Judith Elen gets the lowdown on what some of the nation’s leading chefs will be eating at home this Christmas
ONJURING up fascinating dishes and menus for others year round, chefs across the country turn to their home kitchens for that important end-of-year feast. Their diverse backgrounds reflect our community and, no matter their heritage, all have family as their focus.
Cheong Liew from The Grange at Adelaide’s Hilton hotel celebrates Christmas with a foot in two worlds. On Christmas Eve, with his Lithuanian wife, We normally have Lithuanian-style dishes on the table,’’ he says. Then on Christmas Day it’s lunch at his mum’s place, with 40 to 60 people, all family and relatives, and lots of children. He has four sisters living in Adelaide and they all bring the favourite Malaysian dishes they miss: chicken curry, rendang, a platter of nasi lemak, which is
really a good combination of things to eat with rice’’: it’s coconut rice cooked with pandan leaves and served with prawn sambal, boiled eggs and fried peanuts.
Liew’s mother’s contribution is surely the centrepiece: turkey coated with a paste of ground turmeric, galangal, lemongrass, chilli and other spices, stuffed with rice, chestnuts and dried shrimp. It is a beautiful, bright yellow bird,’’ Liew says, and very fragrant.’’
For his contribution, I always make my style of food that will give them something different to try.’’ It may be the pastry-encased salmon dish, coulibiac. We do ours in brioche,’’ he says, with lobster risotto inside.’’ SHANNON Bennett of Melbourne’s Vue de Monde has two families to think of at Christmas. With bistro and restaurant both open, there are 80 staff, many from Europe, who celebrate together at a breakfast before the day’s work. They prepare everything the night before and come in early Christmas morning.
Bennett’s wife, Madeline, and their two small children join the party. There will be scrambled duck eggs with the restaurant’s house-smoked ocean trout and caviar, and probably Dom Perignon to sip and Larmandier Bernier, the champagne bottled specially for Vue de Monde. Roast goose is planned for the restaurant, so there’ll be a consomme of mushroom stock and roasted goose bones, maybe with ravioli. ALAIN Fabregues from The Loose Box in Western Australia has done his shopping already. Having discovered a farmer who raises guinea fowl, which his family in Bordeaux eats every Sunday, he bought six of the birds to run among his truffle trees and intends to
bump two off’’ for Christmas, so family will be close, despite being in France. What’s important is the way the bird is killed, he says: if the blood is drained, it’s white like a chicken, so what is the point?
Fabregues soothes the bird with a little cognac and does the deed, and it is not hung. The blood stays in the flesh, leaving it dark and gamey. It’s more earthy than seafood and he reckons turkey is too big. He’ll roast it briskly with garlic, shallots, a strip of lard for moistness, and a glass of cognac doesn’t go astray’’, but you have to look after it’’.
His wife, Lizzie, will probably demand marron or lobster for entree’’, and she will do the (surprise) dessert.
Then clafoutis-style cherry tarts, with brandymacerated cherries, cloves and cinnamon. After work, when the team heads off to the pub together, Bennett is planning to have the wood-fired oven and chargrill going at home. He intends to search out a good free-range turkey, inspired by the beautiful fresh turkey he ate in Italy recently, and will serve thin slices, warm, with potato gnocchi.
There’ll be lamb cutlets, but the barbecue will be used for pan-frying and there’ll be burnt butter, sage and lemon: echoes of Rome. JAMES Mussillon, owner-chef at Sabayon, Courgette and Water’s Edge restaurants in Canberra, says Christmas is the one time of year he closes his restaurants. It’s about being with family and friends. There will be a buffet with a couple of slow-cooked Inglewood chickens, a baked whole snapper or red emperor, oysters, prawns and a suckling pig on a spit in the garden. From his mum’s French-Moroccan side of the family, there’ll be the sago pudding she makes every year. She marinates the fruit in winter, then steams it in a cloth; it’s a tradition that continues from childhood.
First there’ll be cocktails, perhaps Suzy Wongs (with watermelon), then local white wines, finishing with shiraz. Sometimes we pull out some French burgundies.’’ Pre-preparation, less fuss and sharing the occasion, that’s what’s important. TRADITIONALIST chef Thierry Galichet of Montrachet Brasserie in Brisbane is planning to be in Phuket this year, en route to Europe. Normally, because his wife is Australian, they have two celebrations: the traditional French Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. There have been about 20 people in the past few years, including his wife’s family, and they drink Dad’s special blend; he makes a red wine and we drink it for him. We make a sangria, which helps it out.’’ SEAN Connolly from Astral restaurant at Sydney’s Star City thinks he’ll probably focus on seafood for Christmas with his wife (they came here together from Yorkshire 20 years ago) and their three children. We’re big fans of Mohr smoked salmon.’’ And there’ll be Yamba prawns and probably some nice potato salad, with chives, parsley and chardonnay vinaigrette. And a salad of Johnny Love Bite tomatoes with spanish onion, olive oil and torn basil.’’
