Cover story: Darren Purchese gets fully into the festive spirit and helps you make the big day a breeze
The big day doesn’t have to be a stress fest if you follow the advice of the professionals. ANTHONY HUCKSTEP takes the hints from top chefs.
You’ve got blisters on your blisters because the online store didn’t deliver on time and you had to enter the Christmas shopping fray at the eleventh hour.The typhoon of kids opening presents has left more carnage than a frat party and your aunt has taught them a word that would make Billy Connolly blush because she had too much eggnog. Worst of all, you’ve lost track of time and the turkey is as dry as a Pommie’s bath mat. Christmas is ruined.
Well, Christmas needn’t be so catastrophic, according to some of Australia’s top chefs. Darren Purchese, chef and owner of Melbourne’s Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio, has just released Chefs Host Christmas Too, which gives you the professional wherewithal to ensure Christmas hits the bullseye.
“There’s lots you can do to prepare, but the main thing is to leave yourself time on the big day to enjoy it,” he says.
“Christmas is a time to catch up and enjoy family so plan your menu wisely.”
Purchese suggests getting as much prep done the day before, such as making dips, wrapping the beef Wellington and assembling the trifle.
“Then you can concentrate on last-minute touches like cooking the beef or turkey and keeping the drinks topped up.”
Jo Barrett of Oakridge in Coldstream says Christmas is not the time to test your culinary skill; it’s best to keep it simple.
“Have a strong snack game,” she says. “My family’s Christmas lunches in the past were over the top. No one ever finished their plates and everyone left feeling too full. Now we simplify. People are more excited to be spending time together and it’s less pressure.”
She also suggests choosing a menu where most things can be done ahead.
Chef Darren Robertson of Sydney’s Three Blue Ducks and Rocker says you need to remain calm, take your time, and be smart.
“If you’re going to cook a big bird, use a thermometer to take the guesswork out of it,” he says. “There’s a temptation to cook it within an inch of its life, which means it can be on the dry side.
“Definitely bust out the barbecue and get everyone involved. Do everything you can to minimise the dreaded washing up.”
Danielle Alvarez, head chef of Fred’s in Paddington, moved here from the US four years ago, but is acclimatising to the summer Christmases.
“In Australia you can keep it easy and do room-temperature salads and vegetable dishes, or just carve a ham or a big piece of meat you can throw in the oven and don’t have to constantly watch,” she says.
Contributor to delicious. and all-round rockstar chef Shannon Bennett says it’s all about friends and family, so get everyone involved.
“Accept help and delegate out tasks. It also makes it fun when someone that you have delegated out to stuffs it up,” he laughs.
“And make sure your alcohol intake is consistent and not over the top.”
So what will these chefs be cooking?
Purchese says his menu has become a tradition.
“I’ll be cooking my beef Wellington with duck fat potatoes and cauliflower cheese – the family ask for it and love it so I aim to please. There may be a new school prawn cocktail, a few summer cocktails and a chocolate and cherry trifle, too.”
For Barrett things will veer well clear of the big roast.
“We’ll celebrate on Christmas Eve this year by having a barbecue. There are a lot of vegetarians in the family so lots of salads and grilled vegetables.”
Robertson says that obviously there’ll be a bit of cooking, but the day is really about family entertaining.
“By that I mean assembling Lego sets for the kids, changing nappies, the chicken dance, piggyback rides, phoning home, and doing my best to navigate the madness,” he laughs.
“But I’ll be cooking a whole bunch of seafood – oysters, crab, prawns – and a big steak on the bone over the fire pit.”
Alvarez, who is of Cuban descent, will be doing things a bit differently in her new home Down Under.
“Back home we do a Cuban menu every year that gets celebrated on Christmas Eve. Whole roast suckling pig, black beans and rice. Yucca root veg with mojo on top. Avocado salad.The menu is very well ironed out. I don’t dare do it here. I’m all about new traditions and I’m big on seafood. Prawns feel super-right here,” she says.
Bennett agrees Christmas Down Under screams seafood.
“I’ll be cooking and it will be all seafood based,” he says. “It’s much lighter than the tradition I’m used to of two roasts and heavy pudding. Instead, I’ll be doing fresh shellfish and steamed fish with Asian influences.
Christmas for many is about other traditions, too. Purchese loves a cheesy Christmas movie. “I’ll be building up to the big day with my faves, culminating with Elf and The Muppet Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve. Oh, and I’m partial to a Christmas sweater,” he laughs.
Bennett, meanwhile, is going through a tradition transition. “I always have Christmas cake rain, hail or shine – my mum makes them and has now passed the recipe on to my brother. I’m at the stage where I can put my kids first and develop new traditions, so I’ll keep you posted on those,” he says. ★
“BUST OUT THE BARBECUE AND GET EVERYONE INVOLVED.”
HOST OF CHRISTMAS Darren Purchese gets fully into the Christmas spirit.