We wanted to find out what the hard-working people who run some of our city's busiest and best kitchens do when their restaurant kitchen is given a final scrub-down for the year. Do they put their feet up and let others wait on them hand and foot? Do they refuse to boil water or even man the barbecue? Not on your life. These passionate professionals all seem to relish the holiday season when they can enjoy the company of friends and family, hosting with pleasure and cooking up feasts, without the usual pressure of it being work. Here they share some of their secrets to putting on a decent feed for the big day and beyond, without it becoming stressful.
RENEE & DAMARIS COULTER
Coco's Cantina (376 K Rd. Ph 300 7582.)
What's on your table on Christmas Day? Usually our Christmas meal is a late lunch then we nap, play cards, sports, board games, keep cooking, then eat again. So on the table for lunch are usually Italian influenced salads, seasonal veges like asparagus, new potatoes and peas, usually whatever is in the garden, cold cuts of meat with home-made mustard fruits and pickles, seafood on the barbecue.
There's always bread, butter and olive oil, a selection of cheeses and we always start with fish that's been smoked that afternoon. Nothing's ever ready when it's supposed to be and it turns into a grazing afternoon of eating rather than a sit-down family meal. Boxing Day is always leftovers turned into paella. However, in saying that, this year we are going to Norm and Judy's, who are our poppa's neighbours in the far north (Fairburn, Kaitaia), to have a hangi Christmas dinner. We are doing the starter and pudding, so smoked salmon to start, and for pudding Renee is making zuccotto and chocolate sponge roll.
What's not on your shopping list for Christmas? Turkey, cranberry sauce, mince pies, fruit cake, Champagne.
How do you cope with entertaining over the summer after a year of doing it at Coco's? We love it. We cope because everyone has their own roles we have established over the years. Renee organises us and starts the cooking, Damaris sleeps until its time to cook an emergency bowl of pasta to get everyone through - and this happens because people are so hungry waiting for Renee and her helpers who have decided to throw an additional dish in the mix and drunk three too many vinos. We then give everyone a job so they are all included - picking flowers, setting the table, organising the drinks and music, helping Dad smoke the fish, getting the kids to feed the chickens and get the eggs, picking herbs for the salads. And there are those too who have inherited dishwashing duties - the boyfriends and husbands. Boo for them.
What rules do you follow to minimise the stress factor? We are not a stressy family, everyone knows they can help themselves to food at any time. If we need help we ask and if someone wants to help we give them a job, easy peasy.
Merediths (365 Dominion Rd. Ph 623 3140.)
What's on your table on Christmas Day? Well, Christmas Day is always a family affair but this year will be a little bit different - I'll be on a plane to Australia. So hopefully it will be crayfish, fresh oysters, some fresh cherries but let's see what the airline provides.
What's not on your shopping list? I will be avoiding ham, turkey and mince tarts.
How do you cope with cooking over the summer after a year in the kitchen at Merediths? My daughters are over for the holidays and they are at the age where they want to be involved, so I always use them to peel, chop etc. Over the summer I always cook more casually and very simply, lots of barbecues and I make sure there's a lot of snack food around to make it easy to play host if I need to.
Any tips for de-stressing when entertaining? Start with a few bottles of Taittinger, then everything just flows.
The Commons (21 Hurstmere Rd, Takapuna. Ph 929 2791.)
What's on your table on Christmas Day? My girlfriend Joss and I are hosting her family for lunch this year. I will take care of all the savouries which will include oysters, vanilla-cured salmon, glazed ham and masterstock braised ducks which will then be double roasted while Joss will take care of the desserts, sure to have lots of Valrhona chocolate involved. Her parents are fellow South Africans and her mum is a fabulous cook who I am sure will turn up with a car full of food. I am hoping one of them will produce a milk tart.
What's not on your shopping list? I won't be buying turkey because it's always dry and never as good as it looks. I'll also be giving any prime cuts of meat a miss. I don't want to have to pay too much attention to them because it's meant to be a relaxing day in the kitchen for me where I can prepare the slow-cooking food beforehand and enjoy being with my guests.
How do you cope with entertaining and cooking over the summer after a year of doing it at The Commons? I love cooking at home, there is something very therapeutic about it for me. Unlike the restaurant, when people come around to my house there are no expectations and they are just happy to be fed. I also prefer to do the cooking because generally you get away without cleaning - that's the hope anyway.
What rules do you follow when cooking for guests to minimise the stress factor? An important tip is to pre-prepare anything you are not confident about. There are always steps to recipes that you can complete well in advance. If it is going to stress you out it is not worth cooking; save the stressful experimentation recipes for a quiet night.
Clooney (33 Sale St, Freemans Bay. Ph 358 1702.)
What's on your table on Christmas Day? Christmas crackers home-made by my wife.
What's not on your shopping list? Christmas mince pies. I just don't see the appeal.
How do you cope with entertaining over the summer after a year of doing it so well at Clooney? It's what I do and as much as everyone offers to help I wouldn't have it any other way.
Do you follow any rules when cooking for guests to minimise the stress factor? I follow no rules, nor recipes.
Ima (57 Fort St, City. Ph 300 7252.)
What's on your table on over the holiday period? Christmas Day is spent with my husband's whanau in Christchurch and it will be a traditional British-type Christmas spread that I have no input into. I fly in at the last minute after we have scrubbed the kitchen down to an inch of its life at Ima. And anyway, I'm not just tired by that stage, I'm Jewish!
But I do bring along a large amount of quince paste, though this year it will have to be a bought one as I finished all my stuff, and a little tin of the best foie gras - I reckon I deserve it after all the hard work.
As we move past Christmas Day, we will be eating lots of salads, lots of fruit and hopefully barbecues if the weather allows. There is nothing I like better than sitting around the whole day with good cheese, iberico ham, salamis, olives, juicy tomatoes, peppery rocket from the garden and good bread.
What's not on your shopping list, food-wise? Ready-made meals. They don't feature on the holiday menu or any other day and the same for all the non-free range chicken and eggs etc, and supermarket bread. Yuck.
How do you cope with entertaining and cooking over the summer after a year of doing it at Ima? Cooking and eating with friends and family in a relaxed, unhurried way is a huge pleasure. I wish I could it do more.
Do you follow any rules when cooking for guests to minimise the stress factor? I try to get ready ahead as much as I can but in actual fact, when I cook at home, I tend to completely trash my kitchen which drives my poor husband round the bend. And I always make far too much.