Christmas holiday traditions around the world: Top chefs & restaurateurs share their favourite childhood memories


Discover cool festive foods and traditions
Hailing from Europe: • Chef Thibault Chiumenti from The St. Regis SingaporeChef Michael Hoffmann from Paulaner BräuhausGiovanni Speciale from Four Seasons Hotel Singapore
Hailing from Asia: • Chef TJ from WOOBAR
Hailing from Australia: • Bruce Chapman from The ProvidoreChef Drew Nocente from Salted & Hung

There’s more to Christmas holiday traditions than the usual turkey and ham. Restaurants and home cooks often line up their festive favourites with personal touches to make them special. For example, it could be the addition of certain spices, a secret family recipe, or a particular pre-meal activity.

We ask six culinary experts who now call Singapore home to share their meaningful Christmas holiday traditions. As they look back fondly on the activities and delicacies they grew up with in their native countries—France, Germany, Italy, Korea and Australia— some have even incorporated them into their restaurants’ Christmas menus this year. Come along on their journey down memory lane and “travel” around the world for some holiday feasting!

French fun: Oyster-shucking competitions, grandma’s roasted chickens, grandpa’s handpicked wines

Executive Chef Thibault Chiumenti of The St. Regis Singapore's.

Growing up in the city of Vaux-Sur-Seine, near Paris, The St. Regis Singapore’s executive chef Thibault Chiumenti traditionally celebrates Christmas on Dec 24 with a Le Réveillon de Noel (long dinner) after midnight Mass.

“Christmas is associated with the wintry, cold weather, the smell of a freshly-cut Christmas tree from garden, the warmth from the fireplace, and the familiar faces of my family.”

THIBAULT CHIUMENTI

“At my grandparents’ place, we commence dinner preparation with the family tradition of an oyster-shucking competition among my father, brother, uncle and cousins,” Chiumenti says. “Meantime, the ladies prepare French festive staples such as smoked or marinated salmon and foie gras terrine.”

“My grandmother chips in with her signature roasted chicken, traditional logcake and walnut cake. We’d enjoy these with copious fine wines handpicked by my grandfather and stored in our natural dry cellar in the basement,” he adds.

Marinated Salmon with Citrus Zest, Local Micro Herbs, Sour Lemon Cream and Buckwheat Blinis ($55.70) available by delivery in Singapore powered by Oddle Eats.

Planning to trade your turkey for salmon? The St. Regis Singapore offers a delicious Marinated Salmon with Citrus Zest, Local Micro Herbs, Sour Lemon Cream and Buckwheat Blinis ($55.70).

German greats: Grilled sausages, Christmas goose with bread dumplings

Executive Chef Michael Hoffmann of Paulaner Brauhaus.

Set on a picturesque hill with a castle, Dachau is home to Paulaner Bräuhaus’ executive chef Michael Hoffmann. Here, the main day of celebration is also Christmas Eve, when most children will be exuberantly unwrapping Santa’s gifts.

“I remember running home from church when I was young because I knew presents were already under the Christmas tree,” shares the 30-year-old.

“Since kids are restless and it’s late at night, it is tradition to eat grilled sausages and potato salad on Christmas Eve. On Dec 25, many families enjoy Christmas goose with bread dumplings and red cabbage.”

MICHAEL HOFFMANN
Whole Christmas Goose ($199, good for 7-8 pax) available by delivery in Singapore powered by Oddle Eats.

If tearing through Christmas wrapping is leaving you famished, get your fix with a Whole Christmas Goose ($199, good for 7-8 pax) from Paulaner Brauhaus. It comes with bread dumplings, cinnamon red cabbage and goose sauce.

Italian editions: Live market eel, mum’s home-cooked red prawns and octopus

Giovanni Speciale, Director of food, bverage and culinary operations in Four Seasons Hotel Singapore.

Giovanni Speciale, Four Seasons Hotel Singapore’s director of food, beverage and culinary operations, spent his childhood in Martina Franca. This charming Italian town starts Christmas celebrations as early as Dec 8, the Day of Immaculate Conception.

“Decorations go up on the street and inside Italian homes, and some Christmas markets open. Huge live Christmas trees are found in the main piazzas, and carollers and zampognari (bagpipe players) travel from the nearby mountains to play merry folklore carols.”

Giovanni Speciale

“To purify our bodies for Christmas Day, we avoid eating meat on Christmas Eve, and eat only vegetables and seafood dishes.

“I used to go to the wet seafood market to pick live eel with my dad and grandfather. My mum would prepare the eel two ways: chargrilled, and in a tomato ragout with angel hair pasta. We’d also have red prawns, octopus and salted cod fritto.”

“If you think we’re talking about a three-course meal here, think again! It’s traditionally way more. There is a theological reason behind the indulgence. Seven courses might be served for seven sacraments, nine courses for the Trinity, 12 for the apostles, and 13 for the disciples with Jesus,” he explains.

Seoul food: Korean BBQ, galbijim, soju and mum’s cinnamon cake

Chef TJ of WOOBAR.

As K-drama fans will attest, turkey is not a popular ingredient in Seoul, Korea. Instead, beef is the meat of choice during celebrations such as Christmas, says WOOBAR‘s Chef TJ. Whenever the chef is in Korea, he would enjoy Korean BBQ, galbijim (steamed beef ribs) and soju with his extended family during Christmas, one of his favourite seasons of the year.

“When I was little, my dad put on a Santa Claus costume and gave presents to my brother and me every Christmas. I believed in Santa till I was 9 years old and would prepared a huge red sock at the foot of my bed on Christmas Eve.”

TJ

Another popular Korean festive staple: Christmas-themed cakes in all shapes and settings, such as fir trees and snowscapes. It is not just the standard log cake available internationally, TJ says. His personal favourite treat? His mother’s signature cinnamon cake. “Every time I have cinnamon cake now, I’d recall happy family memories.”

Perth picks: Panettone, porchetta and pavlova at the beach

Bruce Chapman, Founder and managing director of The Providore.

Christmas holiday traditions Down Under has a different kind of charm. For The Providore’s co-founder and managing director Bruce Chapman, family celebrations in Perth is all sun, sand and surf. “It is hot so we usually start the day with coffee, panettone and moscato for breakfast while opening presents. Then we head to the beach for a swim before preparing lunch,” Chapman says.

“Lunch is a long affair and starts with cold seafood and starters, followed by the mains, afternoon naps and late dessert, which is usually trifle or pavlova.” 

Bruce Chapman

One common alternative to turkey is porchetta (whole pork loin roast), slow roasted on wood fire outdoors. Needless to say, there’s much that he reminisces while here in Singapore. “What do I miss? I want to say everything, but really it is family and the beach.”

Aussie-Italian outback adventure: Roast beef, seafood, sweet treats

Chef Drew Nocente, owner of Salted & Hung

Chef Drew Nocente, owner of Salted & Hung, used to help his family members prepare Italian extravaganzas on their family farm near Brisbane. It was perhaps one of the Christmas holiday traditions that ignited his culinary passion.

“Growing up in Australia, Christmas was a massive celebration that usually spreads over an entire week – quite similar to Chinese New Year in Singapore.”

Drew Nocente

“We get lots of visitors from friends to extended family. Spending the week feasting with them is definitely the highlight of the season,” Nocente says. “On the table will most definitely be ham, roast beef, prawns and mud crabs. In addition, there are our favourite Italian desserts like cannoli, biscottis and nougats.”

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