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DO Chef Panel: To Cook or not to Cook for the Holidays?

How our chefs handle the holiday season

Holiday parties, extravagant dinners, and exciting end of year celebrations—it’s clear that the holidays are one of the busiest times to be a chef. However, once chefs hang up their aprons to go home to their own holiday celebrations, does the knife stop there? With turkey to be brined, potatoes to be mashed, and sides to be handled, do our chefs take over the reigns of holiday cooking or do they relax and pick up a glass of wine? We asked our DO chef panel how they handle cooking for the holidays.

luca

Photo courtesy of Luca

“Usually for Thanksgiving, I cook for thirty or so people, many who’ve been coming to our house for more than a decade. This year, we’re heading to Barcelona and I’m cooking for no one. I won’t know what to do with myself. On December 24, though, I’ll be in the kitchen all day. Fish, pasta, prime rib, caviar—you name the extravagance and it’ll be on the family table. By family, I mean brothers, nieces, nephews, my cousins, their children, some second cousins, and third … Last year we had 45 people for a sit-down dinner and my mother and I cooked. It was awesome.”—Frank Bonanno, Bonanno Concepts

“I am usually working up to the day of the holiday. When it is the day of the holidays, I am in the kitchen until clean up. I watch any and every game that is on and usually take a nap, as does the rest of the family. Therefore, it’s safe to say, I do a little of both, cook and relax. You can’t take the girl out of the kitchen …”—Aniedra Nichols, Fish N Beer

“I usually spend them cooking at the restaurant with the exception of the day of Thanksgiving and Christmas. But on those days, I like to be in the kitchen. I feel like a fish out of water if I’m not cooking. I love the feeling of cooking with my family!”—Elise Wiggins, Cattivella

“I usually plan on relaxing during the holidays, letting the family cook for me. However, I almost always find myself inevitably in the center orchestrating the meal. Although it’s nice to be taken care of, it’s also my opportunity to use my skill set to take care of my family, which they all enjoy. I guess no matter where I am, it’s in my blood to ensure that every meal is excellent, whether at work or at home.”—Kevin Kidd, 24 Carrot Bistro

“Let someone else take the reins? That’s like Willie Shoemaker giving up his mount in the Kentucky Derby so he could sip on a mint julep and scope out a few hats! Stay out of the kitchen, enjoy yourself, and prepare to be amazed. The holidays are show time for chefs!”—Mark Gordon, The Sink

Vesta

The Madras Grilled Venison from Vesta | Photo Morgan Carter

“Over the past ten years being in New York, Vegas, and Hong Kong, inevitably away from my family, I’ve always tried to get a collection of industry friends all together to throw “Orphan Holidays,” where we all get together and have Christmas or Thanksgiving dinners together. We would all contribute something, whether it be dishes, wine, cocktails or something, and all spend some time together, away from the grind of being in our own kitchens. Restaurants are always the busiest around these times, but it’s always necessary to take a step back, enjoy your time, and take a look at the bigger picture. That being said, now that I am back in Denver, I can’t express enough how much I am looking forward to spending this year with my parents and close friends that I have been away from for almost a decade. The days surrounding major holidays are generally quite busy in the restaurant, so I often let someone else plan holiday events. As for the day of, I would absolutely prefer to be sipping a glass of wine rather than cooking all day, but the chef in me always finds something to do to help the host when it comes down to the food. I’m really not that picky as to what I eat, and I really love to taste other people’s food.”—Nick Kayser, Vesta

“I try to offer wine, liquor, beer—anything but cook, but I always end up doing a lot of the cooking. If nothing else, I have to do the gravy. It’s just one of those things that nobody has the skills to make happen. I don’t mind at all that I cook for the holidays— as long as I don’t have to do the dishes!”—Hosea Rosenberg, Blackbelly

“Thanksgiving is my favorite because I am visiting with friends and family while I am cooking, which makes it nothing at all like work! But I do check out when it is time for dishes!”—Dory Ford, Baur’s Restaurant and Listening Lounge

“For the holidays, I love to cook for my family. This year I’m especially excited because I just earned my Sommeliers Level 1 and can’t wait to pair our holiday dinner with some excellent wines. I like to make my family some Del’s signature side dishes from the shaved brussels sprouts to the potatoes au gratin. I will also be preparing some seasonal fall side dishes we have been offering in the restaurant such as a Roasted Spaghetti Squash with honey and brown sugar, and the Sweet Potato Casserole with candied pecan topping,””—Mario Hernandez, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse

