Christmas Without Going Crackers – 7 Top Chefs Spill the Beans on Stress-Free Christmas Entertaining

In the countdown to Christmas, all at once a day dawns when your stress markers go to Defcon One and just won’t come down.  There’s the shopping, the wrapping, the parties, the cards, the postage, the queues, the misdirected parcels, the weather and now, little more than a week away, the most stress-inducing of all: Cooking Christmas Lunch For The Relatives (and possibly The In-Laws).
In all this mad preparation, by the time Christmas morning comes some of us are so exhausted we barely enjoy the day itself.
We’re there.  We share your stress, and we’re determined not to allow Christmas to go by in an anxiety-fuelled rush.  Where oh where to turn for help?
toptable, of course.  No, we’re not suggesting you chuck in the whole thing and take the mob to a restaurant for Christmas lunch (though there is that possibility, you know).
Instead, we’ve asked seven top chefs to let us in on the secrets of how they manage Christmas lunch for the family when they’re at home and miles from their sous chefs and dishwashing staff.  Most generously, they have come up with some terrifically practical suggestions to help you reclaim the joyous day of Christmas.  And they’ve thrown in some good tips for enjoying your own Christmas party that work fine for New Year’s parties as well.  So drop your shoulders, take a deep breath and read on.
Superchef Gordon Ramsay starts his de-stressing even before he enters the kitchen:  ‘ When shopping for ingredients for your main Christmas meal, think about buying the rest of the ingredients for the next few meals after Christmas Day using the inevitable leftovers, such as country loaf bread for sandwiches, puff pastry for a turkey pie.’  (This does suggest to us that he has a really big fridge at home.)
When it comes to Christmas day cooking, Bruno Loubet of Bistrot Bruno Loubet has compassion for us amateur chefs.  ‘It seems obvious but I’ve seen so many people trying to do everything on the day and it’s just too much. Make sure you have everything ready to go — at least the garnishes. The vegetables and the sauces can be prepared the day before, so that on the day you can spend more time with your guests and family.’
Tom Aikens, of Michelin-starred  Tom Aikens — London and the two Tom’s Kitchens, agrees on the pre-prepping and has some specific suggestions.  ‘You can make the cranberry and bread sauce the day before and prepare and peel all the vegetables the day before. Part of the problem with the Christmas lunch is that kitchen space is an issue as it is very difficult to cook everything and get it all ready at the same time. You can roast the carrots and parsnips in frying pans on the gas stove instead of in the oven. The chipolatas, bacon rolls and stuffing balls can all be pre-cooked before and placed onto a single tray for reheating later. If you want to, cook the potatoes off before, and then reheat them later.  That will be fine too.’
Tom Aikens serves stuffing balls.  Who knew?
‘Crown the turkey or goose, i.e. cook the legs separate from the breast,’ advises Adam Byatt of Trinity restaurant.  ‘The cooking time will be cut and the results far more consistent.’
Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Junior of Le Gavroche, Roux at The Landau and Roux at Parliament Square believes that simplicity is key.  ‘I think back to basics is a good idea, for example serving good old smoked salmon for a starter.’
So basically they’re advising us to think and plan ahead, shop smart, and we now have their permission – in writing­ — to do as much as possible ahead of time and not to over-complicate an already complicated meal.  We’re starting to feel calmer already.
What about keeping the in-laws sweet?
Francesco Mazzei of l’Anima reckons, ‘Cook for them!’ is the best advice, though Claude Bosi of Hibiscus takes it a step further: ‘ Make sure you cook the food they like.  A tarte tatin for my girlfriend’s sister was very well received last year, so more of the same.’   Michel Roux Junior’s mother-in-law loves Christmas pudding, ‘So I bring a pudding that I have made based on the traditional Mrs Beaton recipe.’  That’s one fortunate mother-in-law.
For other chefs, the secret to pleasing the in-laws is liquid.  ‘Gin,’ says Adam Byatt.
And Tom Aikens turns out to be a surprise softie.  ‘Spoil them with presents and booze,’ he says.
Okay, we’re throwing a party too.  Any simple tips to assure that we can enjoy it as much as our guests do?
Gordon Ramsay says, ‘Just relax. I know it’s easier said than done but things will go so much more smoothly if you take everything in your stride and enjoy it.’  Look, chef, if we could ‘just relax’ we wouldn’t be reading this.
Bruno Loubet has the right idea.  He says, ‘Make sure you invite the right people!’
Francesco Mazzei says to ‘make sure the wine keeps pouring,’ and Tom Aikens is in favour of doing it ahead again.  ‘Make everything beforehand so that you just have to reheat everything in the oven and keep it simple and get everyone merry.’
Adam Byatt is succinct and very wise, we think.  He says, ‘If it’s a staff party – don’t drink!  If it’s family party – do drink!   And ‘haven’t seen you for ages, let’s catch up for Christmas’ parties should be avoided at all costs.’