Food

’Tis The Cuisine
Have a Michelin-starred Christmas as top chefs dish out their favourite festive must-haves on the table

SEBASTIEN LEPINOY

Executive chef of Les Amis

SEBASTIEN Lepinoy had an idyllic childhood – just like the kind of picture books where families live in the countryside and rosy-cheek kids gather around the kitchen table to peek at what their mothers and grandmothers are cooking for dinner. “It was a little village called Cantenay-Epinard, in the Loire Valley,” says the now grown-up chef who happily shares photos of contented cows grazing just 20 metres from his family home.

“I grew up in a traditional French-Catholic family, living in the countryside where people respected Christmas culinary traditions.”

The highlight of every Christmas meal had to be foie gras, that quintessential Gallic classic. “It’s the festive dish for every French family,” says chef Lepinoy. “Foie gras production is at its peak in November, which is why many people serve it at Christmas. It’s usually consumed cold as a terrine, but nowadays it’s often served hot.”

Smoked salmon was often on his family’s Christmas table too. “We have it with toast and unsalted butter. Oysters are another staple because they’re readily available at the wet markets. You eat them with a dash of vinegar, pepper, shallots and black bread.” Venison with cranberries, duck a l’orange or boudin blanc with apples – meats are traditionally paired with fruit – rounded off the festive meal. “Most French families don’t serve black truffles at home,” notes the chef. “You only see them in fine-dining restaurants.” But what no home can go without is dessert – and every kid including him looked forward to log cake or Buche de Noel served either frozen or with butter cream, which is the traditional way.

Dinner would be served at midnight on Christmas Eve, when the family returned home from mass. “All kids loved eating at midnight, it was something different and fun for us.” He even continues this tradition as an adult, especially when Christmas Eve is usually spent cooking dinner for Les Amis guests. “After work, I would head home and have a lovely meal with my wife at midnight. This tradition brings back fond memories, as we’re eating the same dishes I had as a child. I always send pictures of our meal to my brothers.”

With such happy childhood memories, the expectant father is determined to “teach and pass on traditional French practices and experiences to my daughter”.

He and his Korean wife are headed to Seoul for Christmas, where they will await the birth of their first child on Jan 2. And he’s already planning an elaborate recreation of his childhood Christmas. “At the start of December, I will prepare a special foie gras terrine to bring to Korea, as well as black truffles. I will source the other ingredients there because Korea has beautiful ingredients and outstanding pastry shops where I can find a Christmas log cake.”

By Jaime Ee



PHOTOS: KELVIN CHNG
 

Roast Foie Gras

Ingredients
1 pc Rougie Foie Gras (550gm to 600gm)
1 kg rock salt
5gm black pepper mignonette
Red grapes and green grapes
Poached pear (cooked in one litre water and 300gm sugar)
Ginger confit (cooked in one litre water and 300gm sugar)
Chopped chives, fleur de sel, black pepper
Method
1. Lay the foie gras on a bed of rock salt in a cast-iron pot.
2. Cook in the oven at 200 degrees Celsius for 35 minutes. Rest with the cover on for another 35 minutes.
3. Remove from salt and clean off all the excess salt.
4. Sear the cooked foie gras in a hot pan.
5. Sprinkle with chives and serve with the poached pear and ginger confit.


ROBERTO GALETTI

Managing director and executive chef of Garibaldi Restaurant

ROBERTO Galetti’s grandmother wanted her family to live close together so she and his grandfather built a small condo in 1964 with just four apartments which they gave to their four children, including his mother. It was located in a small town called Brescia in northern Italy, and chef Galetti remembers how on Christmas Eve, the families would have dinner in their own apartments before assembling together to go to mass and take in the live nativity scene that had been created behind the church.

“For us, the real Christmas Day was on Dec 25 itself,” says chef Galetti. “All four families would have lunch together, and it was really exciting because it was a never-ending day. The mothers started early to prepare the food, the men prepared the big tables and the kids took care of the games. All of us – 16 people – ate together in one apartment. So our turn came every four years. After lunch, we would play games and then dinner, and then games again till late. It was always a great big party thanks to my grandmother’s vision for us to be together.”

With so many mothers cooking, the table was always heaving with goodies. “My auntie Adriana was in charge of starters so we had vitello tonnato, insalata russa, marinated eel with vinegar and onions. Auntie Franca was in charge of the roasted turkey, pork sausage Cotechino with lentils, and Auntie Anna took care of dessert. My mother was in charge of pasta – lasagne, gnocchi with cheese, tortellini with chicken broth and my favourite Tajarin noodles with smoked salmon cream and herring caviar.”

