Chefs' Holiday Culinary Traditions
Mom's sausage and peppers. Your Aunt Jean's broccoli-cheese casserole. Tamales, paella, chili — whatever your holiday culinary traditions are, the occasion wouldn't be complete without them. The crazy hours, long nights, and few days off make holiday culinary traditions all the more important to those working in restaurants. Top Chef, Iron Chef, New York to San Fran, there was one question to ask chefs about how they spend their holidays:
Do you have food or drink-related holiday traditions? A recipe, dish, or drink you always enjoy?
Check out the various holiday culinary traditions of more than 50 chefs, from Peking duck to schmaltz and everything in between — click on the slideshow for more.
Executive Chef, Kittichai, New York City
"Christmastime for me in Australia is a hectic time. The month of December is the busiest time of the year for the hospitality industry, with Christmas parties and people catching up before they go on summer holidays. When it comes to Christmas lunch, which is almost always my first day off for a while, it really is about simplicity, sitting around the pool with family and friends eating prawns, oysters, cold roasted chicken, all with a cold beer in hand. In Australia we have moved away from the traditional turkey Christmas dinner and gone for the easy option because December is typically 90°F or warmer."
Chef, Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group, New Orleans
"A southern table or really in New Orleans, it is the best part about the holiday meal is oyster dressing. We say dressing while the rest of the country says stuffing. A dressing is like a gumbo — everyone has their personal taste and touch. You can have too many oysters, not enough or non at all to balance the flavor. I would say I hope I had it just right because from my mother to my grandmother making it every Christmas you acquire a taste of what is in the ingredients. That is about 55 years of figuring the recipe out. They would never divulge the actual recipe and will always remain theirs. That’s our tradition."
Chef, Le Comptoir, Brooklyn
"After feasting during the holidays usually we did not stop then because there was a lot of celebration after the New Year, usually you visit all your relatives and friends to wish a happy and healthy New Year, where Champagne and pastries were at everyone's houses, so my mother fed us with her delicious winter vegetable soup every night for dinner. I usually make a version of it at the restaurant all winter. It is a potato-leek puree with some other veggies like (celery, carrot, parsley, parsnip....)."
Owner, Num Pang and The Vanderbilt, New York City
"Before my grandmother passed away a few years ago, we'd to go to her house on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and have a big festive meal, with some Jewish touches like schmaltz and pickles. Now we go to my parents' house and try to keep the same traditions alive, but what we usually enjoy are roast chicken and lots of wine."
Chef, Ninety Acres at Natirar, Peapack-Gladstone, N.J.
"Christmas morning: vintage Champagne, my mom’s bacon-wrapped country pâté and fresh oysters, while waiting for friends and family to come over."
Duane Fernandez, Jr
Mixologist, Entwine, New York City
"Growing up in a Hispanic household, we celebrate the holidays with my favorite all-time cocktail, Coquito, the Spanish eggnog. Light rum, dark rum, eggnog, Coco Lopez, fresh cinnamon. This cocktail has been passed down my family tree for generations. My great grandmother would use cheap rum, my mom started using Bacardi, and now my sister uses Don Q Cristal, and Don Q Añejo year rum per my recommendation. Once the cocktails start flowing, it's time for dinner. It's all about arroz con gandules (rice and pigeon peas), and roast pork shoulder. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it!"
Chef, Sandro's, New York City
"On Christmas Day in Rome it is roasted lamb or roasted capon (Cappone). On New Year's Eve, it is mandatory to have cotechino with lentils, for good luck in the New Year. At the restaurant on New Year's Eve we always serve cotechino with lentils."
Chef, The Stafford London By Kempinski, London
"One thing I love to eat with friends, at this time of year, are oysters Rockefeller. We use rock oysters from Maldon, Essex. These are grilled with a spinach, watercress, celery and Pernod glaze. Fantastic for a sharing platter while having a glass or two of Guinness. As they are more or less fat free and full of nutrients they are perfect for the January diet too."
Chef, Toqueville and 15 East, New York City
"Since my family is from Brazil, on Christmas Day we eat baccalau, roasted pork with farofa de bebe, and bittersweet hot chocolate with cognac."
Chef, Hotel Griffou, New York City
"It is a family tradition for us to get together and eat so much we usually want to die! Coming from a Portuguese household we eat a ton of fish around the holidays because it celebrates the sea and its bounty. The sea has been of huge importance to the little country of Portugal. From being the first person credited to sailing around the world to our influence in fishing. So as a country around the holidays fish and seafood is always what's on the table. My family usually starts things like cod fritters and rissóis de camarão — they're like shrimp turnovers. We obviously also throw some homemade sausage in there as well."
"But the main event is always mariscada. It's a seafood stew and I had to learn to make it at a very young age. It's a dish that truly celebrates the ocean and what it has to offer. Its base is a tomato saffron sauce and the seafood is dealer's choice. We always put mussels, clams, cockles, shrimp, scallops, cod, lobster, squid and or sepia. That is served over saffron rice. It's almost like a deconstructed paella. Following that it's always Sueños coffee and apple brandy, but we also do flan and rice pudding. That's how we roll in the Santos household. Usually the big day is Christmas Eve, but we have since changed that since I started working. Now, it's Christmas Day."
Executive Chef/Owner, Maritime Parc, New York City
"Every Christmas Eve I make homemade pasta with seafood and tomato sauce Italian-style: squid, clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, lobster, and snapper as well as plenty of Champagne flowing all day and night. For the holidays I also always have Stollen and fruitcakes, homemade of course!"
Master Chef, Dean of Classic Studies at The French Culinary Institute, New York City
"Soupe de grenouille (soup of frog's legs), courte de vallée de Munster (covered meat pie), farcie au foie gras et marrons (goose stuffed with foie gras and chestnuts), Bûche de Noël au chocolat, and petits fours de Noël (Christmas cookies)."
Executive Sous Chef, Buddakan NY, New York City
"Our holiday tradition is my aunt’s braised oxtails. It is a Filipino dish. The oxtails are seared in annato seed oil, then braised, then finished with crushed peanuts to thicken the sauce and served with toasted shrimp paste."