Make Christmas 2020 Magical with AFN’s Foodies

Make Christmas 2020 Magical with AFN’s Foodies

Keep up the holiday spirit and get inspired by how our celebrity chefs are celebrating Christmas this year as they find comfort in family traditions and heartwarming food.

Can’t host that massive year-end party or get too physically close to your friends and family this holiday? That has not dampened the Christmas spirit of our AFN celebrities one bit as they find creative ways to bring their loved ones closer through virtual parties that triumph over long distances and multiple time zones. Join Sarah Huang Benjamin, Ili Sulaiman, Anton Amoncio, Debbie Wong, Charlotte Mei, Janti Brasali and Yuda Bustara as they offer you a glimpse of their lives this Christmas and the mouthwatering delights they are planning to whip up this holiday season.

How do you usually celebrate Christmas?

Herb Roasted Heritage Turkey

Janti: Every year I spend Christmas holidays with all my kids and my mother-in-law. For the past two years, I would host dinner at our house in Jakarta on Christmas Eve and take a break from cooking, and invite Chef Adhika Maxi to prepare a delicious meal for us to enjoy.

Charlotte: With most of my family living in different parts of the world, Christmas usually means traveling to visit a family member, or them coming over to Singapore.

Anton: I spend Christmas just like how any ordinary Filipino does. Christmas season, being too close to the end of the year, is just the perfect time for reunions. Weeks before it, I'd be busy attending several Christmas parties with different sides of the family and various sets of friends.

Yuda: Every year, my family goes to my aunt's house for Christmas dinner.

Ili Sulaiman with her Christmas spread

Ili: Having grown up celebrating Christmas with my maternal grandmother who is of the Christian faith, it comes to no surprise that I do, until today, feel like a little kid in a candy store every time Christmas time is approaching. As a child, it was all about the presents but as an adult it's all about the food; we only cook and eat at Christmas. Around about this time of the year, my family and I are busy finding the perfect presents in stores for our secret santa, sending each other recipes and sharing a wishlist of Christmas dishes in family group chats. It is also customary in my family to split the cooking duties between my mum, my two aunts and myself. We all have our strengths and we just hone into this during this special time.

Sarah: Christmas is usually a pretty big affair in my family, and we have a big dinner together on Christmas Eve with roast turkeypotatoes, Christmas pudding and all the works. I have a big soft spot for Christmas, so I like to start decorating a few weeks earlier, and getting in the festive mood by baking some goodies like cookiescakes and bread. I’ve also had an annual Boxing Day celebration with my friends for the last 13 years, and it’s when I get to have a good meal with my oldest friends, and just connect. I always look forward to this!

What food do you usually cook?

Janti Brasali with her Christmas spread

Janti: The menu varies and is up to the Chef, but it usually always contains a beautiful cut of beef – we all love beef in my family.

Sarah: For the big Christmas Eve dinner, there’s always roast turkey. But it’s the sides that get me really excited. Honey glazed carrots and roast potatoes are a must, and I usually try a new way to serve Brussels sprouts every year. I like to make a pie for dessert, which could be a cherry pie or pumpkin pie, but this year, I might make a trifle instead.

Charlotte: I always make a selection of dips to serve when guests start streaming in, so there is something to keep them busy with. Usually, they include a salsa verde (made from a selection of fresh herbs), aioli (I love my garlic!), hummus, tapenade (olive spread), and a cream cheese-based spread. My absolute must-have on the dining table is my miso-grilled Brussels sprouts, as well as a large fresh salad with a mixture of greens, nuts, and fruits like pomegranate and orange segments! I like to keep the proteins simple with a roast chicken stuffed with vegetable off-cuts - they impart amazing flavors to the drippings. 

Lumpiang Shanghai

Anton: The eve of Christmas will be my busiest as you'll almost always find me in the kitchen whipping up the family's favorite holiday recipes - pastasteak, and lumpiang shanghai (a party staple!). We'd also leave room for desserts - usually a cake bought from our favorite pastry shop.

Ili: My uncle and his wife are great with putting together amazing artisanal cheese platters with accompaniments like sliced cured meats, homemade sausage rolls and creamy chicken liver pate, and they always have the time to design a special Christmas mocktail and cocktail that changes every year. My mum makes the best cured salmon that is served with a mustard sauce on sliced bread and she also cooks our yearly roast chicken with stuffing and lots and lots of gravy. I am in charge of the slow roasted lamb shoulder with caramelized onions as well as sides. We make two kinds of potatoes for Christmas, creamy garlic mash and roasted potatoes. We can never agree on which one is better so we have both. We also make my grandmother's cauliflower and cheese recipe because she can't cook so much anymore.

Related: 7 Malaysian Home-Based Food Businesses That Are Feeling The Christmas Spirit

What’s one thing you must have every year?

Keto Sesame Roast Beef with Cauliflower Mash

Debbie: Foods that instantly put me in the holiday mood? Spicy, fragrant mulled wine, perfectly rare roast beef with a salty rosemary crust, (a Christmas Eve tradition for my family back in Canada) and panettone, a sweet Italian egg bread, which I really got into during my years in Montreal living near Little Italy. TIP: Use the leftovers for the BEST bread pudding. 

Sarah: There are so many festive treats I look forward to. It’s the Brit in me, but mince pies are a must-have. My dad is very keen on Christmas pudding, so we always do the flambé and serve it with brandy butter. But the part of Christmas I look forward to most is the leftovers! I love assembling plates of leftover food the day after. And then with the leftover turkey, I make a delicious turkey pho using the bones, shredding the meat in. It’s a nice break from all the heavy Christmas cuisine.

