Features 8 minutes 17 December 2021

How MICHELIN Chefs Celebrate Christmas In Their Home Country

From taking saunas between Christmas meals to roller-skating to midnight mass, 10 MICHELIN chefs share their favourite Christmas traditions and memories from home.

Christmas Hong Kong Michelin star

As Perry Como’s song goes, “There’s no place like home for the holidays.” But with international travel restrictions in place, Christmas celebration is looking a little different this year for MICHELIN chefs who might have otherwise made a trip home to spend the holiday season with friends and family.

To keep the holiday spirit alive, we ask Hong Kong-based MICHELIN chefs from nine different countries to share their favourite family Christmas traditions and the nostalgic dishes they miss the most from home.

Eric Christmas in Finland-michelin-guide.jpg

Eric Räty
Arbor
Two MICHELIN Stars, MICHELIN Guide Hong kong Macau 2021

Favourite Christmas dish from home: Christmas ham with spicy mustard

Born in Finland, chef Eric Räty has fond memories of taking saunas during Christmas. “It’s a tradition that I miss the most,” says the chef of two-MICHELIN-starred Arbor. “In between saunas, we also go to the backyard to ‘swim’ in the snow and then run back to the sauna again. We lived in the forest so the kids would just run around naked!”

When asked about his family’s Christmas dinner table, Räty says: “The star is always the Christmas ham. My dad always took care of it patiently by baking it overnight in a wood-fired oven. I thought he didn’t sleep at all as he had to keep controlling the heat throughout the night,” he reminisces. “ That smell of baked ham coming out of the wood-fired oven when you wake up is the best memory of all! We’ll then enjoy the first slices of it with some Finnish spicy mustard.” Other classic Christmas staples include gravlax, beetroot salad, mushroom salad, Karelian stew, baked root vegetable casseroles (served only one day in the year) and Karelian pies.

This year, chef Räty will share a taste of home by infusing Nordic Christmas flavours into the festive menu at Arbor. At home, he makes sure to create a Finnish Christmas atmosphere by baking gingerbreads and Karelian pies with his kids.

RELEVANT: Chef's Day Off: Eric Räty Discovers Craftsmanship In Ceramics

(Left) Strasbourg; Chef Olivier and his family (Right)
(Left) Strasbourg; Chef Olivier and his family (Right)

Olivier Elzer
L’Envol
Two MICHELIN Stars, MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau 2021

Favourite Christmas dish from home: Goose foie gras

“When you go from one region of France to another, you would be surprised to see how Christmas is celebrated differently,” says chef Olivier Elzer.

When speaking about his hometown Alsace, the capital city of Alsace, his eyes light up. “We have a Christmas market that the whole of Europe comes to see. Artisans would showcase everything from gingerbread to mulled wine and the whole town would be covered in snow and Christmas lights.”

“In our family tradition, the Christmas Eve dinner is when we enjoy ingredients like smoked salmon, caviar, oyster and goose foie gras that we don’t get to eat often. Christmas Eve is also the only time when kids are allowed to stay awake until midnight to open presents.”

“The goose foie gras, marinated with a sweet wine called Gewurztraminer, is a specialty from my hometown. Whenever I have it during Christmas, it brings back happy memories with my grandma who used to make this dish for us.”

This Christmas, Elzer is overjoyed to reunite with his daughter, whom he hasn’t seen for two years. “If there’s one thing Covid has taught me, it’s that moments like this shouldn’t be taken for granted.”

RELEVANT: Chef's Day Off: Olivier Elzer On Staying At The Top Of His Game

Umberto Bombana
8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana
Three MICHELIN Stars, MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau 2021

Favourite Christmas dish from home: Panettone

In Bergamo, chef Umberto Bombana’s hometown, Christmas comes early with the day of Saint Lucia, which takes place on the night between the 12th and 13th of December. “My siblings and I also used to queue up at the church where St. Lucia’s grave is said to be and we would leave letters and notes with our gift requests,” says the Italian chef. The gift requests are for Saint Lucia, who visits the children in a cart pulled by a donkey bringing presents for good children and coal for the naughty ones. “I was a good boy so I remember receiving gifts but my little brother got a piece of coal,” he chuckles.

Another tradition that runs deep in the Bombana family is the midnight mass. After a Christmas Eve feast of stuffed pasta in the form of ravioli or tortellini, turkey with potatoes and vegetables, a classic Christmas broth and panettone, the classic Italian sweet bread, Bombana would go church with his family in midnight—a tradition that he still follows every Christmas in Hong Kong.

When asked about what he misses the most about celebrating Christmas in Italy, he replies: “Skiing. Everytime I go back to Bergamo during the holidays, I would go skiing after the feast to exercise and burn some calories.”

