5 Chefs Share Their Fondest Holiday Traditions
Anne-Cecile Degenne (Bordeaux, France)
Executive Chef, Raffles Makati
"Growing up, my mom was an excellent cook. She didn’t take up cooking professionally but it was her passion. As Christmas is our family’s favourite time of the year, my parents went all out with the decorations, the parties, the lights, and our tradition of having a four-meter high Christmas tree.
In our yearly Christmas dinner, I help my mom with cooking—from planning the appetisers to garnishing the main dishes. It starts with oysters followed by pan-seared or terrine foie gras before my grandmother’s special dish comes out—a Sole fillet with Champagne Sabayon paired with the most tender capon I have ever tasted. The evening comes to an end when we open the chocolate Christmas balls my mom had hung on our Christmas tree.
This holiday tradition is something I hold dear to my heart as it is a special time spent with family and loved ones, over a delicious festive spread."
Carlo Huerta (Cusco, Peru)
Chef, Samba, Shangri-La at the Fort, Manila
"Christmas will be celebrated differently depending on the city where you live in Peru. Cusco, where I’m from, is the historical capital of the Incan empire before the Spanish arrived.
Here, we sing villancicos (Christmas carols) and we have fireworks, and we also have competitions for the nacimiento or belen as it is called here. Some are pretty impressive, using fresh moss and mountain plants and feature small scale lakes and rivers.
During the evening on December 24th, our favourite dish is the sweet potato purée roasted with marshmallows, a side which always goes with the turkey that we make with ají panca and stuffed with arroz, beef, raisins, etc. We have lechón for the Noche Buena, and every house has their own version for the arroz arabe, made with raisins, pecans, walnuts, and coke.
But what I really crave for is the chocolate caliente from the Amazon (quillabamba) with the Peruvian panetón—not a typo...we write it like that!"
Chele González (Torrelavega, Spain)
Owner-Chef, Galley by Chele
"The 24th of December is more important than the 25th for many Spanish people, followed by Kings’ Day on January 6th.
The most important day for my family is December 24th. That’s the day when all the members of the family get together and have dinner in the big living room. And then at midnight, we go to the hall where the Christmas tree is as well as all the presents that we open one after the other.
What makes Christmas is the fact that my mum always cooks her signature dish, young lamb, which my sister, Eva (who lives in another province), buys and brings from a very specific town that has some of the best lamb in Spain. It’s a long roasting process with garlic and white wine, which fills the whole house with this particular aroma that reminds me of my family and Christmas. It’s a tradition we follow year after year and it’s the only time of the year she cooks her signature dish. Other favourites are gambas and avocado cocktail, which we always start the dinner with."
Meik Brammer (Uelzen, Germany)
Executive Chef, Manila Mariott Hotel
"In Germany, it is our tradition to get a “Christmas Calendar” before December 1. My mom handcrafts a Christmas calendar with 24 doors to open with small surprises behind each door. This calendar guided me during my childhood to know when Santa Claus will visit our home. In Germany, Santa Claus visits our home on the evening of December 24 and we are allowed to open the Christmas presents after the dinner on the 24th."
Radhey Shayam (Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, North India)
Indian Specialty Chef, Spices, The Peninsula Manila
"Definitely, it’s celebrating our festival of light, Diwali or Deepavali. I remember my parents, cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and neighbours celebrating it with the same enthusiasm that the Philippines celebrates Christmas and New Year’s Eve. It’s been this way for thousands of years with families all over India lighting candles or lamps, or stringing multicoloured lights, inside and outside their houses because it symbolised the victory of good over evil.
Legend has it that Lord Rama killed the demon king Ravana with his army of good and rescued his wife, Sita. To welcome Lord Rama back after years of exile, the entire city was decorated with diyas (earthen lamps). Diwali or Deepavali is Sanskrit for a row of lights. I remember my mother cleaning our house from top to bottom because we believe that Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) favours clean houses, and she would always buy new kitchenware.
Later in the day, we would visit the homes of relatives, giving and receiving gifts of barfi, which is like a candy made from condensed milk and sugar mixed with cashews or peanuts, mangoes, coconut, and spices like cardamom or rose water. And we pop a lot of firecrackers!"