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Chefs Share Non-traditional Dishes That Grace Their Holiday Table

‘Groasted’ lamb, peanut butter pancakes, and Beef Wellington are among them.

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Deck the table with something different this holiday season. Chefs, cooks, and bakers shared with us some of their non-traditional cuisine from Christmas, past and present.

Ben Smith, chef/owner of Tsunami: "For Christmas Eve dinner, I do what I call a 'groasted' leg of lamb. Short story is that one Christmas my oven went out, but I'd already purchased a leg of lamb to roast. In an attempt to save the meal, I stoked up the grill, threw a cast iron roasting pan on the grids, and got it super hot. Then I threw the leg of lamb in the pan and seared it on all sides, put the lid on it, and continued to grill-roast it to medium-rare. It was so good, I now do it every year."

Chef Justin Hughes with his - chocolate pecan pie - KIARA HUGHES
  • Kiara Hughes
  • Chef Justin Hughes with his chocolate pecan pie

Justin Hughes, Chickasaw Country Club pastry chef and owner of The Wooden Toothpick: "I will be serving chocolate pecan pie this year. It's a regular pecan pie with pecans, brown sugar, vanilla extract, dark corn syrup, and eggs, etc. I use dark semi-sweet Callebaut melting chocolate and mix it in with my graham cracker crust. After the pie is complete, I drizzle chocolate on top."

Jakenesia Winder, owner of Bundt Appetite: "We normally do a Christmas day brunch. My peanut butter pancakes with Bananas Foster sauce is something I make every year."

Miles Tamboli, owner of Tamboli's Pasta & Pizza: "I'm having a very non-traditional Christmas this year. Given the state of the pandemic, I'm electing not to get together with the Tambolis. I hope other folks decide to stay safe, too, but I'm not implying anyone should forego a hearty meal. I'm all for folks downsizing a turkey to a chicken (which is what my household did for Thanksgiving)."

Spencer McMillin, author of The Caritas Cookbook: A Year in the Life with Recipes, will be serving spaghetti squash carbonara. With the exception of not using eggs and using spaghetti squash in place of wheat pasta, this dish, which is in his cookbook, has all the ingredients of a carbonara, McMillin says. Why does he like it? "Simple. Creative. Very wintry."

Peggy Brown, chef/owner of Peggy's Heavenly Healthy Home Cooking: "Turkey pot pie. We feed the homeless Christmas day." In addition to giving out coats, blankets, caps, gloves, socks, and shirts at the restaurant, Brown will serve her pie, which includes mixed vegetables, from "three big pans."

Jimmy "Sushi Jimmi" Sinh, sushi chef at Saito 2 Hibachi & Sushi in Arlington, says his family meal will include "toro, the belly part of bluefin tuna," and "uni — sea urchin." They also will have salmon and "maybe yellowtail." Sinh also is going to make a couple of special sushi rolls and "throw some ribeyes on the grill." Dessert will be Chè Thái, a Vietnamese dish that includes jackfruit, lychee, and longan, mixed with milk or half and half along with coconut milk.

Chef Ryan Trimm, chef/proprietor of restaurants including Sweet Grass and Sunrise Memphis: "Every year I do non-traditional. This year, I'm doing Beef Wellington and crab legs, as well as a few other things." For dessert? "My mom makes cookies. We just eat cookies."

Tim Bednarski, owner of Elwood's Shack, prepares bacon-wrapped quail. This includes a marinade made of pineapple juice, soy sauce, and brown sugar, a mixture of cheddar, pepper jack, and cream cheese, and the dry rub used on pork and other meat at Elwood's. "It's one of my favorite things on the planet," says Bednarski, whose birthday is on Christmas.

B.J. Chester-Tamayo, chef/owner of Alcenia's, says her tradition probably now has become non-traditional.

Ambrosia was a traditional dish at her family holiday meals. "The only time my mom ever made it was at Christmas." But, she says, "I'd be surprised if many people do it now. 'Cause people have gotten away from tradition."

The sweet concoction is made with oranges, apples, fruit cocktail, and a dab of sugar and coconut. Chester-Tamayo, who adds nuts and marshmallows to hers, made some ambrosia Sunday, but she was afraid people would eat all of it before Christmas.

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