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What Makes Chefs Go Wild This Time of Year?

Hint: It's not just sugarplums.

Our favorite Top Chef stars and culinary celebrities may not all have visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads, but they most definitely get fierce cravings this time of year. Here, they tell us about their own holiday celebrations and the foods they can't wait to eat this season.

Marcus Samuelsson

Chef, restaurateur, author and Top Chef Masters alum Marcus Samuelsson (whose restaurant empire includes Red Rooster in New York City) was born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, and some of his favorite holiday foods recall his Scandinavian upbringing: ”My grandmother's Jansson's Temptation [a classic Swedish potato casserole] is a buttery, warm side dish that's perfect for any kind of roast. And, of course, it would not be the holidays without glogg, a Swedish mulled wine, which I always have on hand at my restaurants." Photo Credit: Marcus Samuelsson Group

Andrew Curren

When it comes to a Texas-sized holiday spread, Austin-based chef and Top Chef alum Andrew Curren does not disappoint: “While some holiday side dishes come and go, Mom’s spinach ring with mushroom gravy is the tour de force. If it wasn’t on the table, let’s just say Spec’s [liquor store] couldn’t stock enough gin to calm the nerves! It’s a simple recipe of cooked spinach seasoned with garlic and nutmeg and mixed with eggs, prior to being fit into a vintage Bundt pan and baked in a water bath until set. When she removes it from the pan, she adorns the modeled ring with roasted mushroom gravy; this is a signal to the clan that it’s time to eat." Photo Credit: Vanessa Escobedo Barba

Vinson Petrillo

Raised in an Italian family, Top Chef Masters alum Vinson Petrillo is no stranger to the extravagant Italian Christmas dinner: “I always look forward to Christmas Eve, a time when my father and I get a chance to cook together. One dish that stands out is his eggplant parmesan. He starts early in the morning slicing the eggplant super-thin and crisping it in flavorful olive oil. He doesn't use a lot of cheese, but a lot of fresh herbs and his delicious gravy sets his dish apart from any I've ever had!“ Photo Credit: Zero George

Stephanie Izard

Top Chef vet Stephanie Izard, owner of the popular Chicago restaurant Girl and the Goat, says cheese balls are her holiday weakness. She loves making them whenever she has guests over, and she likes to experiment with the tastiest, most indulgent cheeses she can find. Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Izard

Harold Dieterle

Chefs don't always insist on the farm-to-table thing; sometimes the holidays are just about good old American classics. Top Chef veteran Harold Dieterle admits: “I am a canned jelly cranberry sauce kind of guy. Oh, yeah, I want the rings on it. My grandfather used to play this trick on us to get us to think that he was making the cranberry sauce. But what he actually used to do was, he would take two cans of cranberry sauce, melt them down and then refit them in his old mold."

John Lewis

Barbecue pitmaster John Lewis’ holiday table features a Texan Christmas tradition: tamales. “I grew up in El Paso, Texas, in a family that has always loved Tex-Mex food. Each year for Christmas Eve, we eat red chile corn tamales that someone picks up in El Paso and brings to Austin.” Photo Credit: Jonathan Boncek

Padma Lakshmi

Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi is all about traditional American foods when it comes to celebrating holidays at home: “One of my holiday foods that I love and can’t go without—it doesn’t feel like the holiday without it—is stuffing. I mean, when do you get to eat mushy bread with a lot of fat and vegetables that have been roasted beautifully?”

Tom Colicchio

On Christmas Eve, Top Chef host Tom Colicchio goes full-on traditional with the Feast of the Seven Fishes: “I’m Italian-American, and we do Christmas Eve—and Christmas Eve is all fish. A lot of them are my grandmother’s recipes. I changed them a little bit over the years but there are two things: salt cod, and then my grandfather would make a beet salad with cured olives and fennel and red onion, cherry peppers, lots of parsley, olive oil and little bit of vinegar and then anchovies. And the two together, that beet salad and the salt cod, is Christmastime.”

Sam Calagione

Brewmaster Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery lets his sweet tooth run wild during the holidays: “For me it's my mom’s congo bars, which are sort of like a soft blonde graham cracker brownie with chocolate chips. As a kid I lived to eat it with milk, and as an adult I love to wash it down with Dogfish Head World Wide Stout or Alesmith Speedway Stout. It takes me back to my youth every time.” Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

Fabio Viviani


Life After Top Chef's Fabio Viviani can't eat enough sweet potatoes this time of year: “I love anything with sweet potatoes. It’s dessert while eating veggies! I’m obsessed with the brulee sugar on the sweet potatoes. I also love eggnog, and I’m a sucker for nutmeg.” Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Fabio Viviani

Kevin Gillespie

Top Chef alum Kevin Gillespie's holiday favorite involves rum, and plenty of it: “My favorite holiday dish is my great aunt’s rum cake. She has passed away now, and I still miss it. I know it doesn’t sound exciting, but she did not hold back on the rum! I guess because it was 'cake,' the adults thought it was okay for the kids to have it. Our family would be all happy and nice, but after the rum cake there would be an airing of grievances. It turned Christmas into Festivus! What a fun memory. I feel compelled to resurrect this dish but I'm not sure how without a recipe. We looked for it after she passed, but all we found was an enormous bottle of rum at her house!” Photo Credit: Andrew Thomas Lee

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