.Oswald Hosts Santa Cruz Black Thanksgiving

Restaurant owner Damani Thomas demonstrates unconventional turkey cooking techniques for local nonprofit's video

The kitchen at Oswald restaurant wasn’t the standard blur of chopping, straining and dicing Tuesday, as owner Damani Thomas demonstrated an unconventional way to cook a Thanksgiving turkey.

Organizing the event was local community organizer Ayo Banjo—who, after strapping on an apron, went headlong into learning how to deep fry a turkey under Thomas’ careful tutelage for a Santa Cruz Black Thanksgiving cooking show. Santa Cruz Black is one of the groups in GT‘s Santa Cruz Gives holiday drive this year; the group’s stated mission is to “empower and sustain a prosperous and thriving Black community … by building and advocating for fair and just policies, that promote increased access and equity in health, safety, and well being.”

“Now, I’m going to advise our viewers more than once: Don’t try this at home!” Thomas said sternly while looking directly at the camera held by videographer Hayley Sanchez. “And if you must, take it outdoors and have one of these right nearby,” he advised, waving a large fire extinguisher he keeps right next to his stove.
Thomas deftly walked Banjo through the opening steps of preparing a brine that he had soaked the turkey in overnight. The brine was made of salt, white and brown sugar, chili flakes, bay leaves, peppercorns, juniper berries and water. As the video rolled Thomas showed Banjo how to season the turkey, the last step before the turkey hit the hot oil.

“We are highlighting a Black-owned business, and that is how I tied in with Ayo,” Thomas said. “I like his energy.”
As the oil in a large pot of the stove inched up to 350 degrees, Thomas showed Banjo how to carefully lower the bird into the oil, avoiding a dangerous splash-back.
“I learned a lot of this from my grandma Sally,” Thomas said. “She had cookbooks, but for anyone that knew her, she was the cookbook, with her pantry, her countertops and stove. She was amazing.”

Amping up his flare for theatrics, Banjo charged the kitchen with enthusiasm, often peppering the camera with both hands and exaggerated expressions as he watched the boiling oil turn the turkey golden brown. 

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“I have no idea what we are going to make today, so I am going to be very amateurish,” Banjo said. “But I’m ready, so let’s make this thing happen.”
That’s when Thomas hoisted the turkey out of the oil and onto a large cutting board.
“Usually a cook doesn’t let anyone touch their knives,” he said. But for the video, he gingerly passed a large chef’s knife over to Banjo, but then took it back to show how to properly slice up the bird.

In about an hour, from brine and seasoning to cooking and serving the turkey, Thomas and Banjo then settled in on a pair of barstools and offered a final thought.
“For me, Thanksgiving is all about family and friends and laying back and staying warm,” Thomas said. “I hope we can encourage young people to become good chefs and business owners and perpetuate growth.” 

Donate to Santa Cruz Black and 62 other local nonprofits at santacruzgives.org

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Tarmo Hannula
Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.
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