The holiday season is a time for family, and friends, to come together and create lifelong memories while celebrating the cherished traditions of their culture. For most, these gatherings are centered around sharing meals with loved ones that highlight some of the best food traditions the world has to offer! Since our chef-instructors hail from many different countries around the world, we asked them to share some of their favorite holiday food memories and cherished traditions of their childhoods. Read their stories below and get some inspiration for your holiday menu!
1. Chef Jürgen David, Associate Director of Pastry
“One of my favorite childhood memories was going to the big Christmas Market in front of Town Hall in the heart of Vienna. The largest Christmas Market, it was beautifully decorated with sparkles, candles gingerbread and Christmas trees everywhere. The town hall would be lit up with lights that you could see from a mile away!
There would be lots of tasty morsels and hot cider, but the best thing was having your pockets filled with roasted chestnuts. We would get a little paper cone—there would be about 10 to 12 little pieces—and you put them in your cold pocket. Not only were they delicious, but they would also keep your hands warm while you walked around the market. These were my favorite thing to eat during the holiday season. It still warms my heart every time I think about it, and makes me homesick—in a good way. It’s not Christmas without roasted chestnuts, so I make them every year!”
2. Chef Natalia Pozzi, Events Coordinator
São Paulo, Brazil
“Every year, the Christmas dinner would happen at my grandmother’s house where she lived in the country, and we would have our traditional Brazilian Christmas supper. Usually it includes turkey, Chester chicken, salted Bacalhau, rice—of course, because we are from South America—a lot of fruits and a panettone. My favorite part of the meal also included Farofa, which is a toasted manioc flour mixture. It can be sweet with fruits or salty with bacon, and I remember my mom always making this for any holiday occasion.
My favorite Christmas memory has to do with my father. Two months before Christmas, I would go with my dad to a place where they raised suckling pig. He would choose the pig to eat at Christmas, and he would marinate the pig in the fridge for days and baste it for hours before the meal. At the end, he would pour the hot oil over the skin and it would become crispy and golden. I remember him putting the pig on the table, and every year he would serve it because he knew the proper way for everyone to get the moist meat and crispy skin.
Both of my parents are very good cooks, so all of my inspiration about flavor and traditional technique comes from them. My dad in particular loves to cook anything Brazilian style. Nowadays, we compete to see who is the better cook, and he always wins!”
A young Chef Natalia dressed as Santa Claus
3. Chef Kir Rodriquez, Associate Pastry Coordinator & Chef-Instructor
“Growing up in Puerto Rico my family was all about food, specifically during the holidays. My grandfather had a big farm with pigs for lechón, chickens for arroz con pollo, cows for fresh cheese and root vegetables like taro root, malanga, potatoes, as well as other vegetables like plantains and bananas for pasteles. And let’s not forget about the coquito (like an eggnog without eggs and lots of rum).
The holidays were a big family event and everyone was involved in the preparations. Holidays for us meant the whole month of December all the way to January 6 which is Three Kings, and then we would start the Octavitas, which was an extension of the holidays for two more weeks.
So much fun. I still celebrate Three Kings with a big party for all the family in our home in New Jersey.”
Chef Kir shares a Christmas photo celebrating the holidays with his mom
4. Chef José Menéndez, Chef-Instructor
“Most people have memories of Christmas celebrations during their childhood, and although I lived a happy childhood thanks to my parents, I remember Christmas as a time of work for my whole family. My parents, both Chefs, had several restaurants in Spain, and we grew up surrounded by the constant hustle and bustle of the kitchens. During Christmas and around the busy holiday season, the work quickly multiplied by ten.
So, instead of a picture of my family enjoying a dinner at home, I wanted to share a picture of my father’s first restaurant in 1952, as this is how I remember my childhood. My brothers and I worked to help my parents, as they would give many of the staff the time off to enjoy the holidays with their families.
Our Christmas dinners were with all the staff of the restaurant, so that memory and reality has accompanied me throughout my professional life. Even so, I remember the dinners with a great union and camaraderie that I have always taken with me wherever I have gone. The classic main course of the holiday dinners would always be a roasted milk fed lamb which I remember to this day.”