Chefs' Culinary Holiday Traditions Slideshow
December 23, 2010
Chef Nikki Cascone
Chef, Octavia's Porch, New York City
"We actually always make a big batch of eggnog with a good scotch or whiskey and spice it up with nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and vanilla bean. Some of my family like it hot and some like it over ice. It signifies the celebration of Christmas for us and reminds us of my stepdad who is no longer with us."
Chef Attilio Reale
Chef, Buca Brick Oven Pizza, New York City
"In Naples, where I was born, my family always served fried eel and pastiera alla napoletana for Christmas."
Chef Baruch Rabasav
Chef, Mesón 923, New Orleans, LA
"For me, my favorite holiday dessert is not actually a dessert, but candy. Every year my grandfather would send my sister and me a small box of See’s Candies' Nuts and Chews for Christmas. The tradition started thirty years ago when See’s Candies was just a small enterprise and special candy maker in California. Now, it has become an American classic, but it is still very special to our family. My mother carries on the tradition, and there has not been a single year when I did not receive a box of See’s Candies for Christmas. Nothing but Nuts and Chews!"
Chef David Seigal
Chef, The Tangled Vine, New York City
"My wife's family has a pretty cool tradition that I look forward to every year on Christmas Day. She is Vietnamese and has a very large family who gather at my brother-in-law's house in New Jersey for an amazing Asian homemade feast. The first time I met my mother-in-law was at this feast five years ago — she was crouched on the floor, which was covered in newspaper, hacking away at a huge roast pig with a giant meat cleaver. I knew at this moment that I had chosen the right family!"
"The meal is prepared by Vietnamese women. It includes spring rolls, summer rolls, shrimp toast, phở, sautéed lobster, ginger chicken and rice, the aforementioned roast pork, and sides, soups and vegetables whose names I don't know. Generally, women are in the kitchen, and men drink whiskey in the dining room. Tons of kids run around and there's usually a poker game in the basement."
"Last year, after getting harassed for being a chef and never cooking for her family, I brought a paella pan to show what I learned in Spain. I filled the 36-inch pan with Bomba rice, saffron, mussels, clams, shrimp, chorizo, sofrito, chicken and pimentón and it came out pretty amazing. The room got pretty silent when I removed it from the oven and before I knew it, the whole thing was gone. My cooking has not been questioned by them since!"
Chef Ed Cotton
Chef, Plein Sud, New York City
"I grew up in a family that loves to cook. For the holidays my father and I always make a roast. For the past few years it has been a beautiful dry-aged prime rib, perfectly roasted, studded with garlic and served with a simple au jus. I can smell it now! We serve it with creamy mashed potatoes and different sides of vegetables."
"My mother (with the help of my sisters) always makes her tomato sauce with simmering pork cutlets and hot Italian sausage, garlic bread and cheese raviolis. I am in the Plein Sud kitchen this Christmas, but if I were to go home, I’d introduce a variation on a great soup I made while I was on Top Chef. It is a warm cucumber and dill vichyssoise with salmon gravlax and pumpernickel croutons. It is festive, flavorful, bright and color and great to serve family style. I almost won the competition with that soup — just make sure your croutons aren’t soggy and not crisp."
Chef Sebastien Chamaret
Chef, Le Comptoir, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
"Growing up on a farm in the countryside near Brittany, we didn't eat much seafood or fish year-round. Only during Lent, with the weekly Friday fish tradition and for Christmas and New Year's. We usually started Christmas Eve dinner preparation by shucking oysters and cooking langoustines."
"We would go to midnight mass then come back and finish the oysters, langoustines, sea snails then start to eat dinner which was always pretty much the same every year (and still is at my uncle's house). To start: veal sausage and sautéed apples, a piece of slow roasted venison or wild boar, cheese tray and Bûche de Noël (Christmas log). The meal would end around 3 a.m."
