What Chefs Do for the Holidays
Our chef pals share their IRL holiday traditions; featuring family hallaca making parties powered by Venezuelan rum, Manischewitz sorbet, pots of simmering black eyed peas, and the annual multi-course pasta dinner we're desperate for an invite to.
Yong Shin | Insa, Brooklyn
Holiday time means spending time with family: whether biological or chosen, it doesn’t matter. A feast is always in order with everyone pitching in a little. If it’s with family in Dubai, my brother sources uni, tuna & wagyu from Japan and we usually throw a hand roll party, and I make all the accompaniments like yuzu kosho mayonnaise & various veg preparations.
Anya Peters | KIT an' KIN, New York
One of my holiday customs involves crafting pasteles alongside my family. In Trinidad, these are prepared with a cornmeal crust, filled with a blend of seasoned ground beef, olives, capers, thyme, and spices, then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. Every New Year’s Eve, we ensure a pot of black-eyed peas is simmering—a tradition to invite luck and prosperity for the upcoming year.
Sadie Mae and Anthony | Ha's Dac Biet, Brooklyn
Every year for Christmas, we go to Arthur Avenue, a pocket in the Bronx known as the "Real Little Italy." Sadie has been going with her parents since she was a kid, and it particularly shines around the holidays. You can get freshly made, often still warm, mozzarella from one store, then stock up on salami/ parmesan/ provolone at the next, stop for some raw clams and oysters shucked on the sidewalk outside the fish market, have an espresso, get some ravioli for your freezer- it is a perfect day.
Laurie Ellen | Laurie Ellen, Brooklyn
Festa di Pasta is a tradition that I started with my bestie out in SF when I was a wee baker at Tartine and she was a butcher at Fatted Calf. It's a multi-course pasta meal where we invite folks over a few hours before to help shape all the pasta - the meal progresses with everyone standing around the stove with small plates and we drop round after round pasta. Each year I acquire new specialty pasta tools and we add new shapes to our repertoire - now she lives in Joshua Tree and I live in Brooklyn but we find time to keep up the tradition.
Garrett Schlichte | Virgo Supperclub, San Francisco
My favorite holiday tradition is celebrating Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve with my family. I have never found out why we do it because it’s an Italian thing and we’re German, but it’s the best. My dad is one of seven, so our family pretty huge — we have a sushi boat and fried calamari and tonnato and a ton of other stuff, and the night usually ends with everyone getting a little too drunk and me probably crying, but in a good way because I’m very happy and too full of fish.
Karla Subero Pittol | Chainsaw, Los Angeles
Every year my family gets together to make hallacas, Venezuelan Christmas tamales wrapped in a plantain leaf and filled with a stew of chicken, beef pork, then sprinkled with olives, raisins, roasted peppers, and giardiniera. We put together anywhere between 50 to a hundred, and it takes roughly 10 sets of hands, a case of Modelo, and a bottle or two of very good Venezuelan rum to get the job done. Diplomatico or Santa Teresa to be exact ;)
Stephanie Bonnin | La Tropi Kitchen, Brooklyn
My holiday tradition in the kitchen is to celebrate a dinner with friends on the weekend after Thanksgiving. Everyone brings their family’s traditional dish. I enjoy cooking tamales, and sometimes friends come early to help assemble them. We listen to Olimpica Estereo, the radio network from Barranquilla, Colombia—where I’m from. It’s super nostalgic because they start announcing the holidays and carnivals since November. They play the classic tropical holiday music.
Renae Wilson | Dear Henry, Brooklyn
A tradition I’ve leaned into very deeply the past few holidays is resting! Those of us who work and care for folks through feeding them can find it difficult to let others do the same for us. Taking the holidays off and letting loved ones and friends cook, going out to dinner, and sometimes even ordering takeout delights me more every year I choose it. It almost feels sneaky!