This year, chef Bombana looks forward to sharing the festivities with his guests at 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana. When he finishes work on Christmas Eve, he plans to go to the church for midnight mass. “This year, I will enjoy a warm belated Christmas dinner with my family and close friends like chef Roland Schuller on Sunday the 26th ”

(Picture on the right: Chef Bombana and his son Bart in Bergamo in 2018)

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Chef Richard Ekkebus (left) and chef Valentin Mille (right) (Photo: Courtesy of Cookie Smiles)
Chef Richard Ekkebus (left) and chef Valentin Mille (right) (Photo: Courtesy of Cookie Smiles)

Richard Ekkebus
Amber
Two MICHELIN Stars, MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau
Favourite festive dish from home: Grey north sea prawns and smoked eel

In Holland, the hometown of chef Richard Ekkebus, Sinterklass, or Saint Nicholas, is celebrated on the 5th of December. “Christmas was never about Santa Claus in Holland. We would get little chocolate and candy gifts leading up to the big celebration on the 5th of December, and it’s a tradition to place a shoe with carrots below the chimney for Saint Nicholas’ white horse the night before,” says the chef of Amber.

“In my family, my mum would put a lot of effort in decorating the house, but it was a true family effort where my dad would put up the lights, and my sister and I would decorate the tree with garlands and Christmas balls,” he recalls. “Christmas at home was about large dinner tables, extended meals (the only time in the year where we were allowed to put our fingers in our dad’s glass of wine to have a taste of it), laughter, happiness and of course festive decorations and gifts!”

On the family Christmas dinner table, staple foods like smoked eel, grey north sea prawns are among some of Ekkebus’ favourite festive dishes. The main dish is usually a roasted beef or game served with a variety of trimmings, followed by ice cream and puddings as desserts.

“I miss the cold long walks over the beach that we would traditionally do on Christmas Day. We would have hot chocolate to warm up after.”

This year, chef Ekkebus will be working throughout the holiday season at Amber. “I’m usually super busy during Christmas as it’s an important season for my guests,” he says. “But my wife and I wanted to make sure that our kids abroad have a great Christmas, so we have organised parcels to leave early. We will probably do a Zoom call on Christmas Day at a time that works for my daughter, her husband and our grandson in Mauritius, and for my son in New York City.”

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Roland Schuller
Octavium
One MICHELIN Star, MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau 2021

Favourite Christmas dish from home: Fried carp

Growing up in Austria, chef Roland Schuller was told the legend of Krampus, a horned monster covered in hair and carrying a chain who accompanies Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicolas. His role is to punish children who have misbehaved. “Whenever I was naughty my parents would warn me about Krampus," recalls the chef of one-MICHELIN-starred Octavium. “Then at the Christmas markets, I saw people dressed in Krampus costumes, so in my mind Krampus was even more prominent than Santa Claus.”

A holiday feast in the Schuller household is not complete without Gebackener Karpfen, a dish of fried Mediterranean carp. “Roast goose and turkey are on the dinner table, too, but the fried carp has always been my favourite,” says chef Schuller. “After dinner, my family and I would enjoy mulled wine and cookies.”

This year, chef Schuller will celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with his customers at Octavium, followed by a cosy home party with chef Umberto Bombana on Boxing Day.

Chef Uwe Opocensky and his family in Hong Kong. (Photo: Uwe Opocensky)
Chef Uwe Opocensky and his family in Hong Kong. (Photo: Uwe Opocensky)

Uwe Opocensky
Petrus
One MICHELIN Star, MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong 2021

Favourite Christmas dish from home: Yeast dumplings 

In Germany, St. Nicholas Day is observed on the eve of December 5, where children would polish their shoes and leave them outside the door. “If we were good, we would find them filled with sweets, giving us an indication of how good our Christmas would be. Because of that, we would look for the biggest shoes so we could get lots of sweets!”

On Christmas Eve, Opocensky and his family would go to church before opening presents and sitting down for dinner, which includes Christmas staples like ragout fin and meat fondue. “On Christmas Day, my mother would get up early to make her famous dishes like yeast dumplings, braised sauerkraut and wild goose,” recalls the chef. “I miss her Christmas cookies and chocolate marzipan bars.”

Chef Opocensky hasn’t celebrated Christmas with his family in Germany for 25 years. Luckily, he’ll be spending Christmas with his sister-in-law's family who live in Hong Kong. On Christmas Day, they will enjoy a late lunch together with roasted turkey and all the trimmings and his brother-in-law’s famous roasted potatoes.

RELEVANT: Petrus Chef Uwe Opocensky On Re-Inventing A Culinary Icon

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Shane Osborn
Arcane
One MICHELIN Star, MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau 2021

Favourite Christmas dish from home: Vacherin Mont d’Or cheese

In Australia, the hometown of chef Shane Osborn, Christmas is in the middle of summer so BBQs and cold beers are on the menu, followed by a swim at the beach. “Not your typical image of Christmas,” says the chef-owner of Arcane. “My family tradition is simply about being with my wife and kids, eating great food and watching an afternoon movie.”

This year, Osborn will be travelling to France to reunite with his family. “Our family home is in France, near the Pyrenees so I look forward to having Vacherin Mont d’Or cheese during Christmas,” says the chef with excitement. “We serve it slightly warm from the oven, with crusty bread and cornichons plus a decent supply of Madiran wine.”

