With Christmas falling on a Saturday this year, even more chefs than usual will be working during the holiday.
But some chefs are still managing to get away for the holidays. Several of them shared their plans with NRN:
The parents of Chris Leahy, chef of the recently opened Lyon in New York, will be flying in from Texas to celebrate with Leahy and their granddaughters, 2-year-old Elizabeth and newborn Madeline. They plan to breakfast on Leahy’s foie gras terrine and pastries from his wife, Erica, the former pastry chef of Tom Colicchio’s Craft restaurants. Later in the day they will eat roast duck.
Anthony Lamas of Seviche in Louisville, Ky., is planning a trip to Georgia to go quail hunting. He’ll also be hitching a sled to his all-terrain vehicle to pull his two nieces and two sons around, helping them work up an appetite for the roast pig that he’s making for a neighborhood buffet to be held at “Casa Lamas.”
Mindy Segal of Hot Chocolate in Chicago said she’s retreating to a cabin in the woods with her boyfriend, their dog and a canister of her own custom chocolate blends — flavors to be determined — along with homemade marshmallows and a bottle of whiskey. “No phones, no laptops, just s’mores,” she said.
Louis Maldonado, chef de cuisine of Aziza in San Francisco, will be taking off for Christmas for the first time in a decade and heading to the small northern California town of Ukiah. There he’ll be cooking the family’s big Christmas Eve dinner, which traditionally includes his grandmother’s ravioli and assorted seafood dishes, including pots of clams, crabs and calamari. He’ll also be making bacon-wrapped striped bass.
James Laird, chef-owner of Restaurant Serenäde in Chatham, N.J., will be working on Christmas Eve with his wife and front-of-the-house manager Nancy Laird, but they’ll close the restaurant on Christmas Day.
“We always plan a very quiet day because it is such a busy season for us,” he said. “We cook breakfast of French toast with country ham in the morning.
“We open a wonderful bottle of Champagne at around 3 o’clock, and have it with cold poached shrimp and caviar while we open our presents.”
Dinner is a standing beef rib roast with mushrooms sausage strudel, roasted potatoes and English peas with pearl onions. With their meal they will drink a 1995 Château Haut Brion, and dessert likely will be cheesecake with mixed berry compote.
On Dec. 23, Dave Seigal, chef of The Tangled Vine Wine Bar & Kitchen in New York, plans to take a fishing boat to some deep water wrecks about 80 miles southwest of his hometown on Long Island to fish for black sea bass. Then on Christmas Eve he’s heading to Atlantic City, N.J., to celebrate with college friends — eating giant cheese steaks at a place called the White House, followed by craps at the Borgata and dinner at The Palm.
On the way back, he’ll stop in Edison, N.J., “for a massive Vietnamese Christmas feast that my wife’s family prepares every year. It’s some of the best home-cooked food one could possibly eat. Hopefully, I will have some fresh fish to bring them!”
Zarela Martinez, chef-owner of Zarela in New York, used to make two formal sit-down dinners on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
“But it was a lot of work for me to clean up on Christmas morning, “ she said.
Now Christmas Eve is an all-fish open house, and sort of potluck.
“The menu so far is very un-Mexican except for the traditional tamales that I will be making,” she said, adding that she’ll also be making gravlax and her coffee crunch cake, which she only makes for Christmas, “and a shrimp cocktail with several dipping sauces.”
Her son, fellow celebrity chef Aaron Sanchez, is bringing “ceviche, crab tostadas and something else.” Her stepdaughter, Marissa, who also is her general manager, is making fish in vinegar, oysters “and something else.”
Anne Mendelson, who co-wrote Martinez’s cookbooks, will, as always, bring her Hawaiian poke with macadamia nuts, and cookbook author and Italian food expert Arthur Schwartz is making a salt cod salad, “and something else,” Martinez said.
Christmas Day at Casa Martinez is always the same food: prime rib, assorted root purées, a salad of oranges, red onion and Stilton cheese, and Martinez’s coffee crunch cake and frozen toasted meringue lemon curd pie.