"Few years back my cousin cut his hand while opening gifts for the kids and we had to take him to the ER at 1 a.m., so we 'paused' dinner and resumed when he came back from the hospital at 3 a.m. I remember my 80-year old grandma waiting patiently to start the cheese tray. I try to follow the tradition with my family and friends here in New York."
Chef Craig Shelton
Chef, The Inn at Dos Brisas, Washington, TX
“Every single year since my birth my mother has baked a Bûche de Noël for Christmas dinner. It’s not Christmas until we dig right in and take that first bite!”
Chef Amanda Cohen
Chef, Dirt Candy, New York
"Ever since I opened a restaurant my holiday is only about four days long and two of those days are travel, so just showing up is about the most complicated tradition I have the strength to sustain. Although, as with most Jewish families, we always have Chinese food on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day."
Chef Cesare Casella
Chef, Salumeria Rosi, New York City
"For Italians the holidays are all about cooking together, and then sharing that food. For Christmas, we have very traditional dishes that we make together, like lasagna con radicchio and we drink a lot of very fancy wine. It's all about passing dishes around the table and pouring lots of wine! Everything is very extravagant. It is also the time of year when we seek out the most exotic fruits that are rare or from very far away places to incorporate at the table."
"But New Year's Eve, that's when we pull out all the stops. One of my favorite New Year's dishes is the lenticchie di castelluccio di norcia con zampone. It is made with lentils that grow in the mountains of Umbria at a 6,000-foot altitude. They are believed to bring good luck because they're so rare and difficult to procure. It is their rare quality that speaks to the traditions of the winter holidays."
"This story about the lentils is just one example. This is the kind of fare we seek to celebrate on New Year's Eve. The more exotic, unique and rare the ingredients, recipes or wines, the better!"
Chef Gregory Short
Executive Chef, Masa’s, San Francisco
"First, I always drink Tom and Jerry's on Christmas Eve: one shot brandy, one shot dark rum in a coffee mug. Fill it with hot water and top with a nutmeg spiced meringue. Second, I like cheese fondue during the holidays. If I could find a way to serve it at Masa's, I would."
Chef Saul Bolton
Executive Chef, SAUL Restaurant, New York City
"The Bolton family in Brooklyn has three favorite Christmas traditions. The first tradition has been going on for 10 years now at SAUL Restaurant and with our friends the Gallis family. We always observe the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes alternating between our house and theirs each year. It gets a little complicated because I also run a Feast of the Seven Fishes menu at SAUL. In fact, a few times when everybody is too busy our families congregate at SAUL for the festivities. Of course, I am always at SAUL cooking the feast. A little later in the evening, we try to join in the merry-making by sharing a late-night grappa with everybody as the night winds down."
"Another tradition is drinking the Waterfront Ale House's homemade eggnog on Christmas morning. We make it using Sam's world famous recipe. All we do is fold in a little whipped cream, then dust it with nutmeg — it rocks."
"Our third family tradition is the Christmas Day prime rib with Brussels sprouts, potatoes, turnips. onions and carrots, first blanched, dusted with seasoned flour, and roasted in the beef fat until they are crispy outside and tender inside. That's not all! The leftover vegtables — and we make sure there are leftovers — are used to make bubble and squeak the next morning. It's interesting, the more you look back and remember the holidays, the more traditions you find."
Co-Founder, , New York City
"As far as food or drink-related traditions with family and friends, I would have to say that lobster mac and cheese is one of our favorites. I have been making this for several years and it is a huge hit with even the non-lobster loving kids. It is not an easy process but not too difficult."
Chef Tony Mantuano
Executive Chef, Spiaggia, Chicago
"We have two recipes that are holiday staples in our household, both of which are in our cookbook Wine Bar Food. Honey Fritters are something my grandmother would make during the holidays and sell at the Mantuano Food Shop, our family’s old shop in Kenosha, Wisconsin."