The young chef would be helping his grandmother, running to and fro all the apartments as the matriarch coordinated the cooking as well as any skilled professional in a restaurant kitchen. But of course, all the children grew up and went their separate ways – by the time he was 18, chef Galetti was already working in London. “Since my daughter Kiara was born in 2015, I’ve worked hard to reinstate the tradition of spending time with the family again. For the last two years, we spent Christmas in Italy, where my mother and I cooked for our family. My brother is married with five kids, so with my family, parents, aunts and uncles, there were 16 to 18 people again. This year, we’re going earlier as I want to take my parents to Salzburg, but we will return to Italy in time for our Christmas Day lunch which will of course not be complete without my mother’s Tajarin noodles!”

By Jaime Ee



 

Tajarin Noodles with Smoked Salmon Cream & Herring Caviar

Serves four to six
Ingredients
1 pc Rougie Foie Gras (550gm to 600gm)
1 kg rock salt
5gm black pepper mignonette
Red grapes and green grapes
Poached pear (cooked in one litre water and 300gm sugar)
Ginger confit (cooked in one litre water and 300gm sugar)
Chopped chives, fleur de sel, black pepper
Method
1. Lay the foie gras on a bed of rock salt in a cast-iron pot.
2. Cook in the oven at 200 degrees Celsius for 35 minutes. Rest with the cover on for another 35 minutes.
3. Remove from salt and clean off all the excess salt.
4. Sear the cooked foie gras in a hot pan.
5. Sprinkle with chives and serve with the poached pear and ginger confit.


JOSHUA BROWN

Executive chef of CUT

WHAT’S Christmas in America without cookies? Growing up in San Dimas in California, Joshua Brown and his mother would make “assorted cookies and fudge and we would bring them to family and friends on Christmas Eve”.

His grandmother’s house was the centre of the celebrations and they would pass out the treats after dinner as snacks and gifts. “I really enjoyed bringing these little care packages of cookies and fudge. I had a few friends who would ask when my mother was making them so they could come by and get some.”

Chef Brown helped out in the kitchen a little, “but not always as I was always too busy playing with the other kids. But I would help when my mom makes the fudge because it needs to be constantly stirred to avoid burning the bottom”.

Turkey is more for Thanksgiving, while Christmas was all about honey- baked ham and roast prime rib.

“My family would always gather around the dinner table and feast on a six-bone prime rib, along with honey-baked ham and vegetables from my grandparents’ garden. There was always leftover meat, and we would make sandwiches with them the next day for breakfast – it was absolutely delicious, and definitely something I looked forward to every year.”

Hearing Christmas music in the weeks leading up to Christmas is a favourite memory from his childhood, as well as “the smell of my mother making black-eyed peas and ham hocks”. Another simple favourite is just “being with my family, sitting in the living room with a fire going”.

In Singapore, “Christmas is one of my wife’s favourite holidays after Halloween. The tree and all the decorations for Christmas go up the weekend after Thanksgiving. My two boys usually help decorate the tree. For the last seven years we have gone out to Christmas brunch with friends, and usually end up at their house playing games.”

By Jaime Ee



PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG
 

Christmas Prime Rib

Serves six to eight
Ingredients
One 3kg USDA
prime bone in ribeye
100g black pepper
200g granulated garlic
200g granulated onion
400g kosher salt
2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
Olive oil
Method
1. Temper the meat for 45 minutes.
2. Combine granulated onion and garlic with salt and chopped herbs.
3. Rub meat with olive oil and season.
4. Place in a 230 degrees Celsius preheated oven and cook for 15-20 minutes until golden.
5. Reduce oven heat to 165 degrees Celsius and cook until internal temperature is 45 degrees Celsius.
6. This should take about 1.5 hrs.
7. Remove from oven and let rest for 20-30 mins.The internal temperature should be about 55 degrees Celsius.
8. Slice and serve with roasted vegetable and natural jus.


KIM JOINIE-MAURIN

Head chef of Joel Robuchon

FOR Kim Joinie-Maurin, head chef at Joel Robuchon Restaurant at Resorts World Sentosa, fond memories of Christmas include gathering with his cousins in the kitchen and helping his mother make her Christmas fruit cake.

“There would be 10 kids and it was always fun for us to have our hands in big bowls, mixing up the dried fruits for the cake,” recalls chef Joinie-Maurin, 35.