Michael LaScola, chef of American Seasons restaurant on the Massachusetts island of Nantucket, is spending Christmas in Ireland, the homeland of his wife, Orla. On Christmas Eve, he will join her family for lunch at a restaurant in Dublin called Chapter One, a 24-year family tradition.
Christmas Day will be at Orla’s aunt’s oceanside house in Malahide.
“Orla and I prepare a traditional Irish Christmas dinner of smoked salmon, veggie soup, sausage stuffing, two types of potatoes and fresh brown bread,” served with Orla’s mother’s homemade butter. For dessert: plum pudding.
“Being Italian, it goes against my upbringing,” he said, “but I’m used to it now.”
Gracie Nguyen, chef de cuisine of OTD Bush Street in San Francisco, and her new fiancé, Chad Newton, culinary director of consulting firm FK Restaurants & Hospitality, are taking three days off for the holiday. Nguyen’s family is coming up from Texas and Newton’s brother and sister-in-law are coming down from Portland, Ore, and the recently engaged couple will be cooking for them.
On Christmas Eve they’ll be making a porchetta, “Gracie’s famous meatballs,” bucatini, braised greens and white beans. Then they will drink White Russians while opening presents.
Dinner on Christmas day will be caviar, buttered brioche and all the accoutrements, Newton’s gnocchi with shaved black truffles, butter-poached lobster, mac and cheese, bone marrow, and dry-aged Prime rib roast rubbed with coffee, fennel, coriander and peppercorns.
Nguyen will be making a traditional croquembouche, as well as bacon Fluffernutter whoopee pies.
Next will be a what Newton calls a Korean-Vietnamese-style buffet, with four different types of meats, shrimp and tofu, along with pickles, noodles, rice, sauces and condiments all to be wrapped in lettuce wrappers.
“Gracie’s kimchee is actually fermenting slowly as we speak,” Newton said.
For dessert: tapioca with coconut-lime sorbet and tropical fruits.
Amy Alarcon, director of culinary innovation for Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, will be spending Christmas Eve with her family in Atlanta, dining at the home of their friend, Joey Masi.
“His parents are coming down from New York and his mom, Francesca, is the most incredible Italian cook,” she said.
The Alarcon family, which makes about 50 dozen tamales right after Thanksgiving, will be bringing some to dinner.
Afterwards she’ll head up to her home state of North Carolina where, before visiting her parents, she’ll go to Lexington BBQ to get slow-smoked pork shoulder tossed in vinegary sauce “and the best hush puppies on the planet, with a super sweet tea on the side.”
Stefano Cordova, vice president and executive chef of Bertucci’s Italian Restaurants will be skiing and snowmobiling in Stratton, Vt.
“Roman seafood dinner before mass on Christmas Eve, and bucatini amatriciana and roast capon after. Straciatella soup and prime rib roast for Christmas lunch,” he said.
Kevin Sbraga, who won Season 7 of Bravo TV’s "Top Chef" and is working on opening a restaurant in Philadelphia, is spending Christmas with his in-laws in Willingboro, N.J.
“After we go to church on Christmas Eve, my in-laws have a big dinner of roast pork, rice and beans, plus all the other delicious Puerto Rican extras,” he said. “On Christmas morning, we’ll wake up and do gifts with our kids Jenae and Angelo. Jenae is five years old and super excited for Santa’s visit. My wife Jesmary, who is a pastry chef, will cook a big breakfast for all of us. Christmas Day dinner happens at my dad’s house with pork, ham, turkey, a whole bunch of sides. … There will be too much food and a lot left over. It’s basically 24 hours of non-stop party.”
The parents of Matt Harding, corporate chef for Bravo! Cucina Italiana, will be coming from the East Coast to Columbus, Ohio, to spend the holiday with him. They’ll have an Italian-style fish soup with monkfish, clams, saffron and fennel before mass. Then afterwards they get together with his wife’s family and make cookies for Santa and a coffee cake for the morning.
“This is the one time of the year that I truly take a day and a half off from work,” he said.
Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].