As for cheese: Brillat Savarin, with a fruit loaf, from Keith and Jackie at Fuel Bakery, a wholesaler in Camperdown. Being without relatives in Australia at Christmas is a challenge, he says, but our friends are our family’’. Ten or 12 people, and their children, will come to the house.
We’re big on bubbles, too,’’ he says, and will probably have champagne most of the day, Moet and maybe Veuve. And with dessert (‘‘a nice raspberry trifle’’), they’ll have Moet Nectar Imperial. I really like that dessert wine.’’ There will also be plum pudding if anyone wants it’’. This year he’s been too busy to cook one himself, so it’ll be a lovely Simon Johnson one’’.
Multicultural meal: Kylie Kwong, at Billy Kwong Restaurant in Sydney, shares Christmas with as many as 60 relatives, Chinese and Australian born
Country fare: David Pugh of Restaurant Two will eat local produce cooked simply IT’S a big family do for George Calombaris of Melbourne’s The Press Club. To give you an idea, there are 21 first cousins.’’ His mum (from the Cypriot side of the family), four sisters, aunts and his 80-year-old grandmother, all in the southeastern suburbs, work it out among themselves. I get to step out of the kitchen,’’ he says. The cliche is that Greeks eat lamb, but we don’t; only at Easter and Christmas.’’
His dad is in charge of the whole baby lamb, which he marinates well beforehand and roasts on a spit in the backyard; starting at 6.30am, it’s ready between 1pm and 2pm. There’ll be his mum’s coriander and couscous salad, baby cucumber salad with dill and lemon, and whole snapper cooked in a bag with onions, tomatoes and herbs. And lots of sweets: a rich semolina seed cake
They also drink a crisp, fresh riesling. But the temperature doesn’t influence the menu: smoked salmon (rye bread and lemon), snails (bourguignon-style with butter, garlic and parsley, nice and hot’’), charcuterie (saucisson sec, prosciutto crudo, parma ham, pate, cornichons, spiced olives), turkey stuffed with chestnuts with chestnut puree on the side, and France’s traditional Christmas cake, bouche de noel. with cloves, and his mum’s rice pudding with rosewater and toasted almonds. NEW Zealander David Pugh, chef at Restaurant Two in Brisbane, will be celebrating with his wife, their children and his wife’s family. It’ll be country food, we like it simple.’’ And it’s all about local produce. There’ll be Sutton’s heritage tomatoes, beefsteak (oxheart) is his favourite; buffalo fetta from Bannella in the Atherton Tablelands; smoked Dorper lamb from Goondiwindi, shaved thinly like a parma ham, with crushed potato salad (John Cutts’s organic potatoes grown at Byron Bay); barbecued cutlets and Mediterranean vegetables.
It’s been a shocking season for crabs here,’’ he says, but for about six weeks up to Christmas, we get sensational oysters from Moreton Island, in a marine park so pristine, from Jane Clout at Kooringal.’’ Desserts will be mangoes (with a good squeeze of lime) and cherries, with homemade ice cream using Fiona George’s Broken Nose vanilla from north Queensland.
They’ll probably drink Robert Shannon’s viognier, which he thinks is the pick of the wines here’’; it won gold in London and suits the climate. SYDNEY chef Kylie Kwong, of Billy Kwong restaurant, says her Christmas Day reflects her multicultural Eurasian family. There are about 60 of us, half of them children, and we always get together at one of my cousin’s places in South Sydney. My mum, who was born in Australia, has 10 siblings who all married Australians,’’ she says. Her mum, Pauline, thinks Kwong cooks all year, so she says to her: Just bring some home-made pickles and sauces from the restaurant.’’ Pauline cooks Chinese white chicken with Kwong’s ginger and shallot dipping sauce and the Australian aunties and uncles make things such as glazed leg ham with cloves and pineapple, and coleslaw salad.
Uncle Lionel goes to Chinatown and brings the roast duck and barbecued pork. Mum does her famous butterfly cakes and jelly cakes and pavlova.’’
They spend a lot of the day in the kitchen. Aunty Connie always brings a flask of chicken stock with choy sum. Kwong says it’s like (novelist Amy Tan’s) Joy Luck Club, everyone laughing. And the children play cricket, eating Aussie bread rolls filled with Chinese roast pork. There’s beer to drink and Kwong brings biodynamic wine from the restaurant, and her mum drinks endless cups of tea.