“Well, this is a trick question to ask any chef. I would love to spend my time relaxing with family and cooking up a storm over a nice bottle of wine. Unfortunately, (as we all know) chefs don’t run on R and R. We run on stress, blood, sweat, and tears. The holiday season is one of the busiest times for any chef, but also one of the most rewarding. I’ll be in the trenches with the ladies and gents of the Roadhouse Restaurant Group over the holidays.”—Justin Adrian, Roadhouse Hospitality Group

“I definitely like to be in the kitchen and cook, but I don’t feel the need to have control over everything/the whole menu. I love doing a main dish that takes a few days to prepare … seems extra special to take the time and planning needed to do. Plus, since there is not much do for the final step, I can find little time to sneak out in the morning for a ski! Tea Smoked Duck is my absolute favorite special dish to prepare for the holidays. So much better and more flavorful than a fat, bland ‘ol turkey!”—Dakota Soifer, Cafe Aion

Squash ready to be prepared in the Project Angel Heart Kitchen | Photo courtesy of Project Angel Heart

Squash ready to be prepared in the Project Angel Heart Kitchen | Photo courtesy of Project Angel Heart

“I enjoy being in the kitchen around the holidays and will always contribute in some way, but have managed to avoid being the “one in charge” for most holidays. That being said, my wife and I just purchased our first home last year and are hosting Thanksgiving this year, which I am really excited for. It is always fun to cook for family and friends, especially during the holiday season.”—Brandon Foster, Project Angel Heart

“I moved to Boulder from Connecticut in 1978. That is when I started the Thanksgiving for waifs. Colorado is a big transplant state and I enjoy cooking so my Thanksgiving parties are usually 25 to 35 people. I think Thanksgiving is the best holiday, no presents or stress, just great friends and family, food and booze! It’s a party I enjoy cooking for!”—Steve Ballas, Steve’s Snappin’ Dogs

“Of course, holidays at the restaurant are insanely busy so I’m busy too—there’s always something going on and I thrive on the energy. However, at the restaurant, we also all know that family is a priority, especially at the holidays, so I am always able to carve out plenty of time away to spend with my family and make sure all my chefs do too. I try to let someone else take the reins, but it usually doesn’t work out—someone’s always calling me into the kitchen to demonstrate a process, add an opinion, or correct a mistake. But I don’t mind—I love sharing my culinary skills with my loved ones!”—Dan Kane, Del Frisco’s Grille

“The day is usually spent with friends and family. I cook a single dish like a root vegetable gratin or brown butter mashed turnips, and relax all I can.”—Dan Lasiy, Rebel Restaurant

“I like to spend my holidays with my family. The best part is, we usually gather at my grandmother’s house for dinner and a book exchange in lieu of gifts. It’s an easy, relaxing, and fun downtime for me. After a long day cooking professionally, nothing is better than having someone else cook dinner. But, cooking at home also offers the chance to get creative and test new ideas so it really depends on my mood each day.”—Vanessa Spindle, Postino WineCafé

“I am usually working Thanksgiving or, at least, right up to it! Even after roasting 100’s of turkeys and making more pans of stuffing than you can count, it is really great to sit down with your staff and enjoy Thanksgiving together. It isn’t the most conventional definition of “family” but restaurant teams spend a lot of long days working together and are an extension of your own family. And there are always leftovers to send home—every cook knows the best thing about Thanksgiving is the late night, post-feast, Turkey Sandwich.”—Meg Grace Larcom, The Kitchen Bistros

“Last year for thanksgiving, my wife and I hosted “Sweatsgiving”. On holidays based around large consumption of food, we play dress up. It’s the most uncomfortable time of the year. So we made all of our friends wear sweat pants! I cooked the staples and had our industry friends bring sides and desserts. It’s a tradition that we will continue around the Verrier house.”—Merlin Verrier, Next Door

The DiningOut (DO) Chef Panel serves as the voice of culinary talent in Denver, Boulder, and beyond. These 70-plus chefs answer our burning questions about the local dining scene, cooking, and food trends on a monthly basis.

Curated by Morgan Carter, Editor