Lily Barclay speaks to chefs from Michel Roux Jr to Jo Wheatley to find out about their fondest Christmas memories and how they are planning on spending the day this year.
Michel Roux Jr
Christmas as a child
My most prominent memories 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.
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 side-lines.
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 the 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.
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, which get wrapped and put out on Christmas Eve, but 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 everyone has a table present, like racing snails or toy rockets, something a bit competitive.
After breakfast we will open our stocking and presents. Then we have a late traditional Christmas lunch at 4.30pm, mine always have to have Yorkshire puddings with any roast, with homemade cranberry and clementine sauce and homemade bread sauce. I also do a traditional Christmas pudding; I made 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, josblueaga.com.
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 brought mince pies and chocolates. As we were new to the tradition mum didn't know "Western festive Christmas foods" so we had Chinese New Year foods instead!
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 then a cheese board. In between courses, we opened presents, played Trivial Pursuit, watched Bridget Jone's Diary.... basically we try to make the day as long and as 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 Huant at chinghehuang.com.
Christmas as a child and Christmas now
Thomasina’s next book is all about chillies and out May 2014 thomasinamiers.com. Image credit: Karolina Webb.
What are your favourite memories of Christmas? And how has it changed for you?