A Top Chef Thanksgiving

updated 11/17/2008 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/17/2008 AT 01:00 AM EST

(Judge) The key to his stuffing? "Butter. Lots of butter."

"Even in a simple dish, it's all about the integrity of your ingredients."

(Judge) "If you're preparing a lot of dishes, have something low-maintenance."

"If you liked Slurpees as a kid, my cocktail is your drink!"

"For Thanksgiving the food should be rustic and not pretentious."

The next day "turkey and dumplings is an easy one-pot dish. It's warm, and will put you right to sleep."

"I wanted the main event. I said, 'Give me turkey.'"

"Even in my restaurant, I tend to go a little nuts during the holidays."

(Judge) "We all spend time together, even the contestants. We've become like family."

"My pumpkin panne cotta is simple and easy, and better than the old-school pie."

Most people know what they'll be cooking on Thanksgiving: turkey, stuffing, cranberries ... The challenge is making the familiar inviting year after year. PEOPLE asked a few cooks who know about a challenge—the judges and some alumni from Bravo's Top Chef—to create a fresh take on the traditional menu. Along the way we learned who hands out Tupperware at his restaurant, who thinks lasagna should be added to the canon, and who believes "the big bird" is overrated. PEOPLE's Bethany Lye met the Top Chef crew in New York City, where season 5 (premiering Nov. 12) is set.

Why do we love Thanksgiving?

Lakshmi: "It brings the family together. It's very inclusive."

Cascone: "I think of sweaters, leaves, family. It's my favorite time of year."

Smith-Malave: "Everyone drops their guard and says, 'Today is the day to be thankful.' And it's all about the food."

Wong: "I'm not a big believer in the big bird. Once I cooked pork loin. It's less about the food and more about coming together."

What are some of your traditions?

Colicchio: "At Craft [one of his restaurants] we do a traditional meal. And we bring Tupperware so that you can bring home whatever's left over."

Simmons: "I have to come clean: I'm Canadian. But of all the American holidays, this is the one that I love the most. I've taken to making the big turkey and all the fixings."

Talde: "I'm a first generation American. For my parents, it's a learned holiday. For years the turkey was horrible in our house. Now we do it right, but everything else is Filipino food."

What's the one must-have dish?

Mendelsohn (who made the cranberries): "Cranberries."

Martin (who made the pumpkin dessert): "There's got to be pumpkin."

Colicchio (who made the stuffing): "I think people will say Thanksgiving is not about the turkey, it is about the stuffing."

Dieterle: "I'm Sicilian, so there's always lasagna involved. That's how the Dieterles roll."

But you made the potatoes.

Dieterle: "It's a German-style potato cake with bacon; it's the greatest hashbrown you'll have in your life."

After seasons in San Francisco, L.A., Miami and Chicago, what was it like having the show in New York City?

Colicchio: "It's a tough season, but fun."

Lakshmi: "It is the culinary capital of this hemisphere. And it was nice to sleep in my own bed."

For all the recipes, go to people.com/thanksgiving. And to see exclusive video from our shoot, go to people.com/topchef

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