ON SUN­DAY

DAR­REN PURCHESE MAKES THE BIG DAY A BREEZE

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Stellar - - Delicious - See an ex­tract from Dar­ren Purchese’s on page 32.

ou’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.

Chefs Host Christ­mas Too

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