Christmas in Hanoi old town, Hanoi, Vietnam

Christmas Tips from the Best Chefs in Asia

Christmas is almost here and once again we’ve left it late to think about what to cook and eat on Christmas Day. As you seemed to love the last minute Christmas tips from Australia’s finest chefs, this year, as we’re now based in Cambodia, we sought Christmas tips from the best chefs in Asia.

You might not think of Christmas when you think of Asia. While it might not be observed by the bulk of the population, who are Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims, there are Christians in the region too. But it doesn’t seem to matter what religion people are, even if they’re atheists they still appear to love getting into the Christmas spirit.

In cities like Singapore, Bangkok and Tokyo, shopping malls and public spaces are decorated with baubles and bunting and Christmas trees and mistletoe. The photo above was taken over Christmas when we lived in Hanoi where Santa costumes and snowmen were sold in shops in the Old Town. In Siem Reap, hotels are competing to see who has the biggest and best trees.

Right across the region restaurants are hosting festive lunches and dinners, supermarket freezers are filled with turkeys and hams, and expats and affluent locals are buying up bottles of bubbly and white wine.

As we’re still deciding how to spend Christmas Day in Siem Reap, we thought we’d seek some Christmas tips from the best chefs in Asia, along with a few restaurateurs. We asked them what they’re cooking on Christmas Day, their ideas for people who still haven’t decided what to cook, what people can do if it all goes horribly wrong on the day, and what last-minute gifts they suggest you buy for home cooks and foodie friends.

We hope their advice proves helpful – and the tips that might not be all that useful should at least make for a fun read. Here are some Christmas tips from the best chefs in Asia.

Christmas Tips from the Best Chefs in Asia

Thitid ‘Ton’ Tassanakajohn

Le Du, Baan, Baa Ga Din, Bangkok

Q. What are you cooking on Christmas Day?

A. At Le Du I’m cooking a special 7-course tasting menu inspired by my whole year of travelling. And of course I’m using local Thai ingredients.

Q. What advice do you have for people still panicking about what to cook?

A. Go simple! Spend less time in the kitchen and enjoy your precious time with friends and family. It will all be fine. Don’t forget some champagne!

Q. Your best tips to save the day if it all goes wrong?

A. Cheese, cold cuts, oysters! Anything that tastes amazing without any effort.

Q. Last minute gift ideas for foodies?

A. A cool Japanese knife will do.

Q. Christmas at home or away?

A. Home of course! Or if you go out, make sure you take your loved ones. It’s all about the people around you. It’s the spirit of Christmas!

Julien Royer

Odette, Singapore

Q. What are you cooking on Christmas Day?

A. I’m going to cook the ‘Rolls Royce’ of poultry, the famous ‘Chapon de Bresse Excellence Miéral’.

Q. Advice for people still panicking about what to cook?

A. Cook something you are confident in, for people you love, and prep in advance.

Q. Tip to save the day if it all goes wrong?

A. Lots of Champagne!

Q. Last minute gift ideas for foodies?

A. A nice cutting board – bulky, solid and big. It’s never big enough.

Q. Christmas at home or away?

A. At home with my wife and close friends – programme being great food, great booze, and lots of fun!

Paul Pairet

Ultraviolet, Mr and Mrs Bund, Shanghai

Q. What are you cooking on Christmas Day?

A. I’ll be cooking for our guests at Ultraviolet: 22 courses, gifts, and Shanghai snow to wrap it up.

Q. Advice for people still panicking about what to cook?

A. Don’t cook. Go with the French tradition: raw oysters, smoked salmon, a nice goose or a chapon from the rotisserie, and a bûche (Yule log) from the pastry shop. Or join us at Mr & Mrs Bund and Ultraviolet!

Q. Tip to save the day if it all goes wrong?

A. Go with the French tradition: raw oysters, smoked salmon, a nice goose or a chapon from the rotisserie, and the bûche from the pastry shop. Or join us at Mr & Mrs Bund and Ultraviolet! Did I mention this already? Otherwise: organize a fancy do-it-yourself Christmas dinner competition with a mystery basket for all the guests. It will go wrong, but they’ll all know why.

Q. Last minute gift ideas for foodies?

A. A mystery basket for the fancy do-it-yourself Christmas competition? Otherwise: a gift voucher for a full breakfast at the closest McDonalds for a change. (Pleasure would not exist without pain). Otherwise two seats at Ultraviolet (but I have not been able to book myself).

Q. Christmas at home or away?

A. Ideally, at home. That’s what Christmas is all about. In reality, in the restaurant. That’s what a chef’s Christmas is all about. What would happen to all those guys who are panicking about what to cook and need to be saved when it all goes wrong, if all the chefs were at home on Christmas? (Set aside the clever guys who organised the fancy do-it-yourself Christmas dinner competition with a mystery basket for all the guests!).

