This article titled “‘All I want is chocolate’: Jamie Oliver and other top chefs on their Christmas wish lists” was written by Interviews by Molly Tait-Hyland and Holly O’Neill, for The Observer on Sunday 15th November 2020 15.00 UTC
Bread, cheese… and gin
Jamie Oliver, celebrity chef and author
A couple of loaves of Coombeshead Farm bread. The crust is exceptional, it’s nutty, chewy and malty. Toast it up with some good butter, it heats like a dream and will last for a week. Have it with some good cheese and a glass of wine or beer, it’s just heaven and a meal in itself.
There are so many amazing British farmhouse cheeses, but for some reason this year Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese has been flirting with me relentlessly. And I can’t stay away. I like it in a sandwich, I like it melted. Shave it over a garlicky rosemary pork chop and pop it under the grill. Filthily delicious. I also love it crumbled into an interesting salad, maybe with a segment of clementine at this time of year.
And some Tinkture rose gin. More recently, instead of going for a beer or a wine, I like to go for a classy little spirit and this is a true treat. I like it in a long glass with plenty of ice, some nice tonic water and a sprig of mint. Refreshing, delicate, with a complex elegant flavour, and the rose is so subtle – it’s a thing of joy.
Shuko Oda, founder and executive chef, Koya London
I did volunteer work when I was in high school at a National Trust place called Looe Island in Cornwall. The old woman living there had bought the island with her sister and they were into beekeeping, cooking, winemaking and carving – all the kinds of things people are starting to again appreciate. It happened to be my birthday and she opened up a couple of bottles of elderflower champagne for me and some Swedish girls who were volunteering.
I often think back to that island and what she was doing; I would love to have a way to connect with nature a little bit more in my life.
I got into gardening over lockdown, like everyone else. Even the smallest things, you think, oh my gosh, what a job. What labour and what love it takes, and what time and money, to produce these vegetables. Whenever I smell elderflower now, it reminds me of my time on the island. It was very special.
Dad’s roast duck and Nan’s fruitcake
Marie Mitchell, chef and co-founder, Island Social Club, London
I’m really into Christmas but weirdly not fussed about turkey, so my dad makes duck for me because I absolutely love it. He steams it with fresh thyme, garlic, onions and spices before roasting it, so it’s not quite as fatty but you still get the crispy skin. It’s delicious, it falls off the bone. Sometimes he’ll add some ginger but only when he’s feeling fancy.
My nan’s fruitcake is a given. Nan’s fruitcake comes at Christmas but also when you have a birthday. She just has fruit soaking all year around. I don’t know what her secret is but the fruits and things are probably submerged in rum for at least 12 months. I’ve seen kids eat it and they get a bit tipsy. My nan is small and mighty. Her name is Olga and she is like 4ft 10in. My mum has seven brothers and sisters, and every birthday, whether it’s Nan’s children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren now, she bakes a cake. She normally makes one or two at Christmas and everyone has a slice: it’s a nice tradition.
Olia Hercules, chef and food writer
I got into vacherin quite late in life, only a couple of years ago. It’s a soft-washed-rind cow’s milk cheese, similar to camembert or brie, and you bake it in the oven until it’s kind of molten. They come out late autumn/early winter and then in spring, they stop. The riper it gets, the more flavour, but it’s right around Christmas that it tastes best to me. We have a whole dipping situation with boiled potatoes, little gherkins and bread. You can use other crudité but this is my favourite trio.
It was the first thing I asked for after I gave birth to Wilf on 6 January. It was Ukrainian Christmas and I said to my husband, Joe, “This is all I want …” so he got me two vacherins and the next day I had a glass of champagne and the cheese. It wasn’t as relaxed as I was hoping because Wilf was crying, so this Christmas I am going crazy and having one every two days.
Isatu Hyde’s ceramics
Lopè Ariyo, recipe developer and food writer
I don’t necessarily celebrate Christmas but I do celebrate the new year festive period. Typically we have a Nigerian-English roast dinner, so vegetables such as grilled okra, roasted plantains and corn, a suya duck and jollof rice.
A friend recommended Isatu Hyde’s ceramics. I was looking for black ceramicists because I wanted to diversify who I get my products from. She works at Studio Artificer in south Shropshire. Her tableware and cookware take influence from traditional west African pottery as well as other worldwide pottery traditions. We eat with our eyes, so when we see something that looks even more appetising because of what it’s in, it kind of brings the dish alive. I guess it tricks our heads into thinking it is tastier than it actually is.
Tom Kerridge, chef and co-founder, The Hand & Flowers, Marlow
Honestly, without any doubt, what I want to find in my Christmas stocking is sprout tops. Not even brussels sprouts, but the leaves and the stalks that used to be used as animal feed – for me, they’re amazing. The best brassica around. I mean, sprouts are great but sprout tops are better. They will always be on my Christmas dinner – as well as sprouts. They’re lovely. I wilt them down in quite a lot of butter, with salt, and then little bits of crispy bacon sprinkled on the top. I love them so much.
