celeb you have met and why?

Drew Barrymore is even more kind and wonderful in person than what you see on TV. She is warm, open, curious, generous and so grounded. She is just a pleasure to be around.

When did you first fall in love with cooking?

I grew up helping my mom in the kitchen. She came to the US from Mexico and brought with her a love of fresh ingredients and cooking things from scratch.

john with his mum

John and his mum at the farm

Spending time with her in the kitchen was so special to me as a child and really engendered my love of cooking.

Do you cook with your sons and do you think they will follow in your footsteps?

Being in the kitchen is always more fun with a partner and luckily Lachlan and George LOVE helping in the kitchen and making things with me. I brought them in young and started them with simple things like mixing and pouring but now they can make pizza from start to finish (with some help) and they love making banana bread, and all kinds of muffins and cupcakes.

They really enjoy making appearances in videos here and there but time will tell what they choose to do, there's stiff competition from being a fireman or astronaut at the moment!

Why is family life really important to you?

My family is who I am, everything I do is really for them and without them all would be hollow.

Outside of the kitchen, what is life like living on the farm?

Life on the farm is busy and often full of long days but there is such great reward in seeing crops grow, especially when my sons help tend out kitchen garden and harvest the bounty, caring for our bees and animals, and most of all there are so many moments where you truly appreciate the cadence of nature; be it in the light filtering through red and amber leaves in the fall or the first sprouts of green poking through the snow in the spring.

john kanell with husband sons

The whole family celebrating John's success

Why do you think you are such a success on social media?

At heart I'm still a middle school math and science teacher. I loved taking complex tasks and breaking them down into small achievable pieces so students could experience success and learn to love sometimes difficult subjects.

I still do the same thing, only now I'm helping people feel confident and have fun in the kitchen so they can make delicious food to share with their family and friends. Like everyone else I make lots of mistakes but they are always moments we can learn and grow from.

Are there any celebrity chefs who I greatly admire and why?

My mother and I love Julia Child, her enthusiasm, warmth, and humanity inspired us to explore new flavors, techniques, and chart a path for ourselves in the kitchen.

Would you like to pursue a career on TV as a judge or chef?

I love the energy of being on set and around people who share a love of food. I've had the pleasure of judging on several shows and demoing recipes and look forward to doing it more as things open up and more in person taping is happening.

What inspired you to write your first cookbook and what was your experience of it?

When Brian and I moved to Connecticut with our then 2-year-old boys Lachlan and George we were awestruck by the seasons; not only how they affected what ingredients I could grow and buy, but also how they affected how we lived and what kinds of food we wanted to make and eat.

In the summer we enjoy the bounty of the garden and eat al fresco under a giant willow. In the winter we are nesting inside, enjoying comfort food, roasts or pies are in the oven and all those warming spices are getting used frequently.

This realization inspired me to write a book organized by the seasons that traces our first year at Hedge Hill Farm.

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