Christmas with Stewart Turner



Stewart Turner, our inimitable Head Chef, attempts to strike a happy balance between cherished family time and the lure of the kitchen come Christmas-time. Naturally, vinous accompaniments are welcome in both scenarios

Christmas is a bit of a double-edged sword for a chef, as it can just be another working day – albeit with a better soundtrack and a few glasses of fizz. Although I never really minded working on Christmas Day, now that I have a young family it’s great to have it off.  As head chef I’m lucky enough that we are closed over Christmas, although it does come at the end of a very busy period for us, so by the time the big day arrives I’m normally shattered.

We like to spend Christmas at home and normally have extended family over. As a chef, big occasions – whether cooking at work or at home – are all about the preparation, so with the turkey brined and the truffle butter nestling under its skin ready for the oven, the morning is then free to open presents and enjoy the calm before the storm.

Midday sees our guests arrive en groupe and, it being Christmas, they are naturally welcomed over the threshold with Champagne. To this end I find it hard to look past our Own Selection and have a real soft spot for Berry Bros. & Rudd United Kingdom Cuvée, Rosé, Grand Cru. I’ll accompany it with some freshly baked gougères, Iberico charcuterie and the supreme Gordal olives.

Lunch is unsurprisingly a lengthy affair that often stretches from early afternoon into late evening. Starters will much depend on guest numbers; a plate of Forman’s smoked salmon served with lemon and capers is always a winning format or maybe if I have the time, a little crab and lobster ravioli with Thai-scented bisque (to bring thoughts of sunny climes to the table). What to drink really boils down to what I’ve found interesting of late; at present I have a real love of white Burgundy so depending on the starter it could be Patrice Rion’s 2012 Nuits-St Georges, Les Terres Blanches or something from the Olivier Merlin stable such as his 2011 Mâcon, La Roche Vineuse.

Turkey with all it accoutrements is a must for the main show, and for this it really has to be Pinot Noir, either from the New World or Burgundy. Past offerings at this juncture have included the fantastic Domaine Drouhin from Oregon, Ostler Caroline’s from Otago, New Zealand or the always fantastic Au Bon Climat Knox Alexander from California, but this year I quite fancy a 2009 Nuits St Georges, Aux St Juliens, Domaine de Montille, which we have been using recently for our ‘France versus the New World’ tastings.  It is very fine indeed, with a fantastic nose and light, smoky notes.

After the main course, lunch seems to take on a life of its own, with the children darting away to play or watch TV, returning only to finish off any stray pigs in blankets; much to my disgust, the truffle-buttered turkey just doesn’t seem to cut the mustard with them. This just leaves us adults to the cheese, and to chat; the red will ably see us through both, before we round off proceedings with the obligatory pud, served alongside a 2004 Kyperounda, Commandaria Limassol, Cyprus. Then we’ll progress to something a little more fortified in the guise of our own-label William Pickering, 20-year-old, Tawny Port (with some chocolate of course), whilst playing my wife’s homemade pub quiz, before another contented Christmas Day comes to a close and we retire to bed fully replete. Boxing Day will include a visit to the cinema to see the latest children’s movie, followed by lunch out with friends – this is one day of the year when I’ll definitely not be cooking.

Keep an eye out for tomorrow’s post in which Tom Cave, our Cellar Plan Manager, recounts the order of service for his festivities. In the meantime, read about Christmas with our Buying Director, Mark Pardoe MW, and our Wine Club Manager, Katie Cooper.