How to Create Holiday Traditions with Material Kitchen

How to Create Holiday Traditions with Material Kitchen

Eunice Byun shares memories of her traditions growing up as a Korean American, kitchen tools for hosting, and the joy of an "anything goes" menu mindset.

What did growing up with parents who owned a restaurant mean during Thanksgiving?

Our table was always chock full of deliciously cooked dishes—some traditional, some Korean. But the two things always on the kitchen table were kimchi and canned cranberry sauce. My mom, who is a fantastic cook, would roast a picture-perfect turkey and my dad was in charge of the carving. We usually had friends and family over, and somehow there often was a relative visiting from Korea who could not understand the allure of a roasted turkey and stuffing!

“It’s not about perfecting a skill, but about embracing the mess.” What’s one hosting skill you would teach anyone?

I pull out all the serving dishes, plates, utensils and linens right at the beginning. I also will put post-it notes on the dishes so we remember which bowl holds the mashed potatoes, which dish holds the stuffing, and so forth and so on.

I also love setting the table super early before anyone arrives. There’s something meditative about it to me. This way, if anyone comes early, the table is set but they can jump into the kitchen and easily help with the fun stuff - like mashing the potatoes or plating the sides!

The two things always on the kitchen table were kimchi and canned cranberry sauce.

Do you have any friends and family traditions during the holidays?

I feel like there is a “before kids” and “after kids” answer. I loved Friendsgiving in my early NYC days. But once I had my two daughters, our focus quickly shifted to family gatherings. My parents fly out from California every year and both my sister and sister-in-law live in the city with their families, so our headcount is up there. Divvying up the menu is quite an ordeal. My husband is an incredible cook too, so he picks all the sides that I love…lucky me! Over the years, everyone has a dish that is uniquely their own so I love being able to eat it year-after-year.

As your family was growing, did you think about holiday traditions you wanted to have?

Initially, no. I was just trying to survive hosting people and having young kids at the table! But as they have gotten older, we have started to do two things. The first is going to the Greenmarket together and getting all the ingredients we’ll need. My older daughter’s favorite activity is scooping the fresh cranberries – and then helping make the cranberry sauce once home. The second is at the dinner table. Everyone from the youngest to oldest shares what they are thankful for. It always involves some laughter and teary eyes.

For people who don’t have traditions yet, what advice do you have for creating them? 

Think back on your favorite moments from your time together with friends or family. Is there something you can capture from that moment that can be carried through the following year? It doesn’t have to be grandiose or showy.

There’s something meaningful as a Korean American to have both worlds intersect at the table.

What’s a hot take on Thanksgiving - the menu, dishes, stereotypes? 

I’m of the mindset that anything goes. While I myself love certain tried-and-true dishes, I don’t think the table has to be set with a standard turkey and sides. I grew up with jellyfish salad, acorn jelly, kimchi, grilled mackerel on my table. There’s something meaningful as a Korean American to have both worlds intersect at the table.

What’s the one non-food ingredient any holiday gathering should have? 

Linen napkins! I love a good tablescape – and plus they are such a nice touch and steers you clear of disposable paper napkins.

All Material products have some clever tricks up their sleeve. How do you go about designing them, and what traditions do you have for creating them?

It is a whole team affair. Just because you don’t have “designer” in your job title doesn’t mean you can’t weigh on. We’re a team of people that love to cook, so we’re all end users of our products. That being said, we do have the most talented and incredible industrial designer in-house and we tend to start with either a customer insight or a need we see in the market.

We like to think about the form first and then layer in something that makes it feel like a little wink. It could be a feature like The Air Whisk that can stand on its own - no more whisks rolling around your countertop - or an unexpected color. We then go through design rounds that start to bring in members of the broader team. We test prototypes ourselves and sometimes even send them to our loyal customers to have them weigh in.

Finally—what traditions do you have for camaraderie within your team at work to handle busy holiday seasons? 

We balance the fun with the crazy hard work that comes with holiday season. We consume a whole lot of treats all season long too. But most importantly, we give ourselves the gift of rest. We kicked off the holiday planning season with a mental health day and then shut down the office after Christmas through New Years to simply relax.