We all know the holidays can be hectic.
Between the shopping marathons, the boozy staff parties, and the mental and emotional preparations involved with hosting those relatives you only see once a year (for good reason), there can be little time left over to cook up the perfect yuletide feast.
But before you throw in the towel and resign yourself to another spiked eggnog, know that all hope is not lost. At least not yet. That's because Isabel Chung, Executive Chef at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, is here to help. No, she won't be coming over to personally cook your Christmas meal, but she does have some words of advice for those taking on that noble task.
Her first nugget of wisdom? Ditch the crappy wine.
"If you wouldn't drink it, don't put it in your food," she said. "Life's too short for bad wine."
But of course the head chef of a luxury hotel would say that!, I can hear you screaming through red-stained teeth. And yes, Chung admits she is a sucker for good vino — her home cellar stocked with 300 bottles is testament to that — but she also wants to bust the myth that cooking wine has to be bottom-shelf.
"There's been a culture for ages where if you can't drink it, if the wine isn't any good, you cook with it," she said. "You're not going to cook so much that you're going to have to worry about the consumption of the wine in your food. That is my biggest tip."
Another common challenge during the holidays for the average home cook is time management. "I think people at times can underestimate what it takes to cook a full turkey dinner and how much room they have in their oven. Even I suffer from that," Chung admitted. "I usually cook my turkey early, let it rest and tent it under tinfoil while I take care of everything else in the oven. I make my pumpkin pie the night before just so the custard has a good amount of time to set and so that my oven is empty on the day that I'm cooking from home."
We all have that family member — looking at you, grandma — who insists on making every single element of the Christmas meal, swatting away any helping hand that's extended. If you're that person, Chung is giving you permission to take a break. You don't always have to be the hero.
"When people come over to my place for dinner there's a certain expectation. But I really think you need to get your friends and family to help you out because it can really be an event," she said. "Cooking has become so much cooler in the past couple of decades. It's no longer something relegated to a closed-off room where we all cook things. The kitchen has really become the centre of the household." But what if stubborn ole' Nanna flat-out refuses your gracious offers of assistance?
"Get a glass of wine," Chung advised. "Or give her one."
Now that we've established the importance of delegating, it's time to figure out what's on the menu. Of course, there are the holiday staples everyone's familiar with, but in today's age of adventurous eating and hipster foodies, you may be looking for something that falls outside the turkey and baked ham that usually graces the Christmas dinner table. Chung recommends letting your surroundings guide you.
"Be local, be relevant to wherever you are," she said. On that front, the Fairmont's brought in all-organic lamb from Ritchie Farm in Pemberton for its winter menu, which also features several other more unconventional holiday items, like a roasted pork loin served with yam, sautéed kale and Okanagan apples. "Not everyone wants prime rib and turkey, so we have to respect that," Chung added.
For the vegetarian in your life, Chung said, "winter is a great time for everything from wild rice, all the legumes that are in-season, to lentils, barley, squash and kale."
If you're still at a loss, on Dec. 19 the Fairmont is hosting Kitchen Magicians: Tips and Tricks to Survive the Holidays. The catch is it's only open to hotel guests, so you'll have to book a room to reap the benefits of Chung's wisdom. Failing that, there's always wine.