Ian Kittichai

Issaya Siamese Club, Smith, Namsaah Bottling Trust, Hyde & Seek restaurants, Issaya Cooking Studio, Bangkok

Q. What are you cooking on Christmas Day?

A. Roast turkey with all the trimmings – stuffing, Brussels sprouts, red cabbage, potatoes, etc.

Q. Advice for people still panicking about what to cook?

A. Keep it simple and use the freshest seasonal ingredients possible.

Q. Tip to save the day if it all goes wrong?

A. You can always do wine, cheeses, crusty breads, fresh fruit, green salad, smoked salmon, pate, shrimp cocktail, Parma or Iberico ham – all of these items can be found at a good supermarket. Set up the table as a big buffet with elegant plating of the items, candles, and some festive flowers if possible for decoration. Also buy a Panatone or other festive baked goods to serve for dessert.

Q. Last minute gift ideas for foodies?

A. A cooking class voucher for two, as it’s always fun for your foodie friend to cook with a partner.

Q. Christmas at home or away?

A. At home in Bangkok with my sisters who are visiting from Singapore and Sydney.  We do the traditional big family Christmas, as I am one of eight children!

Issaya Cooking Studio is offering some festive baking classes and there are seasonal menus at SmithHyde & Seek Gastro Bar and Hyde & Seek Peek-A-Boo.

Ryan Clift

Tippling Club, Singapore

Q. What are you cooking on Christmas Day?

A. I refuse to cook or make my staff work on Christmas Day. This is the one day that someone can cook for me. This year it’s Raffles hotel for a champagne brunch. There is no better way to eat than with a good champagne brunch with good bubbles and more food to choose from than you can imagine.

Q. Advice for people still panicking about what to cook?

A. Look, it’s not that hard, just boil some veg, roast some spuds, bung a turkey in the oven, and sit back and drink some egg nog. Oh, and did I forget to say, Man up!

Q. Tip to save the day if it all goes wrong?

A. Have a good curry house on speed dial. Nobody ever complains about a good curry!

Q. Last minute gift ideas for foodies?

A. A microwave Christmas dinner, just in case the curry house is closed! Failing that, who doesn’t love a good chef’s knife? Preferably the Ryan Clift series by Blades of the Gods as they are the best on the market, lol!

Q. Christmas at home or away?

A. Staying in Singapore – Raffles Christmas brunch is just too damn good to miss!

Dylan Jones

Bo.lan, Bangkok

Q. What are you cooking on Christmas Day?

A. Actually I’m working on Christmas Day so I’ll be doing two different tasting menus. For myself, I will probably just buy some nice cheese and good bread and sit down with a bottle of red after service!

Q. Advice for people still panicking about what to cook?

A. Don’t panic. It doesn’t matter what you cook. The whole point is being with friends and family. They’ll appreciate whatever you do. If all else fails, pop open the bubbly.

Q. Tip to save the day if it all goes wrong?

A. Plan ahead, don’t try and do everything last minute, and keep it simple.

Q. Last minute gift ideas for foodies?

A. A proper-sized mortar and pestle. They are the ultimate in kitchen tools!

Q. Christmas at home or away?

A. I’ll be working, but I wish I was going to be at home with the whole family, but hey! We will take a belated Christmas and New Year in Japan in January. Got some great restaurants lined up. Woohooo!

Joannès Rivière

Cuisine Wat Damnak, Siem Reap

Q. What are you cooking on Christmas Day?

A. A good local roasted chicken, a bit tough but tasty enough, and some braised cauliflowers, because it’s the season here in Cambodia and they are excellent.

Q. Advice for people still panicking about what to cook?

A. A good cut of beef, the one you never get the chance to buy, like a côte de boeuf, or even some veal sweetbread.

Q. Tip to save the day if it all goes wrong?

A. A cheese board. Except for the lactose intolerant…

Q. Last minute gift ideas for foodies?

A. The thing you never ever find in any household, a proper large reinforced conical strainer. Good for stock, soups, bisque you can push through with a ladle, dry spices… you can do everything with it and it is worth putting the money in it because you can keep it forever.

Q. Christmas at home or away?

A. At home away from home, here in Cambodia. And probably on the 21st since we work on the 24th and 25th. I grew up in a restaurant and we would always celebrate Christmas… on the 8th of January.

Ignatius Chan

Iggy’s, Singapore

Q. What are you cooking on Christmas Day?

A. Roast beef and sides – cauliflower gratin, roast potatoes, bean salad, sweet corn – Yorkshire pudding, and gravy.

Q. Advice for people still panicking about what to cook?

A. Do a Coq au Vin to serve with a nice Burgundy!

Q. Tip to save the day if it all goes wrong?

Serve a charcuterie platter with Jamon Iberico, goose rillettes, tomato and red onion salad, Balik salmon, a selection of chesses, and crusty farmer’s loaf. All are easily available at a gourmet supermarket or good delicatessen.

Q. Last minute gift ideas for foodies?

A. A nice bottle of Burgundy wine and, if possible, fresh Maille truffle mustard, freshly piped into their beautiful jars available in the Maille shops in London Piccadilly and Paris Place Madeleine.

