What Chefs Cook at Home for the Holidays

Carrie Sullivan, CUESA Staff
December 8, 2017

Winter is upon us, and for many of us that means Hanukkah and Christmas feasts are around the corner. The farmers market offers many fresh and seasonal options, with winter squash, lush greens, chicories, root vegetables, pomegranates, persimmons, and citrus in full force. Many of us fall back on family traditions when it comes to the holiday dinner table, even if those traditional dishes are tweaked to reflect the bounty of Northern California’s agriculture.

For chefs and restaurateurs, the holidays provide a brief respite from the busy restaurant grind. Do they innovate when it comes to their own holiday gatherings, or do they pay tribute to their cultural and religious roots? We asked a few members of the restaurant community to share their holiday traditions, tips, and recipes.

Preeti Mistry, Juhu Beach Club and Navi Kitchen

Preeti Mistry, founder of Juhu Beach Club and Navi Kitchen and author of the Juhu Beach Club Cookbook, and her wife, Ann, always enjoy a California winter delicacy for their holiday spread. “Aside from a few years in London, Ann and I have lived in the Bay Area for over 20 years, so we are both somewhat wired to a Dungeness crab craving around this time of year. Crab, especially our local Dungeness, always feels festive and special at the holidays and more our style than, say, prime rib. Whether it is over Xmas or New Year’s or somewhere in the middle, we always try to make this dish for friends around this time of year.”

Look for freshly caught, local Dungeness crab at Anna’s Seafood at our Jack London Square Farmers Market on Sundays, or H & H Fresh Fish Co. at the Ferry Plaza on Saturdays.

Recipe: Ginger Chile Dungeness Crab »

Karen Leibowitz, The Perennial, Mission Chinese Food, Commonwealth, and Perennial Farming Initiative

For Hanukkah, Karen Leibowitz eats latkes—lots of latkes. Her recipe is based on her mom’s, and she likes to make the latkes flat so they’re crispier when cooked. She says the most important point of preparation is to keep the grated potato submerged in water so it doesn’t turn purple.

But the most exciting part of her latke feast—and one her five-year-old daughter, Aviva, takes a particular interest in—is the applesauce. While they started using a pretty basic store-bought natural applesauce, which her daughter likes to put on everything from Israeli couscous to yogurt (a combination which she thinks she invented, and calls pogurt), they decided they could make a better applesauce from scratch. Instead of the ground cinnamon Karen was planning to add, her daughter requested cinnamon sticks, and later a vanilla bean. This year Karen added a spice mix called Yemen N. 10 from La Boîte in NYC, which makes it “over-the-top good.” While latkes are traditionally served hot with cold applesauce, Karen says this applesauce is good cold or hot, blended or unblended.

We recommend the apples from Devoto Gardens & Orchards at the Ferry Plaza on Saturdays and Tuesdays. Just ask farmer Stan for his suggestions for the best variety to use.

Recipe: Aviva’s Applesauce »

Dennis Lee, Namu Gaji, Namu Stonepot, and Namu Street Food

“One of our family’s great holiday meal traditions is actually not part of the holiday meal,” says Namu co-founder Dennis Lee. “We spend all day cooking together so everyone neglects to eat. We started making a breakfast taco spread with a choice of three meats (because of the many preferences in our large group) and scrambled eggs. It’s usually ground lamb, beef, and pork, with a spread of homemade and store-bought salsa, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, Tierra Vegetables’ awesome Ají Rojo hot sauce (which we always pre-order a gallon jug of) made with her beautiful chiles, and a choice of flour and corn tortillas. All of the meats are seasoned with a premade taco seasoning, as it is nostalgic for many of us from our childhoods and crappy school lunches.

“We end up eating tacos throughout the day as we smoke, braise, roast, and bake all of the holiday goods. Our holiday spreads are always a very multiethnic mix of our friends’ recipes and our modern pantry, usually with seafood as the star (Dungeness crab, whole fish, live prawns, sashimi, etc.).”

The hot sauce Dennis refers to has its own story, according to Lee James of Tierra Vegetables (at the Ferry Plaza on Saturdays). She was given seeds by someone she knew in Geyserville about 30 years ago, and although the peppers are definitely of the Ají variety (originally from Peru), they have adapted to their Santa Rosa home and are no longer the same. Someone recently suggested to Lee that she rename them Ají Santa Rosa.

Rogelio Garcia, The Commissary

Rogelio Garcia has been Executive Chef at The Commissary since 2016, and his previous experiences include stints with The French Laundry and the former Cyrus in Healdsburg. Although he was born in Mexico City, Rogelio has lived in the United States since he was two years old. Through the years, his family has incorporated many of the traditions of the U.S. into their holiday meals, such as a classic brined turkey. Cooking a holiday meal with his family, including his two young sons, is a big part of what makes the holidays special to him. Get your aromatics and other stock ingredients (onion, garlic, and herbs) from the market.

Recipe: Brined Turkey »

Nichole Accettola, Kantine

Nichole Accettola has called San Francisco home for just a few years now, and she’s poised to open her brick-and-mortar restaurant Kantine on Market Street in 2018. Until December 16, you can visit her Ferry Plaza pop-up on Saturdays, where she serves Scandinavian smørrebrød and porridge. Prior to moving here in 2015, she spent 15 years (which was originally supposed to be one year) in Copenhagen, where she fell in love with Danish food.

“These holiday cookies are a tradition in our home,” she says. “The first time I tasted them was at my Danish in-laws’ house in Copenhagen, and I immediately fell for them. My mother-in-law gave me her recipe years ago, and now that we no longer live in Denmark, the cookies are even more cherished by my family. It reminds us of chilly winters, and cozy times relaxing in front of the wood-burning stove.”

This delicious cookie recipe is hygge (the Danish concept of “cozy”) at its best. Give them a Bay Area twist with almonds from G.L. Alfieri Farms or Massa Organics, and candied citrus peel from June Taylor Company at the Ferry Plaza on Saturdays.

Recipe: Brunkager (Danish Ginger Crisps) »

Find more chef recipes and holiday tips in CUESA’s Farmers Market Holiday Guide.

Photo credits from the top: Alanna Hale (from The Juhu Beach Club Cookbook

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