Full Size Gingerbread House

Corporate Chefs in the Holiday Kitchen

The FLIK Blog asked our Corporate Chefs how they spend the holidays. Do they don chef whites during time off or do they prefer to sit back, relax, and let those around them do the cooking? We found that most of our chefs don't know how to stay out of the kitchen, but they are capable of sharing it, especially with family and friends. 

Bill Chodan

Chef Bill Chodan

Some of my favorite holiday memories are our annual family trips to my grandparent’s house in upstate New York. In the winter, it’s a beautiful drive through the snow-capped Catskill Mountains. I always looked forward to dessert! Granda Bauer was a great baker and would prepare a wide assortment of German and Austrian-inspired desserts and, of course, great cookies.

Now I cook all throughout the holiday season. There’s nothing like sharing a great meal with family and friends. It’s the best time of year!

Mark Paolini

Chef Mark Paolini

My favorite holiday food memory is preparing homemade manicotti with my mom for Christmas. It was always a big production making the crepes then rolling them with ricotta and three more cheeses. She made this every year. It’s definitely my favorite Christmas dish. In the years since my mom has passed, I’m the one in the kitchen doing a Christmas Eve dinner for my family and then cooking again on Christmas Day. My son and my brothers and their families enjoy this tradition too. 

Paul Pontarelli

Chef Paul Pontarelli

When I was a kid my family liked to open presents and have lots of different appetizers to snack on during the mayhem. When I met my wife, her family tradition was a more formal dinner with holiday china and table favors. The first Christmas dinner I made for her family was beef wellington with mushroom duxelle, asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, and scalloped potatoes – all of my wife’s favorites. Her family is always appreciative and they notice all the detail in a well-designed plate, which makes it a joy to cook for them.

When I was a kid my mother baked a lot and would make gingerbread cookies at Christmas. I always liked to construct things so I started making gingerbread houses with the leftover pieces. Each year, as I got more skilled, the houses became larger and more involved. For the first Christmas in our new home, I surprised my wife with a replica of our house with “glass” in the windows and candy versions of our outside decorations. I attached lights and it was like looking at a mini version of where we lived. My wife didn’t want to break it up, so I wrapped and stored it each year until it started to show wear and tear and had to be demolished.

Aleks Pyka

Chef Aleks Pyka

My family immigrated from Poland and I, along with my brother and sisters, were brought up in the Polish traditions. Christmas celebrations started with the feast of Wigilia, a solemn Christmas Eve supper that starts after the first star in the sky appears, which represents the star of Bethlehem. Twelve meatless (fasting) dishes are served, which represent the twelve apostles – herring in cream sauce, poached carp, potato pierogi (homemade, of course), vegetable borscht, nalesniki (fruit or cheese crepes), rice and pea stuffed cabbage, and more. Desserts were all handmade, working side-by-side with my babcia (grandmother) – kruschiki (bowtie cookies smothered in powdered sugar, also called Angel Wings), makowiec (poppy seed roll), and kompot (dried fruit compote).

Christmas supper in the Polish tradition begins with the eldest family member breaking off a piece of oplatek, the blessed wafer. You break off one piece for each guest around the table, simultaneously wishing them good health, success, and happiness in the coming year. The purpose is to express unconditional love and forgiveness for one another.

Merry Christmas to all, or as I say in my first language, Wesolych Swiat