Atul Kochhar at Benares Indian Restaurant, Berkeley Square, London
Atul Kochhar at Benares Indian Restaurant, Berkeley Square, London

Christmas 2015: 10 experts reveal the festive culinary mistakes they've made (so you won't...)

Uninvited guests, marauding dogs, flaming trees - what 10 of the country's foremost chefs and foodies, from Atul Kochhar to Ms Marmite Lover, learnt from their memorable Christmas disasters

Chloe Scott-Moncreiff
Saturday 05 December 2015 18:58


Atul Kochhar, Benares

“As an Indian household, we always cook plenty. But when my brother-in-law brought round six surprise guests on Christmas Day, I hadn’t enough. I tried to portion the food out in a smart way. I told all my in-laws, who had come from India, ‘You have to go veggie.’ Good old paneer came to the rescue, as I used it as a stuffing. I’m ashamed to say that I had to use my wife’s frozen vegetables, too. Thankfully no one demanded KFC afterwards. I’m now very strict on my wife and I’ve had a chat with my lovely brother-in-law to let me know in advance


Anna Hansen, The Modern Pantry

Illustration by Leillo

“My Mum is Danish so we normally have roast pork, braised red cabbage, brown potatoes – you parboil and fry them, then caramelise them in sugar. My partner likes rib of beef and I do a raw fennel salad. But alongside that we have candles in the tree. That’s where disaster struck. Put it this way, it got rather smoky. That only needs to happen once in your life – now we position the candles really carefully and keep a beady eye.”


Bruno Loubet, Grainstore

“Christmas at our house has always been diverse. We lived in Australia for nine years and would have fresh seafood and oysters. Back here, one time I didn’t get up in time: the turkey went in the oven late and when it was ready, at 5pm, everyone was drunk and laughing but they had lost their appetites.

“A disaster I notice everywhere is Brussels sprouts cooked like school-dinner ones that smell of dog. Instead, halve them, blanch and add to caramelised onions with thyme and garlic. Or, for an Asian twist, I slice them 3mm thick, stir-fry them, adding ginger, garlic and onions, sometimes even chilli.”


Willie Harcourt-Cooze, chocolatier

Willie Harcourt-Cooze at his chocolate factory in Uffculme, Devon 

“Years ago in Venezuela, where we have our cacao hacienda, my then-wife, Tanya, said, ‘I’ve just seen the turkey running off, you need to catch it, the guests are coming over soon.’ I grabbed him and lopped his head off. But his legs started kicking and he scratched my tummy all over. As we ate him, I could feel the lacerations in the heat. The moral is: tie the turkey’s legs before killing him. This year I’ll be in Wales, where we’re having goose with berries and my chocolate gravy.”


Sam Galsworthy, Sipsmith gin

“We’re a big family with lots of animals: cats, dogs, chickens, rescue ponies and more – it’s quite a bizarre nativity scene. My father takes the role of chief cleaner for the day and lurks in corners with the Hoover or a rubbish bag.

“My normal Christmas: we gather round the table and pop open a few bubbles. One year, though, we were in Scotland and excited about the possible appearance of the Northern Lights on Christmas Eve. Our whisky toasts started at 3pm and I fell asleep in the heather. On waking, I went home and, feeling peckish, staggered around in the dark, searching for food. I found some ham. It turned out to be past its best – which rendered me bedridden through Christmas Day. My advice: if in doubt, do not eat anything when the lights are off.”


Ryan Chetiyawardana, cocktail expert

Illustration by Leillo

“Despite making cocktails for a living, I’ve not yet got anyone drunk at Christmas. The whisky is always drunk in a civilised manner on 25 December. My Christmas Day disaster came when Karen, my business partner at Mr Lyan, came to my house after labouring over a pâté for several days. Poppy, the dog, found the pâté and ate it. Karen nearly wept.”

Chetiyawardana’s ‘Good Things to Drink’ is published by Frances Lincoln, priced £20


Jacob Kenedy, Bocca di Lupo/Vico

Illustration by Leillo

“Sometimes we do Hanukkah with Mum and sometimes we go to my uncle in Cambridge. My two disasters came at one party, at Mum’s. She made a punch for which she steeped pineapple in rum for three days, while I made dough for the doughnuts, a Jewish tradition. I was about 14 and used a giant vat; I don’t know how many hundreds of litres it holds, but I added more eggs, then it was sloppy, so I added more flour. If you remember Paddington Bear’s attempts at making dumplings, it was like that: the doughnuts took over the kitchen. Meanwhile, the children found the pineapples. They were all comatose. Luckily, the parents were fine about it and got on with the party.”


Charlotte Harbottle, butcher

“I’m sick of the sight of turkey by Christmas Day, so we tend to have beef as well. My mum cooks for about 20 people, the waifs and strays from across the North-East. I’m the only butcher there and I always save a turkey for our family. But last year, I sold out so fast because they’re herb-fed and taste amazing. It’s terrible but I sold our reserved one and Mum had to go to a supermarket, which was not comparable. I was in the doghouse.”


Ms Marmite Lover, supper-club hostess

Supper-club hostess Ms Marmite Lover

“I normally have some sort of supper club over the holidays. I once had a supper club on Christmas Day. I tried to cook a huge salmon en croute but it was so big it wouldn’t fit in the oven. The day continued with madness. One lot of guests stayed from lunch until midnight. And there was a Latvian lesbian, who we all individually thought was coming on to us, including my dad and daughter. This year I’m doing a New Year’s Eve supper club instead, with a Swedish julbord [Christmas table] and the lauded cook Linn Söderström.”

‘V is for Vegan’ by Kerstin Rodgers (aka Ms Marmite Lover) is published by Quadrille, priced £20


Lily Vanilli, cake baker

“I normally have Christmas at home with my boyfriend and friends in Hackney; it’s pretty traditional, with presents, a goose from Matt Chatfield, sprouts. I make some kind of dessert; last year it was star anisepoached quince with crumble and ice cream.

“My catastrophe came a long time ago, the year my brother and I nicked Dad’s brandy; we sat awkwardly at the table, waiting to discover how much trouble we were in as Dad tried to light the ‘brandy’ he’d tipped over the pudding. If you’re going to drink someone’s brandy, don’t refill it with water.”

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