A Chef's Holiday
Some of Your Favorite Local Chefs Share Their Favorite Holiday Recipes
As a chef, you have permission from your family to slide into the Christmas day gathering with just moments to spare before lunch is served. Typically, it’s your first day off in over a month and everyone understands your need to sleep in a little and unwind before letting yourself into a house filled with loud and boisterous holiday carousing peppered by the shouts of children and reminders from their mothers that Santa is still watching.
You feel a little empty handed showing up with just wine and some gift cards for the nieces and nephews, but you know that nothing more is expected of you. Chefs start planning for the holidays in late August, maybe September if you’re running behind. At the restaurant, most of the party details are nailed down and handed off to the catering department by late October, but then Halloween passes and November is upon us with large groups making their reservations. A party of twelve for a Bunko group calls ahead just to let us know that all of them plan to order the lobster thermidor. A local office brunch for twentyfive people requests easy access to the mimosa bar. A family calls to rent the private dining room for an early Thanksgiving meal complete with two proteins, all the trimmings, three vegetarian options, and a separate dessert bar. Reservations for Thanksgiving day are booked solid with a few extra tables squeezed in to satisfy last minute callers. Black Friday brings the adrenaline-fueled shoppers with their massive bags and battle scars. Between then and Christmas Eve, every night brings multiple parties and large group reservations.
As chefs, we love this hustle and bustle. We love that people choose our restaurants, and thus choose us, as a part of their merry-making. We are physically sore and emotionally high; we are invigorated and sometimes irritated. We are chefs. And these are the holidays. What follows are our favorite recipes for our private celebrations this time of year. Some of us pull out all the stops and some of us put soups in pots, but all of us are pleased to share these personal traditions with you.
Chef Russ Johnson
Russ is one that pulls out all the stops: stops on the level of roasted venison leg accompanied by a side dish of multi-colored and layered sweet potato dauphinoise. His holiday table is reminiscent of Dickensian Christmases with steaming tureens of all sizes and brasiers of jointed meat and fowl.
Not only is Chef Johnson of Ludivine and R&J Lounge and Supper Club ramping up for the holiday season at work, he is also preparing for his November wedding to Whitney McRay.
“Yeah, we have a lot going on. Of course the restaurant will be humming along and getting ready for holiday festivities, but Whitney and I are also in the throes of planning a wedding and all the festivities that go along with that,” Russ chuckles.
“I like the non-traditional meal when it comes to the holidays, and to be honest I don’t love the traditional Thanksgiving meal. I’m really not crazy about turkey and I like stuffing reasonably well. I love doing the alternative stuff...large format, family style,” Russ says while lifting the perfectly roasted venison from the oven.
In recent holidays, Chef Johnson has served exquisite dishes such as whole roasted fish, a side of salmon, or prime rib to his friends and family. Exquisite classical tartiflette from the Savoy region of France or chestnut soup with a foie gras are served alongside the epicurean spread.
This year’s roasted venison leg has appeared before on his Christmas table, but it actually makes a lot of sense for Thanksgiving as well, considering that deer season opens approximately a week prior. Here’s how to approach this impressive dish:
Chef Beth Lyon
Beth McFarland Lyon is one of only three women who graduated from The Coach House Chef Apprenticeship under the guidance of Chef Kurt Fleischfresser. She has earned her stripes in the kitchens of some of Oklahoma City’s greatest eateries.
This year, however, simplicity and relaxation are priorities for this accomplished chef. “I would rather spend five hours with my kids and husband, or a friend, having a great conversation during the holidays instead of worrying about whipped cream for pumpkin pies and trying to put a full holiday meal on the table. My grandmother did that.”
Many of our grandmothers did that too. They spent five hours preparing a holiday meal that we demolished in mere minutes. This year will be different for Beth in many ways, having recently transitioned out of a restaurant and into consulting, hosting yoga and chakra dinners, and exploring food as it relates to inner peace, family, and nature.
“I believe in feeding the soul, pulling natural fresh ingredients together that feed your soul,” Beth shares. Anyone who follows her on social media can see her dedication to plant-based, all-natural ingredients as she embarks on her new food-related adventures.