The Korean-born chef was adopted by a French and Australian couple when he was a year old, and grew up in Bosdarros, a village in south-western France. He has a younger sister, who is also Korean and adopted.

“Christmas was a time for family get-togethers. We had family that stayed all over France, and as my father is the eldest in the family, everyone would come to our home for Christmas,” he says. The family also did spend two Christmases at his maternal grandparents’ home in Ipswish, Queensland.

“Our Christmas meals were a mixture of cultures – French and Australian, and the menu was often dependent on where we celebrated Christmas,” says chef Joinie-Maurin. In France, the Christmas menu would include foie gras and magret de canard, or duck breast, and stuffed capon which was a specialty of the chef’s uncle.

In Australia, the chef’s granddad would cook roasted pork with mash and peas. “The pork crackling was amazing, and all of us would be fighting over it,” he recalls.

Speaking in his French-accented English, chef Joinie-Maurin says that he has always loved cooking since young, and would often watch his mother cook. Even before 12, he was already baking. “But it was only many years later that I found out my chocolate cake was a disaster when my parents told me that the cake turned out green,” he says with a laugh.

He has met his biological parents, is in touch with them, but doesn’t speak any Korean.

Chef Joinie-Maurin later went to culinary school, and trained at well-known restaurants, such as the one Michelin-starred Au Crocodile, in Strasbourg, helmed previously by the acclaimed chef Emile Jung, and at L’Arpege in Paris, the three Michelin-starred restaurant by chef Alain Passard.

He has been sous chef at the RWS restaurant since 2011. Chef Joinie-Maurin was recently made the restaurant’s head chef, taking over from Michael Michaelidis, who has moved on to lead the team at Robuchon’s three-star gastronomic restaurant at Yebisu Garden Place in Tokyo.

As with most years, he will be spending Christmas in the kitchen, cooking up a nine-course Christmas menu that includes black truffles and white onion tart with smoked bacon, and a beef chateaubriand and foie gras, done Rossini style with souffle potatoes and port reduction.

The kitchen team will have a quick gift exchange before dinner service. Chef Joinie-Maurin expects to be done with cooking past midnight, but there will be some fun after that.

“We usually meet up at a friend’s home for an after- service celebration. Each one of us would bring something, usually some oysters and shrimps, charcuterie and cheese and champagne. One year, I did a roast for a party,” he says.

At times like this, he says he does miss his family, but work takes priority. “With the Internet, it is much easier to keep in touch,” says the chef, who hopes to return to Bosdarros to see his parents next year.

By Tay Suan Chiang



PHOTOS: YEN MENG JIIN
 

Le Boeuf

Beef Chateaubriand and Foie Gras, “Rossini” Style

Serves four
Ingredients
400g beef tenderloin
400g foie gras
Chopped black truffle
Coarsely ground pepper
Fleur de sel
Four eggs
Watercress
 
Port wine reduction
100g aged port wine
10g beef jus

Truffle vinaigrette
75g red wine vinegar
25g truffle juice
250g grapeseed oil
1g Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
Method
1. Trim the beef into a rectangle shape, about 14cm long. Season with pepper and fleur de sel.
2. Trim foie gras to about 14cm long and make it flat at the bottom.
3. Glaze one side of the beef with egg wash, then put flat side of foie gras on top of beef.
4. Wrap the beef and foie gras in cling wrap into a roll, and place in a sous vide bag and seal.
5. Cook the beef and foie gras roll in the sous vide machine at 64 degrees Celsius for one hour. Once cooked, plunge the bag in an ice bath.
6. Once cold, unwrap the roll and brush all edges with a thin layer of egg wash. Cover the roll with chopped black truffle, wrap in cling wrap, and reseal in a sous vide bag.
7. Prepare the truffle vinaigrette by combining all the ingredients except the grapeseed oil. Then blend the oil in little by little.
8. Reduce the port wine until 20g and add the beef jus.
9. Reheat the beef and foie gras roll in a sous vide machine at 63 degrees Celsius for 40 minutes.
10. Remove the roll from the wrap, and pan sear lightly in foamy butter. Then slice the roll into four servings.
11. Season the watercress with truffle vinaigrette.
To plate
1. Decorate the plate with port wine reduction.
2. Place a slice of the beef and foie gras on the plate.
3. Lay some watercress salad on the side next to the meat.
4. Finish with a bit of beef jus.

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EDITORIAL TEAM

Wong Wei Kong
Jaime Ee
 
Kelvin Chng
Mark Cheong
Yen Ming Jiin
 
Lee Kim Siang
Charmaine Martin