If Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, then imagine how wonderful it is to share Christmas dinner with one of the world’s best chefs. Our turkey dinners may rock, but these all-time favorite meals sound down right interplanetary!
For Aquavit’s Emma Bengtsson it was the meals she enjoyed as a child in her native Sweden. For Hawaiian transplant Mark Ellman, who helped revive local cuisine, it’s about Hanukkah with his biological family and Christmas with his restaurant family.
Daniel Boulud normally goes home to Lyon, France, and shares a magnificent feast with his family. Enigmatic chef Peter Chang remembers most fondly a Christmas skiing holiday, with a completely non-traditional but sumptuous cornucopia of dishes. And trailblazing chef Lidia Bastianich tells us about her legendary home-cooked dinners and potluck desserts.
Read on for a taste of their holiday traditions from years past.
“I go to my family in Lyon—my brothers, my parents and my children—and we always have oysters—Gillardeau oysters, a special oyster in France, with a little bit of caviar, and splash of lemon. For me Christmas is the day you indulge, and you eat all the things at the table that you wouldn’t normally eat at once. Then foie gras terrine, with an orange marmalade or I create an apple quince chutney and toasted brioche. I bring American foie gras to France!
Christmas is the peak of truffles, the white and black truffles, so I do a classic risotto, so Italian—parmesan and mascarpone cheese and white truffles. And a little truffle butter. That’s course number three. And then, the roasted goose! The goose, for me, is not the most fascinating bird, but goose is delicious, especially when it is a little bit overcooked and the meat confits a little bit. And with it braised red cabbage, cooked with orange juice. We make a caramel, with orange juice and cinnamon and star anise, and then we cook the cabbage with onion and a little bit of red wine vinegar. I learned to make cabbage like that in Denmark! If we don’t get goose, we use duck, or turkey, or capon—we get amazing capon in Lyon.
After that, is the cheese, a small brie, split in half, with a thick layer of black truffle inside. I buy two small, medium brie, remove the crusts, and I make a mix with the crust, a little mascarpone, and black truffles, to create the layer. You do that two days before, so that when you eat it the truffle really permeates the brie. And with that, a field lettuce mache salad seasoned with a rapeseed oil vinaigrette.
Then dessert is the buche de noel (Christmas log) with chestnut mousse, chocolate mousse and vanilla pastry with cream inside, and, of course, decorations with the meringue, a little chocolate Christmas tree.
All this goes with some amazing wine—usually a Sancerre for the start, and then an Alsace with the foie gras, risotto with a pinot noir, for the goose as well, and for the brie I have a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and a digestif with the buche de noel.
After that, we have a two-hour nap!”
“My favorite Christmas meal is from when I was still very young growing up in Falkenberg, Sweden. We would gather every year at my cousin’s place for Christmas Eve. There were dozens of kids to play with and the food was amazing. The buffet was so grand and it had everything you could desire for a Swedish Christmas and the best part was that everything was made from scratch with local ingredients and lots and lots of love. I especially remember the meatballs and the ham. My mom would make them really small and cook them really crispy. The ham was covered in whole grain mustard and bread crumbs before going into the oven, giving it a crispy coat. But I think my favorite dish and it is still today was her creamed green kale. She would cook it with the broth from the ham and then add double cream and some bacon pieces to it. It makes me hungry just thinking about it. We would spend hours eating and in the afternoon it was time to open presents. We had a neighbor dress up as Santa and would come and hand out the gifts. In Sweden, we give gifts on the 24th instead of in the morning on the 25th. The good days where you still believed Santa Claus was real. I know I had a very blessed and happy childhood and it makes me smile every time I look back on those days.”
“My favorite Christmas meal. Wow, I would have to say, that was at my Grandmother Rosalind’s house. She was the best cook, however, since we are Jewish, it was my favorite Hanukkah meal! Boy she knocked it out of the park every time. From homemade gefilte fish, potato latkes, Aunt Rose’s carrot pudding, matzo ball soup with homemade egg noodles, to her wonderful creamy and decadent cheese blintzes.
However, my favorite Christmas meal, is when around 2 PM on Christmas Eve, we invite all of our 40 restaurant employees to have turkey, ham and prime rib with all of the fixings between shifts. They play Secret Santa and it is just a fun, fun time. Nothing but smiles.”
“My Christmas meals have always been spent at my house with my immediate family, dear friends and some extended relatives.
It starts around 2 PM when guests arrive through the kitchen, grab a glass of Prosecco and a plate full of traditional Italian antipasto items like crostini, marinated olives, Italian cheeses, Prosciutto and much more. The size of the gathering is sometimes 30 people, so I like to start with a stuffed pasta like agnolotti in broth before moving onto a baked pasta dish like stuffed shells that I can prepare before and pop in the oven.
For the main course, I love a good roasted pork loin stuffed with prunes and lots of seasonal vegetable dishes that go with it like olive oil mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts with walnuts, and marinated winter squash. And to finish, I make a big buffet table and everyone brings a special dessert that I set out with my apple strudel, nuts clementines and plenty of digestifs!
The smaller kids start to pick at my edible Christmas tree and devour the candies and cookies that decorate it. What follows after that? A lot of singing in the living room!”
“My favorite Christmas meal is from a set of family dinners in a cabin in a ski resort at Vail, Colorado, in 2017, when I went with my wife Lisa and our daughter Lydia.
We prepared meals for several days and had enough leftovers to last long after Christmas. We prepped a variety of dishes like five-spiced beef stew with potato, homemade meatball with bok choy, mushroom curry casserole, basil eggplant tofu, and hot pot and others. After a full day of skiing, everything was quick to reheat into a wholesome and nutritious meal.”
My Five Favorite Meals features the most cherished dining experiences of bartenders, chefs, distillers and celebrities.
Interviews have been condensed and edited.