What the top chefs are cooking this Christmas

Do chef’s eat better than the rest of us on Christmas Day? They certainly know what they’re doing, but just like us it’s more about family than food – although that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few culinary quirks.

Jerry Mai with parents Kim and Leanne, and Eliza. Photo: Daniel Pockett

Jerry Mai with parents Kim and Leanne, and Eliza. Photo: Daniel Pockett

Jerry Mai \ Annam & Pho Nom

On Christmas Day Jerry Mai celebrates with her wife’s family. As one of Melbourne’s most celebrated chefs, you’d think they’d give her full reign of the kitchen, but each year Jerry is assigned to canapes.

It is only on Christmas Eve that she is allowed to shine, when she cooks enough food to feed 20 people when there are never more than eight.

“My Asian family loves ham and roast turkey, and the full white-person potatoes and roast pumpkin,” says Jerry. “It’s the only time of the year there’s no rice on the table.”

For Jerry’s wife, Eliza, it’s all about Christmas ham, but with a baby on the way and ham off Eliza’s menu, Jerry is looking forward to having it all to herself. Being heavily pregnant, Eliza is also going to miss out on decorating, which Jerry says is her favourite part of Christmas.

“I can see what’s going to happen when I try. She’ll sit there and go, ‘Nah, that doesn’t go over there. Jerry, that doesn’t fit there’.”

Jerry’s tip for a stress-free Christmas feast is to prep some food in advance. “I don’t think Christmas is the time to be a rock star in the kitchen,” she says. “Otherwise you’re cooking all day and you don’t get to enjoy it.”


Ian Curley. Photo: supplied

Ian Curley \ French Saloon & Kirk’s Wine Bar

Co-owner of French Saloon and Kirk’s Wine Bar, Ian Curley – who has just stepped away as executive chef of The European – agrees that Christmas is all about family. Everyone contributes, but Ian insists the cooking is his domain.

“I like to do a really big whole fish because it looks great and it sticks to the health thing,” says Ian. “I like the idea of the kids being able to sit down and have a bit of roast fish instead of something mushy and covered in gravy.”

The father of three girls under 10, Ian suggests people cater for their family, ditch the roast turkey and take advantage of seasonal, Australian ingredients. “It should be fresh,” he says, “The produce we get here is the best in the world, so embrace that.”


Peter Gunn. Photo: supplied

Peter GunnIDES

Peter Gunn knows a thing or two about catering for family. Both his wife and mother-in-law are coeliac and his sister-in-law prefers gluten free. “And my father-in-law only likes well-done lamb chops!” he jokes.

This year Peter’s Collingwood fine-diner is open up to Christmas Eve, so he is flying to Mildura on Christmas morning, sad to be missing the breakfast fry-up that is a tradition in his family – especially as it will be his daughter’s first Christmas.

Still, it’s dessert he most fondly remembers from his own childhood. “My nanna would always make a pavlova,” he recalls. “How we learned about Eton mess is that sometimes her pavlovas didn’t work.”

Photo: Simon O’Dwyer

Cameron McKenzie. Photo: Simon O’Dwyer

Cameron McKenzie\ Four Pillars Gin

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Aussie Christmas without booze. A few years ago Cameron McKenzie found his late mother’s 1968 Women’s Weekly and her Christmas pudding recipe. She used to make it every Derby Day, and Cameron thought he’d begin the tradition with his three daughters.

“As I was buying the ingredients I realised all of them would distil,” he says.

The family made the puddings, which Cameron put in his still (named after mum Wilma) and released the Christmas Gin after aging in some old Rutherglen muscat barrels.

At Christmas, Cameron – who says his “favourite festive drink is the next one” – has plans to glaze a ham with gin marmalade to serve with turkey, pig on a spit ,and lamb for a crowd of 20.

And along with a carrot for Rudolph, a lucky Father Christmas will also be left a nip of Christmas gin.


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