Holiday traditions from the pros in the kitchen

Arts and CultureRestaurantsDining and DrinkingRestaurant and Catering IndustryStamfordChristmasReligion and Belief

When chefs catch a break during their busiest time of the year, the holidays, they often bend tradition. They eat and drink things you wouldn't expect. Matt Storch, chef-owner of Match (South Norwalk, matchsono.com) has two holiday traditions. "The Jewish side, we always have latkes, sturgeon, smoked lox, bagels and caviar," he says. But come Christmas Day, he joins his wife, who is Vietnamese, in her holiday tradition of slurping a bowl of pho — a steaming bowl of beef soup with fresh rice noodles, seasoned at the last minute with fresh cilantro and basil.

Judy Roll, the executive chef and owner of Tabouli Grill (Stamford and Southport, tabouligrill.com) throws an open house at Hanukkah. She serves latkes with homemade apple-plum sauce rather than plain-old applesauce. Oil being a symbol of the holiday gives Roll an excuse to add more fried treats to the buffet, which includes falafel, megadarra (lentils, rice and caramelized onions), humus, baba ghanoush, pita and olives.

She makes martinis with vodka she's steeped with half-sour pickles and adds a splash of the brine to give them a touch of saltiness, "kind of like a dirty martini," she says. A bottle of arak, a clear, anise-flavored spirit from the Middle East, sits on the bar, and the final drink of the evening is strong Turkish coffee flavored with whole green cardamom pods and cinnamon.

The Italian Christmas Eve tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes becomes a big family party when the Marchetti and Tarantino clan of the restaurants Columbus Park Trattoria in Stamford (columbusparktrattoria.com), Applausi Osteria in Old Greenwich (osteriaapplausi.com) and Tarantino's in Westport (tarantinorestaurant.com) gathers. Rather than sit down to dinner, they stand around a buffet that features platters of sushi (yes, sushi), oysters, cod salad and fried eel.

They hold tight to one tradition. "There's one and only one holiday drink," says Michael Marchetti: Prosecco. Their favorite is Carpenè Malvolti." It's dry and a little fruity, not as dry as champagne or California sparkling wine, not as bubbly." At 10 the gang disperses. Everyone heads off to their churches for midnight Mass.

For Jeff Esaw of Jeff's Cuisine ( South Norwalk, jeffscuisine.com), the big holiday celebration is New Year's Day. Though he was raised in Stamford, his family came from low country South Carolina, where New Year's Eve was spent at church and the party was the next day. He carries on the tradition, bringing together extended family for a big lunch of roast turkey with cornbread stuffing, baked ham and hoppin' John, a mixture of black-eyed peas and rice that's thought to bring good luck, and collard greens. "Eating them is supposed to bring you money," he said. The most unusual dish on the menu is chitlins — pigs' intestines mixed with bits of hog jowls. "It's the one time of year to eat them," he says.


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