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'Tis the season for family traditions

Festive traditions bring loved ones together, and can be shared over wonderful food as a great example of storytelling

Bite-size pieces, perfect to carry on the tradition of gifting to loved ones: 1701

As families, we all have traditions for holiday foods from mashed potatoes to spiced hot chocolate, and latkes to turkey. It’s these traditions that make festivals special, memorable and delectable too. “Christmas is a day of meaning and traditions, a special day spent in the warm circle of family and friends,” said Margaret Thatcher. Why is it important to have a tradition that is passed on from one generation to another, especially when we live in this Instagram era where trends or content lives for just 24 hours? What makes up for holiday memories? We get to talk to culinary experts.

Part of everyone’s rich family traditions for special times like Christmas should be to pause and spend time with loved ones and eat up a storm! The feeling of celebrating history and tradition creates nostalgic moments that should always be treasured.

Nick Scher, Founder & Managing Director, 1701

Chestnut Arancini, a seasonal, unique dish made in Italy during this time of the year: Carna by Dario Cecchini, SLS Dubai Hotel & Residences

In the Instagram era, what place do traditions hold?

“Tradition I believe is one of the most important celebrated aspects of life. It bonds families, unites communities and gives purpose for many. In a world where things move so quickly, taking a step back and remembering why we are here and what is important to us is without a doubt one of the most important things we can do, food in so many ways does just this,” said Nick Scher, Founder and Managing Director, 1701, a luxury nougat brand from South Africa, recently launched in the GCC through their latest partnership with Tashas Group. 1701 offers seven flavours including Date, Almond & Cardamom, Halva & Almond, and Salted Caramel Brittle, with all recipes made available in luxury gift boxes with ready cut, bite-size pieces, perfect to carry on the tradition of gifting to loved ones

Culinary memories and new-age diners

“In the world of Instagram, traditions are dying a slow death with the emergence of culinary content that goes ‘viral’ because of its new-age appeal and the celebrity endorsements that it receives,” said Luca Crostelli, Chef De Cuisine, Vanitas, an Italian restaurant, Palazzo Versace Dubai. He added, “Hence, it is more important than ever to ensure traditions and roots of cuisines are reinstated but presented with a fresh appeal for new-age diners to understand the relevance of the dishes from the POV of tradition as well as its authenticity in terms of flavours.”

Tortellini in Brodo, a traditional Italian dish prepared during the festive season: Vanitas, Palazzo Versace Dubai

Christmas cravings

“We all love the traditions and food that surround this time of year. It’s funny to think that during this time we crave items like turkey, stuffing, Christmas pudding, et al. but also that never have I craved these items at any other time in the year,” said Michael Towns, General Manager, Carna by Dario Cecchini, SLS Dubai Hotel & Residences. Carna’s festive Chestnut Arancini is a seasonal, unique dish made in Italy during this season; the idea behind it is that leftovers of arborio rice and chestnut can be reutilised. Russell, Executive Chef, Sofitel Dubai The Obelisk, shared a lovely anecdote, “Christmas Tree Day is a great day for the family. It’s the day when we unpack the tree and set it up – we’ve had the same tree for 15 years! It’s a wonderful tree that has lasted for many years. My children often ask, ‘When are we getting a new tree, dad?!’ With the tree being older than two of my children, I’m sure this will be a story that they can share in later years.” Once the tree is complete and all the decorations are sorted with a special star placed on top, the Christmas music playlist comes on for the first time in their house, followed by the all-important first warm mince pie. “The Christmas Tree Day routine hasn’t changed over the years, and no mince pies are eaten until the Christmas tree is out!”

When I was young, my family used to repeat one important piece of knowledge (when we used to sit at the dining table) — no matter which corner of the world you go and what you learn, never forget your roots and traditions because they define your skill and you should be an ambassador for it to the world. And ever since, I have always lived by that advice throughout my career.

Luca Crostelli, Chef De Cuisine, Vanitas, Palazzo Versace Dubai

Favourite holiday traditions

“I know my kids enjoy hearing stories about my childhood, all the good times as well as the things that I perhaps should not have gotten up to! It’s important for children to understand great storytelling, and sharing traditions is a great way to get this across,” added Russell. One of the most memorable traditions for Luca is indulging in Tortellini in Brodo, a traditional dish that Italians have on their table when it comes to Christmas festivities, “It is a little like pasta, filled with braised meat, and served in a rich Chapon and Chicken consommé.” Apart from being a traditional favourite, this dish for Luca evokes a sense of nostalgia when his grandmother and mother boiled the stock for hours for it to reach the perfect level of taste and texture, “I cannot forget the mesmerising fragrance that it carried throughout our home. Whenever I dine out with my mother, she always orders three portions of it, just for me. It’s a memory that I continue to live and bring to life through my time in the kitchen.”

People get caught up in the reality of others (via Instagram) and tend to focus on lifestyle and trends of the moment. As a generation, this became the norm, but we are brought back to the reality of family, friends and love when we come together for festive events. It all comes back to focusing on the people around you and what matters the most.

Michael Towns, General Manager, Carna by Dario Cecchini, SLS Dubai Hotel & Residences

Nick grew up at a home in South Africa and well having a Cordon Bleu chef for a mum always meant a Christmas feast for his family, “My favourite memory and a tradition that has always been kept by the family is homemade mince pies with vanilla bean custard. I always have two or three of these on Christmas! “The tradition of eating until you burst, playing a few games, watching a movie, and falling asleep on the couch only to wake up again a few hours later to eat more happens at no other time of year,” added Michael.

I believe traditions will always remain, regardless of the current social media trends. Traditions are a special connection to our past that we can share with our children, and hopefully through them, instill the importance of positive family values, happiness, and great memories.

Russell, Executive Chef, Sofitel Dubai The Obelisk


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