"The store sold fresh meats, cheeses, dry goods and produce and even during the busy holiday season, my grandmother would make mountains of honey fritters we called scalidi. The scalidi are typical fritters of Southern Italy. And Whipped Baccala. Salt cod is something we make in our household every holiday season. We whip it together with some potato to make a creamy spread and mellow the salt cod flavor with onion, garlic and olive oil. Perfect dish for any newcomers to salt cod and for those looking for a recipe for their feast of the seven fishes."
Chef Marc Forgione
Marc Forgione (with his father, Chef Larry Forgione)
Chef, Marc Forgione, New York City
"Every Christmas Eve, my family makes this savory zeppole (Italian fried dough) stuffed with ricotta cheese and cured meats. It was a recipe and dish my grandfather used to make. After his passing we all took up the tradition and now prepare it together for our Christmas Eve meal."
Chef David Guas
Pastry Chef, Bayou Bakery, Washington, D.C.
"Pecan pie. I’ve probably been eating pecan pie since I was in diapers. Nut allergies? Please. Southerners are weaned from the bottle with pecan pie, celebrate marriage with pecan pie, and say goodbye to loved ones with pecan pie. Like most Louisianans, I ate the bulk of my pecan pie at the kitchen table surrounded by relatives and friends, and Christmas always provides the perfect opportunity for pecan pie.” Click here for recipe.
Chef David Werly
Chef, The Setai South Beach, City
"Mulled wine is something I enjoy with family and friends during the holidays. Made with a red Burgundy or Bordeaux, or even a red wine from Alsace. This famous mulled wine is part of local Christmas tradition. In Alsace there is always a mulled wine seller present as people stroll through the Christmas markets to warm the bodies and spirits of the shoppers. More typical of Alsace, though less widespread, is 'Kandelzucker,' Alsatian white wine combined with honey." Click here for recipe.
Chef Elmar Prambs
Executive Chef, TRIO, Austin, TX
"Growing up in Germany, we would always drink Glühwein — a spiced, mulled wine with cloves and cinnamon — around the holidays. Even though my family has lived in the United States for 25-plus years, we continue this tradition with a delicious batch of homemade Glühwein on Christmas Eve."
Chef Franklin Becker
Chef, Abe & Arthur's, New York City
"The holidays are a very busy time at the restaurant, so I'm always working late to serve our diners. But sometimes when I get home in the early morning hours there will be a big plate of leftovers and a glass of champagne waiting for me along with a note from my kids saying how much they love me."
Chef James Laird
Chef/Owner, Restaurant Serenade, Chatham, NJ
"We always plan a very quiet day on Christmas because it is such a busy season for us. We cook a breakfast of French toast with country ham. We open a wonderful bottle of champagne at around 3:00 p.m. and have it with cold poached shrimp and caviar while we open our presents. For dinner we cook a standing beef rib roast and serve it with mushroom sausage strudel, roasted potatoes, and English peas with pearl onions. Our wine of choice is Château Haut-Brion (this year it will be 1995). Dessert is usually a rich cheesecake with mixed berry compote."
"For New Year's Day, we have an open house and cook a suckling pig. One of the side dishes is always black-eyed peas — for good luck. People come and watch the football games and drink beer and 'hangover punch.' It is a mixture of coconut water, pineapple juice, and rum. The pineapple juice settles your stomach, the coconut water replenishes your electrolytes, and the rum is the hair of the dog."
"We have melded our family traditions over the years to make our own. The beef and mushroom strudel was from Nancy’s family. The suet roasted potatoes were James' mother's. The suckling pig is our take on fresh ham for New Year's Day. The black-eyed peas are a Southern tradition that Nancy’s dad picked up when he spent time going to college in Virginia. The hangover punch was born on January 1, 2000 of necessity — we all had had too much bringing in the new millennium."
Chef Jeff Tunks
Chef, Passion Foods Hospitality, Washington, D.C.