Susan Kim | Doshi, New York
At the end of every December, I have a day dedicated to eating and/or cooking pasta. It’s to celebrate a special person’s life where pasta was at the forefront almost daily while he was alive. This year I’m going to show a friend how to make tagliatelle and planning on having it with bolognese.
Harlem Wright | Just Playted, Washington
My family’s holiday tradition is to take a trip somewhere we’ve never been. It could be a simple road trip traveling just a few hours away or a plane trip to another coast or country. This is our favorite way to wind down from the year while learning about how other people live through their culture and food.
Katie Parla | Parla Publishing, Rome
Every year I drive an hour south from Rome to Frosinone to get my favorite panettone in Italy at PezZ de Pane. Baker Roberta Pezzella bakes hundreds of panettoni in her workshop in the city's centro storico and they are available for pick up only--no shipping so don't even ask! I fill my trunk with the candied fruit-studded yeasted breads and bring them as gifts to any holiday festivities I am invited to.
Connay Bratton | Sundays Only, New York
My grandmother used to make each of us our favorite desserts. Mine was sweet potato pie, my sister's was a three-layer Christmas cake, my brother's was Rice Krispie's and my cousin got congo squares. She made enough that everyone could share and still have enough for themselves. My grandmother passed a decade ago, but my aunt's, her daughters, still keep it up for us kids.
Sera Pisani | Domenica Dinette, Los Angeles
Growing up Italian American, my family always celebrated Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. As a kid I was always more excited about the buttery shrimp and lobster than the presents under the tree. Over the years that has never changed and it has brought me so much joy to cook my own creative interpretations of this dinner every year for those I love.
Jess Marra | @kitschenista, Santa Monica
My favorite holiday tradition is making latkes for Hanukkah every year. I love to shred my potatoes thick, fry them extra crispy and load them up with sour cream and chives!
Tamren Estévez López | @papitropical, Brooklyn
One of my favorite holiday traditions in the kitchen is preparing a pastelón. When I was growing up, my family would make a huge pan of it that would last for days. It’s essentially a sweet plantain lasagna. Sweet and savory all at once.
Shadae Williams | Measure Up, Atlanta
As a Jamaican-American we try to go to Jamaica for Christmas as often as possible, as it’s known for being one of the most celebratory times for the island. But if not, we celebrate here in America where curry goat and rum cake are definitely still a must at the table! Of course spending time with family is the best part no matter where we are!
Jesse & Javier Zuniga | Caleta, New York
In our home for the holidays we’re celebrating both Chanukah & Christmas - and all of it revolves around food. For Chanukah, we’re making way too many latkes (though we arguably do that year-round regardless), briskets & sweets like Manischewitz Sorbet. And then almost the complete opposite, Christmas morning is all about dim sum while at night we’re having a picnic on the floor with our puppy, finally enjoying the fruits of our labor with a 2 day Porchetta, deep dark red wine and old jazz records.
Noah Tanen | @noahtanen, Brooklyn
My family and I would always host these big Hanukkah parties growing up, and fry tons of latkes. Once we inevitably ran out, we had a tradition of finding something else to fry. Literally anything … seafood, cutlets, okra, whatever! We figured that if you have a pot of hot oil going, as you often do around Hanukkah, something should always be frying in it.
Annie Lucey | Annie Lucey Cooks, Los Angeles
I have Italian-American roots on one side of the family, and Mexican-American on the other, with a deeply rooted passion for seasonal, California cooking. My holiday traditions are kind of a confluence of all of these things! It's all about the food - depending on the gathering there will be homemade pasta, meatballs, tamales, braised short ribs, my dad's garden potatoes, gorgeous seasonal salads and vegetables, seasonal fruit crisps, wine pairings - you name it.
Kendall DaCosta | Out of Many One People, Boston
I am one of seven kids. My mom would make us all leave the house so she could prepare an elaborate feast! We started doing a basketball tournament before dinner to work up a hefty appetite. Once we got home we had to shower and dress up to sit at the dining table. We didn’t have a lot but we did have many laughs and my mother always made sure there was copious amounts of food to be shared.