Chorney-Booth: How local chefs fill their bellies between Christmas and New Year's

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Whether or not you celebrate the Christmas holidays, the period between Dec. 25 and New Year’s Eve tends to be remarkably chill. The city slows down, many businesses are closed, and people tend to take extra time off to pad around the house in their PJs, watching movies and spending time with visiting friends and family. Since “the holiday season” is still in full swing and renewed healthy eating habits that come with the new year haven’t kicked in, those gap days can also be a time for partaking in special treats and comfort food.

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This final week of indulgence, before the calendar flips, looks a little bit different for everyone – though tradition and nostalgia are almost always the order of the day. Holiday food is uniquely personal – here three local chefs share how they like to eat their way through the last week of the year.

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Rupert Garcia, chef at the Fairmont Palliser’s Hawthorn Dining Room

Rupert Garcia is in a celebratory mood this season. In addition to turning heads with his beautifully executed dishes in the Palliser’s Hawthorn Dining Room, Garcia recently won the local qualifier of the Canadian Culinary Championship at Canada’s Great Kitchen Party, which will bring him to the national finals in Ottawa in the new year. This is Garcia’s first Christmas season at the Palliser, a destination hotel that tends to be even busier over the holidays than a typical restaurant, and he’ll be spending at least part of the holidays at work.

Enter the staff meal, the communal spread a kitchen crew eats together between peak service periods. These meals give staff a chance not only to eat together but flex their creativity and use up ingredients lingering in the kitchen. For Garcia, this means making the most of turkey legs left over from the restaurant’s Yuletide turkey lunches and dinners.

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“I like to take the turkey leg and confit it and pull it to put it in pasta,” he says. “We’ll usually make a pepita pesto with a cranberry wine cream sauce and top it with some cranberry-glazed Brussels sprouts.”

Garcia is of Filipino heritage and his post-holiday days are filled with leftovers from a Christmas Day feast featuring lechon, or roasted suckling pig. Garcia looks forward to his mom’s Bicol Express – a Filipino dish consisting of pork belly in a coconut sauce with festive flecks of red and green chilis – as well as pork adobo and sinigang soup. When the extended family gets together though, it’s all about the communal hot pot.

“We have a 40-litre kettle of broth going and throughout the night you just make your own soup,” Garcia says. “That’s what we do for our big family parties.”

Mish Lee Hobbs
Mish Lee Hobbs, head chef of Maven. Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

Mish Lee Hobbs, chef at Maven

Mish Lee Hobbs’ menu at Maven represents both her Singaporean and German ancestry, as well as a childhood spent growing up around the world, all of which is also reflected in her personal holiday meals. Days off in the last week of December might include her French-Canadian mother-in-law’s homemade tourtière or leftover turkey soup made special with Chinese flavours and the addition of tofu and bok choy.

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One of Hobbs’ favourite culinary rituals is what her family has come to call “Dutch breakfast,” a relaxed custom picked up while she was living in the Netherlands as a child.

“It’s basically charcuterie for breakfast,” she says. “You put out a big board of leftover things from Christmas: cheese, pieces of meat, really good bread, and all of the little things that came in the stockings like jams, mixed nuts, and chocolate. We’ll make big pots of tea and just sit around and have a really mellow reflective time together.”

Tracy Little
Tracy Little, chef/owner of Canmore’s Sauvage. Courtesy Silckerodt Photography Photo by Silckerodt Photography /Silckerodt Photography

Tracy Little, chef/owner at Sauvage

Some of chef Tracy Little’s earliest cooking memories have to do with the holidays – specifically making eggnog French toast, the first dish her mother let her make on the stove on her own. Little says that as a child she would start making this specialty as soon as eggnog hit the shelves at her local grocery store and would crank it out until the holidays were over.

These days, Little is known for the Canadiana cuisine at Sauvage, her tasting menu-focused restaurant in Canmore. But when it comes to the in-between holiday period, she has taken to a leftovers-based dish that she didn’t grow up eating, though her British-born partner insists upon it. Unsurprisingly, she gives it her own twist.

“My partner is English and he demands we have Bubble and Squeak. But I do it in my Dad’s way where you put way too much sautéed onion in there,” Little says. “We always have to put some cheese in there and usually pick up some Mimolette, which is very non-traditional. If we run out of turkey, which is very rare, we’ll throw in some deer meat. It’s pretty awesome.”

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram at @elizabooth or sign up for her newsletter at hungrycalgary.substack.com.

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