"Chocolate Heath Bar cake. My absolute favorite holiday dessert is this chocolate fudge my wife, Katherine, introduced my family to on our very first Christmas. She gives that to many of the chefs in my restaurant group for Christmas. You start with a thick chocolate fudge cake, poke holes in it with a straw, fill the holes with sweet condensed milk, then cover the entire cake with smashed Heath Bar pieces. It is decadent! Then on Christmas Day you have the four B's: Bloody's and Benedict's, nap, Beef and Bordeaux, then back on the treadmill."
Forager Johanna Kolodny
Forager, PRINT. Restaurant, New York City
"Although my family doesn't celebrate Christmas my mother for the past 60-plus years has gotten a Greenberg's smoked turkey from Tyler, TX. This tradition started when she was a child and has spilled over to our family with my father. Yes, the same Greenberg's turkey that was recently featured in a New York Times' article. I had some turkey last night in fact. You can eat it many different ways, but we tend to snack on it with Russian dressing."
Chef Kurt Gutenbrunner
Chef, KG-NY Group, New York City
"An Austrian tradition I loved was visiting the Christmas markets with friends and family. You could have Glühwein (hot spiced wine) or fruit teas, tons of cookies and shop for homemade ornaments all while smelling the pine trees and enjoying the outdoors. This is something that I would love to recreate here in New York Ctiy."
"Now, I like to spend time home with my kids, we usually go to mass on the 24th and have friends stop by Christmas Day. It is really hard to get both Christmas and New Year's Eve off if you work in the restaurant business, so New Year's Eve is typically spent at one of my restaurants. It's nice because both Wallsé and Blaue Gans have fantastic atmosphere that night, with everyone happy enjoying time with family and friends. Back in Austria we celebrated the New Year with goulash at 2 a.m., and a nice sausage breakfast in the morning."
Chef Maria “Marita” Lynn
Maria “Marita” Lynn
"For the holidays in Peru, in my family it is tradition to eat a roasted turkey, marinated with herbs, garlic and aji peppers; roasted pork shoulder or pernil with Aji Panca, Peruvian style rice with lots of garlic and peas, and a vegetable dish such cauliflower gratin. For dessert, we eat Panettone, an Italian-influenced sweet bread with fruits, very popular in Peru and hot chocolate. As far as drinks, we drink passion fruit sour, made out of Pisco and passion fruit juice. I’ll be happy to share my recipe for the turkey." Click here for the recipe.
Chef Robert Aikens
Exec. Chef, The Dandelion (opens next week), Philadelphia
"In London, everyone heads to the pubs and then floods Trafalgar Square on New Year’s Eve. But I usually prefer to keep it quiet — have a pint in peace."
Exec. Pastry Chef Heather Carlucci-Rodriguez
Executive Pastry Chef, PRINT. Restaurant, New York City
"During Christmas, I love struffoli. Struffoli are little balls of fried dough covered in honey infused with orange. All of my aunts always made them for any holiday, but for me the struffoli at Christmas always tasted best."
FCI Dean Emeritus Alain Sailhac
Alain Sailhac (left)
Exec. VP, Dean Emeritus, French Culinary Institute
"I try to share the tradition of the Reveillon with my family and friends. The menu usually consists of: foie gras, lobster, turkey or quail, and Bûche de Noël."
Chef Shaun Hergatt
Chef, SHO Shaun Hergatt, New York City
"Grandmother’s Finnish Pulla Bread — growing up, I have warm memories of this recipe. This traditional bread from Finland (where my grandmother is from) reminds me of her in the kitchen cooking for special family occasions. It is a simple yeast bread with sugar, raisin and cinnamon, but smells amazing when baking, and is incredibly delicious especially when devoured fresh out of the oven."
Chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli
Chef, Butter and The Darby, New York City
"Every Christmas, my mother and father steam large lobsters and we sit down with that and some drawn butter. No frills, no bells or whistles. We crack a bottle of Champagne and there is no talk at the table until the lobsters are finished. Sometimes, silent traditions are the most sacred."