A pressure cooker
Anna Tobias, chef-owner, Cafe Deco, London
I have my granny’s old pressure cooker. She died eight years ago and I’ve had it since. It’s all faded, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d had it for 50 years. I cook stock in it all the time – that’s probably the thing I use it for the most – otherwise, pulses and I’ve done stews when I’ve been running low on time. It fits a chicken carcass nicely.
People are a bit afraid of pressure cookers, of things exploding. The crazy intense fast cooking is no longer desirable. Pressure cookers became popular for economic reasons; obviously, you use the gas for way less time, so you can save money on energy.
This one is starting to not have a perfect feel any more … I’m lusting after one that’s basically the same but probably a bit bigger.
Leyla Kazim, food writer and broadcaster
I was recently staycationing in Wales. Whenever I visit anywhere new I want to try something typical to the region. One of those things was laverbread, which is not anything to do with bread, but seaweed harvested off the west coast and boiled down until it’s really soft, like a puree. A typical breakfast is apparently laverbread with cockles. I had intended to try it at the farmers’ market on Sunday morning but I got my dates wrong. So if I were to receive some laverbread, that would be so cool. I think it would work well with Christmas breakfast, such as eggs and smoked salmon.
Spanish Christmas sweets
Nieves Barragán Mohacho, chef-founder, Sabor, London
For Spanish people, the most important thing at Christmas – as soon as you get up – is the plate of sweets. Four types of turrón, marzipan, dates and dried fruit, and polvorónes. Polvoróne comes in this beautiful paper. You get up in the morning, you have one. You finish eating, but you go to the table to have a little snack. You watch telly with the family and you get up and you have another. I think I am going to need it a lot this year because I’m not sure if I am going to make it to Spain.
Tom Brown, chef-owner, Cornerstone, London
I love a Cornetto. Ice-cream is my addiction. Whenever I eat one, it reminds me of Shaun of the Dead, which I love. Strawberry is the one – with the jam. The mint ones are OK. If you’re eating the plain ones, we probably can’t be friends, no offence. The thing I love on a Cornetto is when you get to the bottom and there’s that inch of pure chocolate. That’s the best. A year’s supply of Cornettos would do me a treat. A nice turbot to roast up for Christmas dinner wouldn’t go amiss. But I’d much rather kick back, have my mum put on her usual spread and have one of my strawberry Cornettos for afters.
Ravneet Gill, pastry chef and founder of Countertalk
This is the first Christmas in five years that I won’t be working. Usually I’m up at 5am and driving to someone’s house. I can’t say anything cheesy like, “I just want people to be happy and have jobs.” All I really want is good-quality chocolate. I constantly buy it in huge sacks because I make so many chocolate-chip cookies. Probably for people who don’t always appreciate how amazing the chocolate is, but I appreciate it. I love Original Beans 72% Venezuelan, because it comes in the best sized pellets. And I love the Pump Street Bakery stuff; that’s a luxury – I cling on to it for special occasions. If anyone gives me chocolate, I’m always happy.
Gueyu Mar tinned fish
Calum Franklin, executive chef, Holborn Dining Room, London
At the beginning of lockdown, a friend sent me a couple of tins of fish from a restaurant in Spain. I had the chargrilled sardines first, and now I am addicted to it. They do octopus, clams, mussels, mackerel – chargrilled and tinned in very good olive oil. It’s a perfect example of a single product done perfectly. I found an online retailer that did home deliveries, which was dangerous during lockdown.
Jacques Selosse rosé NV
Ryan Chetiyawardana aka Mr Lyan, founder of Lyaness, London, and Silver Lyan, Washington DC
We make it a family endeavour to try and pack in as many Christmas celebrations as possible – I think I accrued seven one year. There’s a couple of traditions: I take whisky when I go to my dad’s; I drink some old reds when my sister hosts. But this year it feels obvious to have bubbles. On my last trip to New York, I had a Jacques Selosse rosé. It was completely different to anything I’d tried before. It was like a little bit of sunshine and felt very celebratory. You won’t see this in every wine shop, but it isn’t an impossibility to get hold of. It’s a nice balance of all the things that sum up Christmas for me.
Jeremy Chan, chef and co-founder, Ikoyi, London
I don’t really like sweet things. I’m not into chocolate. If someone got me a really big tin of caviar, I would be pretty happy with that. It’s extravagant, and I don’t make enough money to buy myself huge tins of caviar. But I love simple stuff – really good coffee is I think the best gift for me. It’s the one food present I love because when you open it, it smells so good. I’m not a coffee connoisseur. It’s not really about a particular brand or flavour, it’s about the excitement of holding a new bag of beans, not knowing what it’s going to be like.
Gary Lee, executive chef, The Ivy, London
If I’m honest, I prefer red meat for Christmas. An oven-buster is a three-bone, top rib of beef. Delicious! You can get them from a decent butcher, but they don’t really call them oven-busters any more. It’s an old-school way to describe this beautiful roast. I’d like one from the short horn or belted Galloway breeds. The three bones slowly rise and help stop the shrinkage of meat. You cannot go wrong. I like my beef with watercress, roasties, beautiful Yorkshire puddings and gravy … medium-rare or rare beef that’s had time to rest. Those juices. Can I have my present a day or two early?
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