Taste of the Season chefs share holiday food memories, traditions

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Taste of the Season chefs share holiday food memories, traditions

Published Wednesday, December 1, 2010   |  824 Words  |  

Being a chef around the holidays can be tricky. Not only do you have to cook for your restaurant guests, there's the turkeys, stuffings and pies that have to be cooked for your family.

And then there are the social events, such as Taste of the Season.

The Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce's Taste of the Season is one of the largest gatherings of local chefs on the island. More than 35 of the top culinarians come together to offer samples of their best dishes Friday at the Hilton Head Marriott Resort and Spa.

With all this on their plate, so to say, a few of those involved in the gala shared some of their thoughts about cooking during the busy holiday season.

Contributors included Red Fish chef Sean Walsh, Sea Pines Resort executive chef Michael Ramey, The Jazz Corner chef Mark Gaylord and Daufuskie Island native and Gullah cookbook author Sallie Ann Robinson.

Question. Do you enjoy cooking for the holidays or do you avoid it?

Ramey. I cook Thanksgiving dinner for my three children while at work on Thanksgiving Day and take it home. We eat together around 8 p.m. It's a perfect arrangement: all the cooking is done in a kitchen I pay someone else to clean.

Robinson. I love cooking with the depth of my heart, especially for the holidays. I get extra crazy with the cooking. I put on some good soul music in the kitchen and dance around while fixing and mixing.

Q. What's your favorite
holiday side dish?

Ramey. Cornbread dressing, done right like my mom's. It just smells like Thanksgiving. Crusty, golden outside with a creamy soft interior and bits of turkey, onions, celery, thyme and sage.

Walsh. Roasted potatoes. They get roasted in all the pan drippings so they have this thick, sticky caramelized goodness on the outside and a white, moist center.

Gaylord. My favorite holiday side dish would have to be turkey gravy because, well, it's turkey gravy! Who doesn't put it on their entire plate?

Q. What were holiday meals like for you growing up?

Ramey. My mom was an awesome Southern cook and my dad was career Army. My brothers and I grew up, for the most part, in Germany. I remember our German friends loving all of my mom's traditional holiday fare, in particular her chicken and dumplings, scratch-made yeast rolls and buttery peach cobbler. Holiday cooking was a time when close friends gathered in the kitchen with copious amounts of Spatlese (wine) and apple schnapps being passed around. My brothers and I volunteered to clean the kitchen -- a ploy intended for remnant harvesting from those nearly empty wine and schnapps glasses.

Walsh. Growing up, the holidays meant a whole day of feasting. At breakfast my mom would make eggs Benedict and my grandmother would make Irish soda bread and black puddings (Irish blood sausage). Dinner would be served in the dining room on fine china and with silverware that was only used on special occasions. The table would be pulled out as long as it could go with a full house of family and friends gathered around.

Q. Do you introduce any Lowcountry food into your holiday meals?

Walsh. Last time I was home I made a shrimp and grits appetizer, which everyone loved. I believe they were the first grits ever cooked in my house.

Robinson. I have so many, but to me they are all special. I love cooking them all but to narrow it down to two: Mama's Shrimp and Tada Salad and Ol' Fuskie Fried Crab Rice. The Shrimp and Tada salad is a meat-and-potato dish that can be a side, main or just a treat any old time. The Ol' Fuskie Fried Crab Rice is just heaven made with one of the best foods from the ocean. We had to pick at lest a bushel of crabs to get mama to make it, but the reward was worth it.

Q. Is there a such thing as a good fruitcake?

Ramey. I'm a freak -- I love fruitcake. But I also love Spam, potted meat, Vienna sausages and anything on a Ritz cracker.

Robinson. Yes, there is a great fruitcake. God bless her soul, my late aunt was a true fruitcake maker. Unfortunately, I never got the recipe from her. But some things you just can't copy. Making a fruitcake is an art, like many baked goods. If you don't give it the attention it needs, then you get out what you put in -- a so-so fruitcake.

Gaylord. The best fruitcake is one that you can re-gift. It is always better to give than to receive ... especially fruitcake.