Chef Adam Woodfield
Chef, Betel, New York City
"In the Woodfield family a dish that we must always have at Christmas lunch is prawns. We all sit around and cook them in a fish stock, then cool them down and then peel them while having a cold beer and sharing stories. In Australia seafood plays a big part in the Christmas menu because it is so hot at Christmas time (about 90°F) it goes down so well and the more traditional dishes, i.e. pork, turkey are just too heavy for the blistering Aussie summer."
Chef Ratha Chaupoly
Chef, Num Pang, New York City
"When I was growing up, my mother use to make this fish soup base with noodles and vegetables (Nom Pachok: vermicelli noodles, fish broth, sprouts, herbs and spices) It's still one of our favorite things to make and eat along with summer rolls. One of my favorites includes pork belly, steamed shrimp, noodles, Vietnamese mint, long beans, and chives. We have it with a dipping sauce made with tuk trey, hoisin and hot sauce. One of our traditions now is to have Peking duck for the Holidays. Peking Duck Numpang would be a great sandwich!"
Chef Robert Newton
Chef, Seersucker, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
"Back when I lived in Arkansas, my mom would always make a big pot of chili for Christmas Eve. That way she could feed all the relatives, regardless of how many stopped by. These days, I let others do the cooking on the holidays. But I do plan to open a nice bottle of Bordeaux on the 25th! As for New Year's Day, it's a big tradition down South to eat the Hoppin' John rice and beans dish for good luck. We plan to start that tradition at Seersucker on January 1st."
Chef Michael Laiskonis
Pastry Chef, Le Bernardin, New York City
"Easy. My wife (general manager of Aldea) and I can typically only count on having one full day off together at the height of this busy season, and whichever day it might be — Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or the Sunday following — the tone of the day is 'slow'. We'll generally plan a whole day of eating, open to any random friends and neighbors, also in the business or just away form their families. The slow graze usually culminates in some sort of braise — I have a feeling it's going to be short-ribs or a shank this year. Started early in the morning, the apartment fills up with warm meaty smells; when the braise is ready, I'll probably pair it with a slowly cooked polenta, and to wash it down, maybe a nice Amarone we've been holding onto."
Chef Susan Spicer
Chef, Bayona, New Orleans, LA
"Strangely enough, my family's favorite holiday food is Indonesian pork sates with spicy peanut sauce. We lived in the Netherlands right before we moved to New Orleans (my dad was a naval officer) and my mom learned how to make a lot of wonderful Indonesian dishes. This was always the most popular one and she still has to make it for us at every family gathering." Click here for the recipe.
Chef Cathal Armstrong
Cathal and Meshelle Armstrong
Chef and Co-Owners, Restaurant Eve, Washington, D.C.
"We make minced pies as a family every year. The kids love making them with their da! They are easy to freeze, keep handy, and share with visitors. The other tradition is bombolino, eaten hot and fresh on Christmas Day!"
"As for a restaurant tradition, for the past twelve years on New Year's Day we and our management staff go to Mark's Duck House in Falls Church, VA, for duck and dim sum. There's one requirement: everyone must bring only the best Champagne. Salon, Krug, Grande Dame, Dom Pérignon—they all make appearances. Many of these bottles are gifts from restaurant regulars—they know this is our tradition and entice us with the best. So, invites have been extended and our group has grown to 40. After our feast, we all share our hopes and resolutions for the upcoming year."
Chef Angelo Sosa
Chef, Sosa Consulting and Top Chef All-Stars Contestant
"For the holidays, seeing that I'm half Dominican, ever since I was really young it was a tradition for my father and I to prepare a Dominican festive meal. My father always called the dish pastalone, which basically was overcooked long grain rice layered with a ground meat filling, and flavored with bay leaf, peppers, onions, and peas. It's almost like a lasagna, and the top layer was mixed with cheese and rice, and lightly browned. This dish was always prepared in during the holidays and was eaten by all seven of us children in Durham, CT."