Chef Ash Salmon and mum. (Photo: Ash Salmon)
Chef Ash Salmon and mum. (Photo: Ash Salmon)

Ash Salmon
Roganic
One MICHELIN Star & Green Star, MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau 2021

Favourite Christmas dish from home: Roasted turkey

For British chef Ash Salmon, Christmas begins with cups of tea in the morning, with Christmas music in the background. “Then, we would head to the pub for a pint before having a nice long lunch, followed by a nap in front of the telly watching Christmas movies.”

When it comes to Christmas dinner, Salmon looks forward to having “the traditional stuff” like “a seasonal soup with roasted chestnuts, and a prawn cocktail or cured salmon.” “For main, it has to be turkey with all the traditional trimmings. The perfect ending comes in the form of a Christmas pudding. It’s safe to say that calories don’t count during Christmas time!”

While Salmon misses being around familiar faces and family back home, his favourite Christmas memories are the cold weather and festivities in the UK. “There’s definitely something to be said about having a mulled wine in the Christmas markets—it’s absolutely freezing but surrounded by happy faces,” says the chef. “In the UK, Christmas is celebrated greatly so there’s definitely a certain festive cheer, which puts everyone in a great mood.”

This Christmas, Roganic will organise a staff Christmas dinner where the team will exchange secret Santa presents. “It’s always lighthearted and good fun.” “Then, we will be off on Boxing Day so my girlfriend and I will definitely begin with bubbles, make calls to our families back home, play some games and have a laugh.”

RELEVANT: How MICHELIN Green Star Restaurants In Asia Are Doing Their Part With Sustainable Practices

Chef Angelo Aglianó (far left) and his family. (Photo: Angelo Aglianó)
Chef Angelo Aglianó (far left) and his family. (Photo: Angelo Aglianó)

Angelo Aglianó
Tosca di Angelo
One MICHELIN Star, MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau 2021

Favourite Christmas dish from home: Roasted lamb shoulder

Born in Sicily, chef Angelo Aglianó recalls attending midnight mass on Christmas Eve as a family tradition. “After that, we would head back home where the kids would play Tombola, the men would play cards and the mothers would be busy in the kitchen cooking for the next day.”

On Christmas Day, his family would host a large lunch—which lasted all day—featuring traditional dishes like pasta and panettone. “Panettone is something we would have for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s also believed to bring good luck in the coming year, so everyone must have it on New Year’s Eve, even if it’s a tiny piece.” For Tosca’s festive menu this year, Aglianó is serving a bite-sized panettone as a petit four.

“Roasted lamb shoulder reminds me of the Christmas season the most. In our household, we bake it with carrot, potato and tomato on the side,” says the chef. This year, chef Aglianó will celebrate Christmas with his team at Tosca di Angelo on Christmas Eve. “My team is my family in Hong Kong. I look forward to spending Christmas with them after dinner service.”

Hallaca (left); Chef Ricardo Chaneton and his grandfather. (Photo: Ricardo Chaneton)
Hallaca (left); Chef Ricardo Chaneton and his grandfather. (Photo: Ricardo Chaneton)

Ricardo Chaneton
Mono
MICHELIN-Recommended, MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau 2021

Favourite Christmas dish from home: Bollito

In Venezuela, where chef Ricardo Chaneton was born, people embrace the festive season with their own traditions. For example, in the capital city of Caracas, it’s a tradition to roller-skate to church and parties on Christmas Day—even the roads are blocked for this activity. “Building the nacimiento, the nativity scene representing the birth of Jesus Christ, is also a big tradition in Venezuela. Families even organise contests to see who can replicate the biggest one. The Jesus figurine is covered with a cotton cloth and revealed after midnight on the 24th.”

One of the most popular Christmas staples served during Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebration is hallacas, a rectangular Venezuelan tamal made with corn dough and wrapped in plantain leaves. “It’s not Christmas in Venezuela without hallacas. Making hallacas is very labor-intensive and takes three to four days. They are usually served with roasted pork and ‘ensalada de gallina,’ a hen salad with potato, carrot, sometimes apple or even pineapple—similar to a Russian salad,” describes the chef.

“Another festive staple is ‘pan de jamon,’ a semi-brioche kind of Christmas bread. After rolling and baking, you end up with a spiral loaf of bread with layers of rolled ham, raisins and dough. We also glaze it with a little bit of sugar cane syrup called papelón. We also have our own version of eggnog, called ponche crema.”

“What I miss about celebrating Christmas back home is that we all gather and talk about food, drink and listen to music. Christmas music in Venezuela is called gaitas from the northwest region of the country, a city called Maracaibo,” the chef recalls. “That music is only played in December and you’d never hear it before the Christmas season.”

This Christmas, Chaneton will celebrate Christmas with his guests and team at Mono. “This time last year, we weren’t able to celebrate with our guests, so we are very grateful that we can remain open this year.”

CONTINUE READING: Ricardo Chaneton On His "Destiny" To Open Mono In Hong Kong

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