What Christmas looks like for the chefs

Lily Barclay speaks to top chefs such as Michel Roux Jr and Jo Wheatley to find out about their fondest Christmas memories and how they spend the big day now.

Michel Roux Jr

Michel Roux sitting down in a restaurant

Christmas as a child

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My most prominent memories I have of Christmas as a child are centred around food and family. My father was chef to a wealthy family in Kent, and every year our whole family – cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents – would all join us there. I remember the bustle in the kitchen – the phrase ‘too many chefs’ is certainly relevant! But mostly I can remember the whole house filling with the smell of cooking, which of course wasn’t unusual for my family, but the smell of Christmas is so rich and fragrant. Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, red wine, the scent of roast turkey, or duck, whatever we were eating, wafting through the house.

Christmas now

Today, we have similar Christmases with the whole family, or as many of us who are able to get together, and we gather at our house in the Ardeche. I suppose you could say little has changed, other than that I am now one of the chefs battling over the cooker rather than a child watching from the sidelines.
 

Jo Wheatley

Jo Wheatley in a kitchen

Christmas a child

My most prominent memories of Christmas as a child are going to my nan’s on Christmas night; she always used to throw a party for the whole family. My dad was one of eight, so all the aunties and uncles and all of their children would come, and my nan lived in a really small flat. My brother and I were the youngest so we were always there waiting for the grown-ups and bigger cousins to arrive.

My aunties used to bring plates of puff pastry mince pies, sausage rolls and a home-cooked ham so everyone would muck in. And, there would always be a bowl of jellied eels in the corner that actually put me off for life, like some sort of bush tucker trial.

Christmas now

It’s changed as the years have gone by as the boys are all grown up now. But at 26, 23 and 18, they all still have a stocking from Santa, that gets wrapped and put out on Christmas Eve – they are not delivered when they are in bed anymore as they are normally out partying. Then I do my last bits of preparation and set the table for breakfast, where we’ll have pancakes and fresh fruit and table presents, like racing snails or toy rockets, something a bit competitive.

After breakfast we will open our stockings and presents. Then we have a late, traditional Christmas lunch at 4.30pm; mine always has to have Yorkshire puddings with any roast, plus homemade cranberry and clementine sauce and homemade bread sauce. I also do a traditional Christmas pudding – I make mine on Stir-up Sunday so it’s ready to go into the Aga to steam for 24 hours today. After all that, we normally crash out in front of the TV.

Jo Wheatley’s book A Passion for Baking is out now. Find out more at josblueaga.com.
 

Ching-He Huang

Ching-He Huang in a kitchen

Christmas as a child

My first-ever experience of Christmas was in South Africa when I was six years old. My parents brought a small tree in Loburg and we decorated it in silver and gold baubles. Mum tied little satsumas, oranges and apples onto the tree so it was part Christmas and part Chinese New Year (satsumas symbolising ‘wealth’ and apples symbolising ‘peace’). My brother and I received little radio sets for presents. We ate roast chicken, stir-fried vegetables and water-cooked pork dumplings; dessert was shop-bought mince pies and chocolates. As we were new to the tradition, mum didn’t know Western Christmas foods, so we had Chinese New Year foods instead!

Christmas now

Last year, my other half and I hosted Christmas at our place and I did a roast turkey dinner with all the trimmings. 

We ate lobster and roast duck brioche rolls for tea and then turkey for Christmas dinner, followed by Christmas pudding and mince pies and a cheeseboard. Between courses, we opened presents, played Trivial Pursuit, watched Bridget Jones’s Diary… basically we try to make the day as long and enjoyable as possible! Christmas for our family is really centred around food – it’s a day of non-stop feasting. Indulgent it may be, but we do like to spoil our families. 

You can find recipes and blogs from Ching-He Huang at chinghehuang.com.

Thomasina Miers

Thomasina Miers in a kitchen

Christmas as a child
 

On Christmas Day, my brother, sister and I used to get up at the crack of dawn and creep tentatively into my parents’ room, wanting to wake them up to open our stockings but knowing that we may well get into serious trouble. The answer was always the same. We were not allowed to get up until we saw the first light hit the sky, a cunning ruse so deep in the winter! It is a ruse that I intend to use on my children too.
Christmas now
This year is the first year that either my husband or I have ever bought a Christmas tree, and we are wildly excited.  It is already painted white and snowy and we are about to hang the baubles. My eldest has understood the concept of Christmas for the first time and we are giddy like children with the fun of it. After years of only worrying about the food side of it (it is always a huge excuse to go crazy in the kitchen) I have the crazy fun of seeing my daughter appreciate her first proper Christmas. 

Thomasina’s bookHome Cook: Over 300 delicious fuss-free recipes, is out now. Find out more at thomasinamiers.com.

Photograph: Karolina Webb                                                                                                                                                                           

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What are your favourite memories of Christmas, and how has it changed for you? Leave a comment below…