Iron Chef, Jose Garces Shares Tips and Tricks for an Unforgettable Holiday Meal

As the holiday season approaches, we crave festive flavors and cherished recipes that bring friends and family together. We’re taking a page out of Chef Jose Garces’ cookbook this season! As an Iron Chef, James Beard Award Winner, and a 2023 appointee to President Biden’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition, Chef shares a glimpse into his personal holiday traditions that blend the classics with innovative twists. His approach to holiday cooking reflects a deep respect for familial traditions while embracing the joy of culinary exploration.

Introduction to Holiday Traditions

Chef Garces often says that the holidays aren’t complete without slow roast pork. This dish was a crucial part of his childhood holiday season. In his home, the big meal is typically on Christmas Eve, allowing Christmas Day to be more about spending time with family and less about cooking. He speculates that had he grown up with a quicker-to-prepare dish, perhaps Christmas dinner would have been on Christmas Day itself.

In addition to the Garces family slow roast pork tradition, a treasured recipe at Chef’s holiday table is his version of his mother’s mashed potatoes. Simple, comforting, and a taste of home, they are a mainstay alongside other variations of mashed potatoes.

Easy Yet Impressive Sides

For sides that are simple but impactful, Chef Garces recommends two of his favorite hors d’oeuvres, bacon-wrapped dates with a blue cheese sauce or serrano ham-wrapped figs. These quick and delicious sides can be prepped ahead of time and reheated for guests. Pro tip: kick it up a notch with a drizzle of sherry vinegar.

Main Course Magic

For the main course, Garces experiments by infusing traditional dishes with unexpected flavors. A personal favorite twist is adding a chorizo stuffing to the center of a slow-roasted pork loin, elevating a classic holiday centerpiece with bold, new tastes.

Desserts with a Twist

Moving to desserts, Chef Garces brings a modern spin to a classic with torrijas, a Spanish version of French toast. Served with cinnamon whipped cream, candied nuts, and orange zest, this dish promises a sweet and savory end to any holiday feast.

Encouraging Home Cooks

Garces advises home cooks to avoid trying new dishes for the first time during the main holiday dinner to reduce stress. Instead, experimenting with side dishes can be a safe way to spread your cooking wings. His suggestions include:

  1. Using crumbled chorizo instead of bacon in brussels sprouts
  2. Something as simple as dinner rolls can be made extra special by including cheese or spices in the dough.
  3. Mashed potatoes are great and belong on every table, but other vegetables can be used to make delicious purees. From sweet potatoes to celery root to parsnips or squashes.
Ingredient Spotlight

Holiday meals don’t always have to center around a roast, there is no rule that says that you *have* to have a roast for your holiday dinner. Chef suggests exploring options like lasagna, casseroles, fish, or seafood to supplement and make your main dish unique. The traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes can provide great inspiration for a standout meal. He also highlights underutilized ingredients like celery root and parsnips for making purees as an alternative to traditional potatoes. 

The Chef’s Holiday Table

This year, Chef Garces looks forward to celebrating the holidays among friends and family in Miami, hoping to enjoy treasured dishes like lechon and empanadas. 

Looking Ahead

Finally, Garces anticipates future holiday trends, foreseeing a rise in plant-based options and a split between traditionalists and those embracing newer, more inclusive culinary practices.

Chef Jose Garces’ insights paint a vivid picture of a holiday table that is both deeply rooted in tradition and boldly innovative.

“I think that there will end up being two viewpoints on holiday meals: one side that will stick with more traditional meals that harken back to warm memories of childhood, but another side that will break away from traditions to be more inclusive of other eating habits and traditions” said Chef Jose Garces.

His approach to holiday cooking is a testament to the power of food in bringing people together, creating memories, and celebrating the joy of the season.