Related: 5 Ways to Use Leftover Christmas Dishes

Yuda Bustara and his Brulee Bomb, a Dutch-inspired potato ball

Yuda: I love an Indonesian-style Christmas feast. There's Ayam Kodok, which is a stuffed whole chicken served with gravy. It's basically a replacement for turkey; since turkey is not common in Indonesia, we use chicken instead. My family originated from Solo in Central Java so we always have ’Selat Solo’ or Solo-style salad too. It really shows how the Dutch influenced our Christmas cuisine – it’s a salad served with beef stew and a dollop of mustard – love that – that’s my favorite!

Ili: Christmas feast is not complete without a can of baked beans heated up. No joke, don't knock it until you try it. And for dessert, my amazing home baker aunt usually bakes a classic sugee cake or a warm fudgy brownie with vanilla ice cream and crushed candy canes. 

How has the pandemic affected your holiday plans?

Sarah Huang Benjamin and her Christmas spread

Sarah: Instead of a big Christmas party, I’m hosting small groups of friends throughout the season, so that means a whole lot more cooking. But I don’t mind, as it means we can have a more intimate meal and really connect over the food. That’s one thing that I really appreciate after this year, that human connection.

Ili: During the festivities we channel all our energy in making our signature dishes and treats and it keeps everyone feeling like they have contributed but without any of the stress. However this year, everything is looking to be a little different. Uncertain times and COVID has made the planning a little more challenging. We are not sure if we can be together for Christmas this year which is really upsetting as my grandmother is 84 years old and it's my baby nephew's first Christmas with us. Either way, I feel like we will be ok and will come up with creative ways to be together.

Janti: It has been more of a challenge getting my kids home for the holidays since two of them are living in the US, but Christmas is definitely one of the most important holidays in our household, so they are all going to try making their way home.

Yuda: Holiday season is always the time for me to go party and celebrate what I’ve achieved throughout the year, but this year is different.

How are you planning to overcome this year’s unique challenges?

Sweet Potato Cake with Coconut Drizzle

Ili: Cooking our signature dishes and sending it to each other and enjoying Christmas online via a conference call. Thank god for technology!

Debbie: This holiday season will be spent in Hong Kong with my other half and my cat Billy. We’ll be doing a ‘friends Christmas’ with a big turkey and all the traditional sides. I’ll be making my signature potato gratin as my contribution to the feast. The secret? Caramelized leeks and a touch of Dijon mustard. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. I’ll also be sure to uphold my usual traditions this year: new pyjamas from MUJI, simmering water with cinnamon sticks for that warm spicy scent throughout the house, and playing my favorite Motown Christmas album while snuggling up with Billy next to the glow of my Christmas tree, which is a bit lopsided, but hey, so was 2020.

Yuda: We haven't planned anything yet this Christmas. Probably just going to stay at home and video call some close family members.

Related: Enjoy Holiday Feasts from These Home-Based Businesses in Jakarta

Mushroom Soy Butter Pasta

Sarah: For the annual Boxing Day celebration with my friends, we’re going to have to figure out how to eat the same food while connecting online over video call. It won’t be the same, but the fact that we want to do this every year, regardless of challenges, means so much to me.

Anton: This year, with the pandemic still on the rise, many people are questioning whether to celebrate Christmas the way we are accustomed to, or just skip it altogether for the safety of everybody. Just the other day, I heard from the news that the government is getting ready for an influx of new patients this month as there are still quite a lot of people who chose not to let COVID 19 halt their Christmas traditions. Since I understand the need and longing to be reunited, I'd like to just remind our fellow foodies that there are local guidelines and safety measures in place to make our gatherings safer. Other than the usual wearing of mask and hand sanitation, it is important that we keep ourselves informed of the community protocols especially in travelling to help mitigate risks. I, on the other hand, am content with just celebrating Christmas this year virtually along with the family.

Charlotte: I will be spending Christmas with two of my brothers who reside in Singapore, and we’ve decided to cook a dish each! I have been tasked to make dessert this year. I haven’t made plans yet, so I’m open to suggestions! It also looks like we’ll be having multiple video calls with other family members, and sending tons of pictures of what's on our plates! Our locations cover South America, South East Asia and Australia, so the selection will be interesting!

What does Christmas 2020 mean to you?

Chicken Afritada

Anton: Christmas in the Philippines is more than just a celebration of the day itself  - it marks the coming of an entire season. This extended celebration is officially observed as soon as the "Ber" months kick in and is well supported by Filipinos.  Beginning September, you'd start to see Christmas decors and lights already hanging around the streets while Christmas songs and jingles are being played incessantly on public malls. Because of this, it is said that Philippines is probably the nation that celebrates Christmas the longest. Our people love festivities so much that we'd find a good enough excuse to celebrate and enjoy every moment spent with family and friends.

Janti: Christmas is all about family and spending quality time with the people I love. 

Sarah: After this year we’ve had, this festive season just emphasizes how important family and friends are. After not being able to connect in person for a few months this year, I’m even more appreciative of my support network, and I’m so grateful that I’ll get to spend quality time with my closest loved ones. Good food and good times are just the cherry on top!

Debbie: Christmas might be my favorite holiday of the year, not only for the promise of the 3 Fs - friends, family and food - but for the opportunity to really reflect on the year and the anticipation of new beginnings. I treasure the feeling of being able to stand still while looking forward. This year, I’m particularly craving nostalgia, more than ever, I need the company of loved ones, the comfort of traditions, and the taste of familiar foods. Wishing all of you GOOD HEALTH, great food, and the laughter and love of family. 

For more delicious recommendations and recipes for Christmas, see our Festive Feasts page. 

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