Chefs are among the busiest people during Christmastime. Not only do they cater to the edible gift-giving needs of their clientele, they also go the extra mile to make sure that their own families get to sample their specialties.
So most of them, even celebrity chefs, work on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Some are lucky to still be able to make it home early enough to celebrate with their loved ones. For others, the celebration takes place on an earlier—or later—date via the annual family reunion.
Besides the company of family and relatives they have not seen for a long time, these chefs actually look forward to the food that sparks many happy memories of past Christmases—when times were better and life was simpler.
Have you ever wondered what they look forward to eating during family reunions? Read on as these celebrity chefs share the stars of their noche buena feast:
Chef Myke ‘Tatung’ Sarthou
Cookbook author, Pandan Asian Café owner
I haven’t been home for Christmas for many years because of work commitments, and I am doubly sad this year because my hometown Cebu is badly hit by Typhoon Odette. This means that my fellow Cebuanos won’t have a very merry Christmas this year.
Growing up, I spent Christmas Eve with my father’s side of the family, opening gifts and sharing noche buena. On Christmas Day, we would celebrate it with my mother’s side because it was also the birthday of my lola, Natividad Atillo.
We would hold the Christmas Day party at home, where I shared kitchen duties with my mom. It’s how I learned to prepare all my favorite Christmas dishes. My mom generously entrusted me with some family recipes which I mastered through the years. I learned to debone a chicken for galantina at 12.
What I miss most is my Lola Juanita Sarthou’s kare-kare. I have never been able to recreate it, as it required practically the hide of an entire cow—trotters, tail and face. She fed a lot of people, and she told me that you needed to complete the set of trotters to achieve the best kare-kare. In my opinion, yes, she made the best kare-kare.
Chef Claude Tayag
Artist, chef and owner, Bale Dutung
Our Tayag family reunion is usually held during Christmas Day lunch, in our parents’ house in Pampanga. Ten of my siblings and their respective families (which could easily be around 60 persons) would come for a traditional Kapampangan Christmas lunch. Our menu had just lechon (two big ones) and Nilagang Pasko (similar to Cocido Madrileño, short of the morcilla). I learned at a young age that this menu was started by our grandfather, Dr. Jose Tayag, with his growing family (16 children) in the 1950s. But when I grew older and met other Pampangos from San Fernando, Bacolor, Guagua and Sta. Rita, I found out that they had the same menu for Christmas Day.
I really looked forward to the lechon, lechon and more lechon. Even the fourth generation always look forward to that. They get excited with the mere mention of it. It’s a free-for-all thing, serving themselves to the crispy skin up to sawa. Then they move on to the main meal, Nilagang Pasko. Trying to replicate this experience is what I’ve been doing by serving 5-Ways Lechon in Bale Dutung.
Chef Jessie Sincioco
Owner, Chef Jessie Rockwell Club
Christmas has always been a yearly get-together of the Sincioco family in Bulacan. My lola Maria wanted her nine children and her apos gathered on Christmas Eve for the Paawagan done before the Christmas Mass at 5 a.m.
I always looked forward to the family’s pork barbecue, arroz caldo and some kakanins that we had after the Mass. But the main dish of the day was a whole lechon, roasted in the backyard, for lunch.
Our Christmas was not complete if we didn’t experience picking at the crunchy skin of the lechon. Today, we still continue the tradition even if lola is not with us anymore, and the palaro among cousins, that she told me to start, has now become the palaro for the whole barrio, with hundreds of children attending from the neighboring barrios.
For the food, everybody would bring something, but my aunts, my mom and my lola always made sure there were more than enough food for the family and the many guests and inaanaks who come to visit.
Chef Sau Del Rosario
Owner, Café Fleur and 25 Seeds
We have our Christmas family reunion a day before Christmas, which so happens to be the birthday of my lolo as well. Lolo serves as Santa Claus, and everyone in the Del Rosario clan brings their potluck dish. It’s quite a huge clan, almost 70 people in one reunion.
I’m now based in Manila, while most of my siblings live in the US. Our parents passed away already.
For potluck, my mother used to cook lengua with crema or white sauce. I would also look forward to my aunt’s chicken galantina. She knew it’s my favorite, so she would always set aside some for me to take home. On Christmas Day, I would eat it with hot pandesal. The galantina recipe is in my cookbook.