For Beth, feeding her soul during the holidays translates into making meaningful memories for her two boys, Wyatt and Arlo. “Something the boys really love that we have started at home during the holidays is decorating cookies. We will bake sugar cookies and then set up an assembly line with colored sprinkles and icing and all the cookie decorating things. We pass cookies down and they decorate them for friends and family. They love doing that.”
What the boys, Wyatt especially, also love is Beth’s Maple Corn Cake. With simple ingredients, lightly sweetened with maple syrup, and prepared in her grandmother’s priceless cast iron skillet, this recipe of Beth’s is becoming a new holiday tradition.
Chef Jason Campbell
Chef Jason Campbell of Mary Eddy’s restaurant in the 21c Museum Hotel is entering his second holiday season in Oklahoma, having recently come to us from the Orlando area of Florida. He and his lovely wife Lia brought their own personal holiday traditions with them, and it was a privilege to meet him and watch him do the prep work for the main dish, bone marrow French onion soup.
This ten year long tradition stemmed from a desire to eighty-six the normal holiday fare in favor of something able to sit on the stove and simmer away all day while naps are taken and conversations are had.
“The trick is to steam the onions first until they are tender. Then cook them down with the marrow and caramelize them to a paste so they just melt away into the broth. If you see onions in your soup, you didn’t cook them enough,” Jason laughs as he comes around the corner holding a small roasting pan of beautiful beef marrow bones.
Jason grew up with some of the traditional holiday meals, but being from a large tourist area, he also had access to a world of food and much of that made its way to his family’s table.
“My grandfather is Polish so we always had roasted pork, sauerkraut, and pierogies,” Jason mentions. Lia comes from a “full-on Italian family” so when the Campbells travel to Florida for Christmas with Lia’s family, Jason says, “We’re grilling whole hog snapper, huge ribeye steaks, peel and eat rock shrimp, and lots of pasta!”
With a repertoire of recipes from all over the world, we feel lucky that Chef Campbell has decided to call OKC his home! And we feel even luckier that he has shared his bone marrow French onion soup recipe with us:
Chef Jonathan Krell
Chef Jonathan Krell of Patrono Italian Restaurant in the Avana Arts District is adamant about brining turkey. Not only does brining impart flavor into a bird that is basically flavorless as is, but it also increases the moisture content and promotes even cooking throughout the turkey. The same can be said for leaner cuts of pork. Chef Krell jumped on board the brining bandwagon during a visit from his hometown of Philadelphia to his brother in California one holiday season.
“My brother’s wife, Jennifer, was working at Spaghettini’s in Huntington Beach and they were knocking out roasted turkeys with a Riesling gravy that blew me away. I never forgot that. What made it so great was the brining.”
Years later, that same brother and his wife moved to Oklahoma City with their kids and started calling Jonathan weekly to beg him to visit, just once!
“There weren’t many chef driven restaurants then like there are now, and my brother Gerry told me OKC was basically a blank slate. I needed to take a break from running two restaurants, so I came out for a visit and loved it here. Just once was all it took!”
Krell returned to Philly, resigned from both restaurants, and packed his bags for the 405. After working in the kitchens of The Mantel and Nona’s, as well as doing a stint as a corporate culinary consultant, Jonathan has found a home at Patrono.
“We’re closed Thanksgiving day and Christmas,” Krell tells me, “but New Year’s Eve we will definitely be doing something.” But that something won’t be a typical prix fixe menu. Krell is passionate about allowing customers to make selections from the menu, with the option of trying one of Krell’s flavorful and innovative Italian style specials. Without feeling locked into a set price with three courses and wine after just coming out of the gift-giving season, his customers are more able to relax and enjoy a good time at Patrono.
His ability to foresee the needs of his customers is one of Krell’s hallmarks. Much like with brining turkey, the care and consideration put forth on the front end yields superior final results!
As you see here, great chefs are not all alike, neither at work nor at home. We have different preferences and priorities and personalities. But there is no greater gift for a chef than knowing that our food, in whatever form it takes, feeds our friends and families, body and soul. To all my colleagues in the culinary world, we wish you a very merry everything and a happy holiday season!