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Local Chefs Share Their Holiday Traditions

Eric Baker. Photo by Deep Roots Agency
Eric Baker. Photo by Deep Roots Agency

Eric Baker

AlleyCat, Boca Raton

Hometown: Syosset, New York

“My greatest culinary memories are of the celebration of Hanukkah. Every year, my mother would dust off her electric griddle, the one that lay dormant all year in the lower basement of our home, waiting for its opportunity to shine. This was a time to rejoice and for family to come together. But most importantly, as a child, it was a time to receive gifts. But what I did not realize was that the real gifts I received were not the Cabbage Patch doll nor the Nintendo game [but] the memories. I can still smell the pungent odor of onions being grated, transforming into the delicious smells of potatoes crisping in oil, symbolizing the miracle of the oil burning for eight days. These are the gifts that I look to pass along to my children, except as a chef I have upgraded from an electric griddle at home to a plancha in my restaurant kitchen.”  

Rodrigo Mezadri. Photo by Hilton West Palm Beach
Rodrigo Mezadri. Photo by Hilton West Palm Beach

Rodrigo Mezadri

Galley, Hilton West Palm Beach

Hometown: São Paulo, Brazil 

“There is one dish that my grandfather and grandmother used to make for Christmas that I keep in my heart: beef tortellini in homemade pomodoro sauce. All the ladies in the family were in charge of making the fresh tomato sauce, which usually took the whole day. My grandfather learned to make tortellini from his father. He would make the dough and the filling from scratch, and the whole family would bond together while ‘rolling them up,’ usually one day before Christmas. It was such a fun time, gathering all the family together around the table, kids running around and stealing the meat filling to eat.”  

Wendy Tilkaran
Wendy Tilkaran

Wendy Tilkaran

Chunkay, Riviera Beach

Hometown: Chaguanas, Trinidad

“My family gathers during the holidays to make pastelles (savory cornmeal pies stuffed with seasoned meats or veggies, individually wrapped and steamed in banana leaves). We split up the various steps; I go into our backyard to pick the perfect banana leaves and fresh herbs and seasonings. The aroma of the meat being cooked fills the air as the cornmeal mixture is being formed, filled, and pressed. Each task evokes a satisfying feeling that adds to this special tradition, [and] we all get excited for the final steps: steaming the pastelles, cooling (if you have patience), unwrapping, and tasting our group efforts, filled with fun, love, and lots of laughter.”  

Victoria Shparber
Victoria Shparber

Victoria Shparber

Tequesta Table, Tequesta

Hometown: Kyiv, Ukraine 

“One of the biggest holidays is Ukrainian Christmas on January 7. [I have memories] of our parents and other family members sitting at the dining room table, eating and drinking for hours while us kids ran around and played. Now, the dinner table is always covered with lots of food and drinks, including Ukrainian borsch soup, pelmeni (meat dumplings), vareniki (pierogies), galuptzi (stuffed cabbage), pickled tomatoes and cucumbers, herring and onions with dill garlic young potatoes, and blinis with red and black caviar. We currently host once-a-month pop-up dinners that resemble those that we had back in Ukraine.”  

Huy Hoáng
Huy Hoáng

Huy Hoáng

Le Colonial, Delray Beach

Hometown: Saigon, Vietnam 

“Roasted duck is a favorite of my family on Christmas Day, and it’s on the Le Colonial menu as well. A common assumption is that all ducks from Asian cuisine are Chinese Peking duck, yet that’s not the case in Vietnam. Saigon cuisine was strongly influenced by haute French cuisine, hence roasted duck is very common in the area. At Le Colonial, we dry age the duck for seven-plus days, creating a dense duck flavor with nutty and rich notes. This process causes the natural enzymes to break down, which makes the duck even more tender. As a result, the skin will be crispy on the outside and extremely juicy on the inside.”

The post Local Chefs Share Their Holiday Traditions appeared first on Palm Beach Illustrated.

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