DuJour Media spoke with four Chefs from well-known restaurants with beautiful holiday decor to get a personal look into their personalities, holiday traditions, favorite meals and more.
Meet the Chefs:
Executive Chef Ramesh Kaduru, The Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta
Culinary Director Jeff Haskell, Refinery Rooftop, NYC
Executive Chef Peter Betz, Waldorf, Astoria NY
Executive Chef Samir Roonwal, The St. Regis Aspen Resort, Aspen
When you aren’t cooking up a storm at the restaurant, how do you like to spend the holidays?
Chef Kaduru: “Wow that’s a tricky question, I always work on the holidays. When I’m not working I want to make the holidays very special; unique dishes that are very traditional for the holidays with local products. Get the best products like beef, venison, rabbit, prime rib, duck. Those are very nice things for the holidays, and also using the seasonal ingredients that are available right now.”
Chef Haskell: “Usually we’ll have a nice prime rib roast, truffles..basically comfort food. Usually my wife and I go to New Hampshire to visit my family where I grew up and we’ll cook a nice roast. Traditions are pretty basic, it’s more about simple, delicious, comfortable food.”
Chef Betz: “Generally what we do is we will plan alternate days to get together with our families, you know, before or after the holidays. Just like everybody else though. Just get around the dinner table and have everybody contribute a little bit of food and celebrate with our family at that time.”
Chef Roonwal: “At home with friends I guess, doing some great dinners together family style. Having some great food around you, beverages. Once you start moving so much, our family is pretty much just four of us now at home. But we do make a lot of friends as we go along to different areas of the world, and you know, that becomes family, our friends.”
Assuming you are expected to do the cooking in your family, what are your favorite holiday dishes to prepare?
Chef Kaduru: “Well, I want to make a Yule log, which is a very traditional christmas dessert, but I want to do something different with it. Prime rib with a white mushroom ragù. And I want a soufflé; soufflé goes along with the prime rib.”
Chef Haskell: “Popovers. Christmas Eve we’ll usually make a fish chowder, biscuits…black pepper biscuits. Christmas Day it’ll be prime rib roasts, brussel sprouts cooked in bacon fat, a roasted chestnut purée, roasted vegetables, egg salad.”
Chef Betz: “I like to do the classics and then I also like to do another spin-off. Christmas in my house, my mother is Italian, so Christmas Eve has always been seafood. So, it was always a seafood salad was the classic item and then for me a flash marinated fish. And then for Christmas Day it was always a roasted goose. I like to do something a little different, I’ll do probably a truffle bar-headed goose with confit.”
Chef Roonwal: “Just because of my travels I try to showcase different cultures; Chinese, Japanese, Middle Eastern, Arabic food, Lebanese food. That’s what I like to showcase when people come home so they can witness the varieties that exist. A lot of people are not that fortunate to have traveled so much, and here I am.”
What would you say should be on everyone’s dinner table this holiday season?
Chef Kaduru: “Prime rib is one of the staple items; everybody should have it. And also for Christmas time I told you the Yule log. Also for beverage-wise I create a very European spiced wine, like a mulled wine that goes with a duck dish. I want to create a a duck confit. And also a truffle pâté, that is another dish that I want everyone to have.”
Chef Haskell: “A large format roast…or lamb bacon with brussel sprouts. It’s amazing. It’s delicious!”
Chef Betz: “Well, I think it’s always important to have something that, if you have this in your family, I call it an ‘heirloom dish.’ It’s a dish that’s been handed down year over year through your grandma and your mother or whoever else, you know anybody in your family that has a dish or specialty. In my case it’s always been very important and people look forward to it every year. It makes for a very special holiday that someone’s legacy continues through dishes they prepared over the years and also makes you think about holidays when you were a kid.”
Chef Roonwal: “I think personally speaking, I’m a big beef lover so I like to do a lot of roasts in my food. That is a personal preference. I don’t like to use meat without bone. For example if I do a ribeye, which is one of my favorite things, I put ribeye crown roast with bone…it’s like having a big bottle of champagne on the table. A good ribeye with the bone, it’s a great meal; it cooks well, it holds well, it doesn’t dry out on the table so people can enjoy it more.”
Can you share with us any holiday “oops” moments that you now look back on and laugh at?
Chef Kaduru: “When I was doing a party for a holiday dinner, a stuffing got burnt. But we came up very quickly to fix it. I never had a moment where we said ‘oh, we don’t have this dish today.’ We had enough time to make a new batch.”
Chef Haskell: There was a holiday that, it was kind of like a disaster, it didn’t really involve food. I flew home for 24 hours and my family got stuck in a traffic jam. I was essentially home for eight hours and already had to fly back to where I was living. Relatively [smooth experiences], there’s really no disasters that come to mind.”
Chef Betz: “Yeah, there was definitely one Thanksgiving when I had a big slip. If I don’t always roast it, it’s definitely my job to carve the turkey. I decided that I was going to take it apart and put it back together like we would do on a buffet where you slice everything and then you reassemble it on the bird and really beautifully present it on a really nice platter. I had done that and had a really precocious dog at the time, and I forgot to put her out in the yard. And so I had set up the turkey on the table and when I went to get something from the kitchen she had pulled it off of the counter and basically ate the whole thing. At first it seemed like a terrible disaster, but everybody laughed so much about the story that when you look back it’s actually, it’s something that you don’t regret, you’re grateful for the story. My family, they started taking pictures of the turkey on the floor.”
Chef Roonwal: “At work we had a bit of a boo-boo a few years back in Toronto where most of the turkey that was ready for the Christmas Eve dinner was accidentally used in the cafeteria. It was sent to the employee dining room by the staff, thinking that it was meant for the employees. It was supposed to be for the hotel; we had a massive buffet set up. Everybody went all around the city to all shops possible to get as many birds as they could. We were a few portions shy, but it was a good experience to say the least. Guests did not realize what was happening, which was good, but we learned next time let’s label everything that is not for the cafeteria.”
What is the best piece of advice you can give to all the home-cooks out there who put their heart and soul into putting together an extravagant meal?
Chef Kaduru: “Don’t run out of food. Make sure you cook enough food. Prime rib is such a thing you have to cook with at least a one hour time frame, when you’re cooking at home at least a couple of hours. Plan accordingly and maybe slice the pieces based on how many people you have; don’t slice too thick then say you don’t have enough prime rib for all the people.”
Chef Haskell: “Do as much in advance as possible. Preparation is key.”
Chef Betz: “Don’t overextend yourself. Stick to really quality ingredients. Don’t try to make 50 items, try to make 10, or bring it down to a manageable number and just make those items really great so that you’re able to focus on them. The biggest mistake people make is they extend themselves beyond what they can handle and then they don’t get to focus on each dish as they should to get the outcome they expect.”
Chef Roonwal: “The biggest advice I could give is learn how to time your event. Pre-set out food like appetizers that hold well. Relax and enjoy the evening, maybe have a glass of wine before everybody shows up so it calms you down. A lot of times when you host a dinner you get a little bit stressed and then you start over-cooking and over-prepping and start panicking and then everybody is up and you are spending all your time in the kitchen. So pre-set your food as much as possible so when the guests come in you can sit down and enjoy the first hour. You need to enjoy your party as well, it’s not only for them.”