Q. Christmas at home or away?

A. We’re at Iggy’s on Christmas Eve and will be attending midnight mass then spending Christmas day with family and friends at home. We’ll partake in church activities, bringing cheers to homes.

Gerard Prat Escola

Catalunya, Singapore

Q. What are you cooking on Christmas Day?

A. Escudella y carn d‘olla (Escudella for short). It is a typical stewed Catalan dish that we eat on Christmas Day. And in Catalan tradition, we use all the leftovers from the Escudella to make Canelones for the next day.

Q. Advice for people still panicking about what to cook?

A. Do something simple and easy.

Q. Tip to save the day if it all goes wrong?

A. Get ready-to-serve items like cold cuts, cheeses, smoked meats.

Q. Last minute gift ideas for foodies?

A. A nice bottle of Sherry.

Q. Christmas at home or away?

A. Always home with the family when possible.

Raymond Lim

Les Amis, Singapore

Q. What are you cooking on Christmas Day?

A. My wife is Korean so we are trying out a roasted turkey stuffed with kim chi.

Q. Advice for people still panicking about what to cook?

A. Xmas should not be a stressful experience. Just book The Bridge Room for a memorable Christmas meal.

Q. Tip to save the day if it all goes wrong?

A. Chill enough Louis Roederer Brut in the fridge to go round.

Q. Last minute gift ideas for foodies?

A. The book entitled Where Chefs Eat by Phaidon.

Q. Christmas at home or away?

A. At church celebrating the real reason for Christmas!

Jarret Wrisley

Appia and Soul Food Mahanakorn, Bangkok

Q. What are you cooking on Christmas Day?

A. I’ll be working at Appia, our Roman trattoria, where we’re doing a special menu of the seven fishes on Christmas Eve, a tradition in the south of Italy. For Christmas day we’ll have our regular menu. We roast a lot of meat – lamb, beef, chicken, pork and occasionally game – so the food is very Christmas appropriate.

Q. Advice for people still panicking about what to cook?

A. My favourite Christmas dish is a prime rib roast. So simple, it feeds a lot of people, and it makes your whole home smell wonderful.

Q. Tip to save the day if it all goes wrong?

A. Pizza.

Q. Last minute gift ideas for foodies?

A. A big enamel pot for braising is something everyone should have at home. I have three.

Q. Christmas at home or away?

A. I’ll be celebrating Christmas by serving dinner to others! But after service I’ll sit down with Paolo (my partner and chef) and our families, and eat and drink something special.

Jess Barnes

Opposite Mess Hall, Bangkok

Q. What are you cooking on Christmas Day?

A. A big lunch for a group of refugee kids in Bangkok. Simple stuff: fried rice, seafood, veggies – the stuff they miss out on, I guess.

Q. Advice for people still panicking about what to cook?

A. If you can drive a car you should be able to bloody cook a meal for yourself.

Q. Tip to save the day if it all goes wrong?

A. Get drunk

Q. Last minute gift ideas for foodies?

A. DVD set of Portlandia.

Q. Christmas at home or away?

A. Home is where the heart is!

Alex Burger

Formerly of Aziamendi, Phuket

Q. What are you cooking on Christmas Day?

A. Every year we cook a traditional American roast turkey with all the fixings: chestnut and porcini stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed potatoes, and for dessert, a buffet of cookies.

Q. Advice for people still panicking about what to cook?

A. Keep everything simple and don’t stress too much, because holidays and cooking are both times to join the family together and have fun!

Q. Tip to save the day if it all goes wrong?

A. Order Chinese food. It’s the only place still open and it always reminds me of the movie A Christmas Story.

Q. Last minute gift ideas for foodies?

A. Cookbooks.  All foodies love to collect them.

Q. Christmas at home or away?

A. I love to celebrate Christmas at home, however, the past few years I’ve been away travelling. What’s important is to make wherever you are feel as much like home as possible.  Even the smallest decorations matter!

UPDATED: December 2016

If you found these Christmas tips from the best chefs in Asia helpful, you might also like to check out these Christmas tips from food writers and editorsChristmas cocktail recipes and tips from Sydney’s best bars, and recipes for the best Asian inspired cocktails from Bangkok’s best bars.



There are 4 comments

Add yours
  1. Lara Dunston

    Hi Frank – I think Christmas, like a lot of holidays, is essentially about the three Fs – family, friends and food – for a lot of people. No harm in that. There are few nicer things to do than spend time with loved ones eating.

  2. Brooke Vlasich

    You can never go wrong with a cooking class! I’ve been looking into some sushi making classes and my sister has found a passion for baking and a possible business with cake decorating classes. It’s important to remember that Christmas should be about fun, and I admire the chefs who mention tips like fresh ingredients, champagne, and keeping it simple.

  3. Lara Dunston

    Hi Brooke – completely agree re the cooking class – how can you go wrong? You get to learn something, make new friends, and eat the food you’ve learn to make with those new friends. I like to see chefs giving that advice too. Thanks for dropping by!


Post a new comment