From Jamie Oliver to Prue Leith – Discover the Christmas traditions of real chefs and foodies

While some famous foodies serve turkey others have more unusual festive faves, discovers Ella Walker. Every family has its own special Christmas traditions, but what do chefs and cookery book writers do on December 25?

Jamie Oliver, who’s teamed up with Hotpoint on a new initiative to tackle food waste, doesn’t think one Christmas is enough…

“I’m a bit weird, so we have the roast turkey, which isn’t actually traditional – we’ve only been doing that for about 70 years really in Britain, give or take. Turkey is from South America,” he explains. “I normally have a small Christmas and then a big party the next day, so I do turkey, Porchetta and goose.”


Guardian columnist, Tenderstem ambassador and author of Fresh India, Meera Sodha, switches turkey for duck…

“My Gujarati family are happy with potato curry on Christmas, but that’s not very exciting when you’ve grown up with traditional Christmas food,” she explains. “Something that’s become a bit of a tradition in my house is duck fesenjan, which is beautiful roasted duck with a pomegranate molasses and walnut sauce.

“Then I shred Brussels sprouts and cook them hard and fast. And last year, I wrote a recipe for these red cabbage parcels stuffed with macadamias, mushrooms and chestnuts, which is really deep and rich and meaty, but without the meat.”

Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith, author of new book, Prue: My All-time Favourite Recipes (Bluebird), loves a bit of festive trifle…

“We used to have Christmas dinner – which was turkey and all the trimmings – but it was in South Africa in blazing heat, so we all had to have a siesta afterwards. It’s the most unsuitable food for the middle of summer,” she remembers.

Trifle also tends to make an appearance on Leith’s table: “I make very good trifle because I can’t stand leftovers, so if there’s a bit of stale cake around, it goes in the freezer to become trifle. And I make really good trifle because I don’t do any jelly – I hate jelly in trifle. There’s something disgusting about the combination of smooth silky jelly and gritty crumbs, I don’t like that, so I make very boozy cake at the bottom, very creamy custard and all the little bits and bobs on the top.”

Simon Hulstone, owner and chef at Michelin-starred restaurant The Elephant in Torquay and champion of Seaweed From Norway, usually works on Christmas day…

“From December 1 to Christmas Day, I just don’t want to eat turkey. It’s everywhere in the restaurant,” he explains. “I love it, but by then I just don’t want any. Last Christmas was maybe my first Christmas off ever.

“I don’t have really strong feelings about Christmas, my dad was a chef too. We always work, but my wife says it’s about the kids, so we’ll see all the family, my wife’s side and mine, and maybe have some beef. I feel a bit funny about eating the animals from our own farm, we have turkeys and duck.”

River Cottage chef Gill Meller, author of Time (Quadrille) is keen to mix things up and serve crab…

“There’s just times where you can’t carry on doing the same things year after year, because people come, people go, houses change, kitchens change and you need to adapt,” explains Meller, whose mother, who would traditionally host the family Christmas, died last year.

“This year, I’m doing Christmas at our house and I want to do something really unconventional because I’m always disappointed by the food at Christmas. I mean, I love it, and I gorge and I want to die afterwards because I’ve eaten so much, but it’s not my first choice.

“It’s weird that we as a society, in our food culture, we eat turkey at Christmas, in that it’s supposed to be the most special day of the year, and we eat something that we would never eat at any other time because we don’t really like it. So this year, I’m thinking I’m not going to do anything that I don’t just love. So if I can, I was going to do some really beautiful crab, French fries, aioli, good bread, butter and salad, because that’s what I love, so why can’t we eat that on Christmas Day?”

Food critic William Sitwell, ambassador for the Royal Voluntary Service’s Cooking For A Crowd campaign, is all about keeping things traditional…

“I’m pretty traditional. My father always used to make baked eggs in the morning, then it’s church, then a glass of champagne and the first present. I like to have lunch quite promptly at 1.30pm – turkey and all the trimmings. I love it,” he buzzes.

“I just love a great turkey and roast potatoes, little chipolatas and cranberry sauce, and Brussels sprouts when they’re done well, and gravy and lashings of claret and the Christmas pudding set on fire, crackers, hats, stupid jokes, Queen’s speech. Then a walk, bit of telly, and maybe a glass of white burgundy and some smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for supper.”