Chefs' Picks: Holiday Traditions
Chefs’ Picks tracks down what the pros are eating and cooking from coast to coast.
No matter which holidays they celebrate, chefs tend to fete the season in delicious style. Whether they’re behind the stove or for once letting someone else tie on an apron, these pros (and their families) know how to put the “eatings” in "season’s greetings."
Chef Hugh Acheson has a mini restaurant empire in Georgia, but his Christmas Eve culinary traditions stem from his British family history. “We serve bone-in lamb from Jamison Farm in Pennsylvania or Border Springs [Farm] in Virginia," he says. "I marinate the lamb for a day in olive oil, garlic, rosemary and chile flakes. The lamb is cooked at 325 degrees F and then finished for a bit at 425 degrees F to get some nice color at the end. ... Slice it thin and serve with roasted potatoes, mint sauce, maybe a garlicky salsa rossa.” Dinner takes place on the earlier side to allow for a few of Acheson’s other favorite Christmas Eve traditions: late-night gift-wrapping and stocking-stuffing.
Veteran Chef Alan Wong has the good sense to close his eponymous restaurant on New Year’s Day, allowing him to celebrate the Japanese tradition of osechi-ryori with family. His mom cooks for two full days to make all the different dishes. “In particular, I enjoy my mom’s maki sushi and nishime. Part of the New Year’s meal also includes ozoni, which is a Japanese mochi soup," he says. "My mom makes her own mochi, and she puts it into a flavorful broth with vegetables. Every household has their own flavor of soup broth, so each family’s ozoni is unique. Also, in Hawaii, we eat a lot of ahi (tuna) sashimi because the red color of the fish symbolizes good luck for the new year.”
Colin King, Head Chef, Oyamel Cocina Mexicana, Washington, D.C.
At Chef José Andrés restaurant Oyamel Cocina, Chef Colin King dishes up heritage-meets-modern Mexican cuisine day in and day out. But even when holiday celebrations roll around, he doesn’t get the day off. For the last several years, it’s been a family tradition for him and his mother to cook a big meal together for the rest of the family. “Lately I have been finding a really nice beef roast to bring home, butcher, tie and roast for most of the day while working on sides and bloody Marys with my mom," he says. "The roasts have gone over really well; in fact, two years ago my older sister, a vegetarian for more than 20 years, tried a piece of beef!”
Jean-Paul Bourgeois, Executive Chef, Blue Smoke Enterprises
Louisiana-native Jean-Paul Bourgeois has fond food memories of the holidays and recalls the warm homemade biscuits his mamaw (his maternal grandmother) served with homemade mayhaw jelly and cane syrup for family breakfast. His mamaw was also renowned for the cornbread dressing she made every Thanksgiving and Christmas. “It is such a cherished tradition for me that we currently serve a variation of the dish at Blue Smoke. Dubbed The Whole Damn Bird, the cornbread and andouille dressing is stuffed inside of a whole chicken and smoked,” he says.
Ford Fry, Chef and Restaurateur, The Optimist, Atlanta, and State of Grace, Houston
"Growing up in Texas and being from an active and competitive family, we always hit the tennis courts for a friendly round robin. With all the celebratory eating and rich treats, it's a fun way to get some fresh air and burn a few extra calories to earn that second helping," he says. Ford has also shared his most-beloved holiday food traditions with his own kids; they enjoy a full-on Tex-Mex dinner of tamales, queso, enchiladas, crispy tacos and puffy tostadas on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas they uphold the Houston tradition of eating fresh Gulf peel-and-eat shrimp "straight off the boats" with comeback sauce. With a spread like that, we'd be motivated to pick up a racket too.
Depending on your needs, some cuts are better than others.