Chef Jackie Ang Po
Owner, Fleur de Lys Patisserie
The Christmas family reunion usually takes place during the New Year. On Christma Days, it’s just me and my husband Mitch Po and our kids Kylie and Joaquin, plus my brothers. I take care of the food on Christmas, and since there’s just a few of us, I prepare less complicated food. It differs from year to year. This year, I’m thinking of throwing a seafood party because my family likes seafood. Seafood Hofan is going to be part of the menu. My friend, chef Vincent Tan, who works as an executive chef in the Maldives, taught me how to make Seafood Hofan from scratch. So I am definitely going to make that for Christmas.
For the family reunion on New Year’s, it is usually potluck. Generally, though, my Tita Millie, Tita Dina and I bring the main dishes. What I bring differs from year to year. It depends on what challenges me—lechon belly roll, whole lechon, Korean themed food. This year, it’s going to be prime rib with the whole set of sides.
Chef Gene Gonzalez
Owner, Café Ysabel
Noche buena is still celebrated in my parents’ house, where we serve very traditional items— from turkey, Chinese Hoc Chiu Ham, smoked glazed ham, lengua, Pato al Caparas, roast beef, and grilled prawns. Most of these dishes are prepared in the Café Ysabel kitchen, while lechon is ordered. Cousins and aunts come to visit and dine.
Christmas evenings are my tapas night, highlighted by a leg of acorn-fed Jamon Salamanca or Guijuelo, salamis and chorizos, with various tapas. These tapas include our Calderetta de Cabrito and a huge cheese grazing table of dried and fresh fruits, nuts and other food gifts. I take out wines from my collection, which I age. And because my birthday also happens to fall on Dec.25, my closest friends, a handful of Café Ysabel regulars, my siblings and cousins all attend this get-together.
Chef Kalel Chan
Corporate chef, Raintree Restaurants
When the world was normal, we usually had our family reunions on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Dec. 24 was for family, and Dec. 25 was for the whole Avila clan.
When I had more time, I was the one who did most of the cooking, but when I became busier and busier, it became potluck, and I ended up purchasing food instead of cooking my own contribution to the potluck party.
When I was younger, though, what I usually looked forward to was aopas for breakfast on the 24th. It was so special because my Lola, Emilia Avila, was the one in charge of waking up the entire barangay. She sponsored a whole marching band that would play and wake up people to attend the last Simbang Gabi. After that, she would feed the band with sopas, suman and puto. When my lola moved to the U.S., my mom kept that tradition. But when my mom herself migrated, the tradition ended. I will try to continue that simple food tradition in the morning so my son can also have that food memory.
Owner, Chef Laudico’s Guevarra’s
My wife Jackie, our kids Orlando and Keona, and I usually went to my dad’s place to celebrate Christmas Eve in the company of my siblings and sometimes cousins. I’m usually in charge of the food, but my siblings also bring some cold cuts and cheeses.
I always get excited to eat whole hams, such as Chinese-style ham or the whole glazed baked ham, which my dad always gets and, of course, the lechon. We still buy the whole ham we have for Christmas these days, but we make our own glaze. As for the lechon, we roast our own lechon belly or whole shoulder of pork.
Chef Him Uy De Baron
Owner and chef instructor, Himpossible Recipes
We usually have our Christmas family reunion on the 24th, Christmas Eve. I used to cook for this when I was still single and they’d ask for Beef Wellington or paella. Now, I would just potluck a dish. But on the 25th, it’s my mom, Mercy Uy de Baron, who cooks all of our favorites such as kare-kare, menudo and crab.
Truth is that we already have a menu for Christmas Day lunch: Mamita’s Chicken Mushroom Soup, skinless oxtail kare-kare, traditional menudo, pork barbecue by Florabel, pork leg bihon, and Farmacy Ice Cream selection.
Chef Jayme Natividad
Executive chef, Taal Vista Hotel
Back when I was a kid, we would have noche buena at my lola Thelma and lolo Jing’s house (my mother’s side) with all my mom’s siblings and their respective families. Christmas is usually spent with the Natividad side. It’s usually a potluck party, but bulk of the dishes are made by the host. Then it’s Christmas dinner again at my mom’s side, in the company of other relatives who were not able to attend Noche Buena.
Since most of my uncles and aunts live abroad with their families, only those who are left here get together for Christmas lunch or dinner. It’s still a potluck affair.
What I miss the most are my lola’s kare-kare, Chicken ala Roco, Lengua, roast beef, and my mom’s baked lapu-lapu.