Chefs and Bartenders Reveal Their Go-to Holiday Eats

We asked some of Vancouver's best bartenders and chefs what they look forward to eating at this time of the year

From panettone to ramen, these comfort food classics are holiday staples for Vancouver’s culinary stars

For me, it’s the crack and tap of a Terry’s Chocolate Orange. Watching Elf drinking boozy eggnog. Eating candy-cane bark on Christmas Eve… we all have our favourites for the season, but what about the folks who make you those beloved festive treats?

We asked some of Vancouver’s best bartenders and chefs what they look forward to eating at this time of the year…

1. Terra Bread and Farmers Market Goodies

Meeru Dhalwala, cookbook author and co-owner of Vij’s and Rangoli restaurants

My favorite food places to go to over the holidays are Terra Breads and the Riley Park Winter Farmers Market. Both daughters are home for the holidays and they want mom’s (Indian and non-Indian) cooking. The one thing mom is not very good at is baking. Actually, I suck at baking desserts, so Terra Breads is our place for the holidays: gingerbread double-baked croissants with cranberries and dark chocolate are my older daughter Nanaki’s holiday favourite. And I buy the toasted cashew and cardamom-spiced shortbread cookies for all my kitchen staff.

The Riley Park Farmers Market is the best throughout winter, but over the holidays it’s like a festive local food carnival/party. We buy cute little locally made gifts and tons of cheeses, chicken, winter vegetables and breads. The Market also sells amazing local/craft liquor, beer and wines. Some cool holiday drinking gifts:  Sons of Vancouver Amaretto, Wayward Distillation House does honey-based gin, vodka and liqueurs. Odd Society has gin, vermouth, creme de cassis and ginger beer. The local wineries at the Market are BC Wine Studio, Rocky Creek Winery and Forbidden Fruit Winery. I always go back to Virginia after the holidays and my family and friends love B.C. libationsand if you can’t make on a Saturday, Hastings Park Farmers Market has the same offerings on Sundays!


2. A pint of Guiness and cheese toast

Shaun Layton, Como Taperia

My favourite thing is a good old pint of black at The Irish Heather. A Guinness with a friend or two on a cold sunny late December day is the best. A bag of cheese and onion Taytos chips seals the deal. But if you want my fancy food answer, it’s a plate of cheese toast (pictured) at Hy’s and prime rib. I love me some whisky (Highland Park 18 year, please) during the holidays and I may even crush some mulled wine!


3. Wings, beer and Szechuan

Paul Natrall, Mr. Bannock Food Truck

I don’t get a lot of time off, but I do have a few traditions over the holidays. It’s my sister’s birthday on December 24th, so we go every year to see the lights at the Park & Tilford Hi-Light Festival with a hot cocoa from Starbucks. We’ll watch hockey at Tap & Barrel with a pound of hot wings and some East Van Bench Rest Buckwheat ale… so good with that big screen! We always go as a family to Coral Court for really good Szechuan food for lunch. I love the dry garlic boneless pork (it has a little kick with jalapeños) and the chicken fried rice.


4. Ramen and spaetzel

Max Curzon-Price, Botanist

While it isn’t quite a traditional seasonal option, there is nothing more warming and comforting that Santouka’s new winter ramen using ginger and hot chilli. I hear it won’t be on the menu after the new year, so I’ve been filling myself with those al dente noodles and spicy broth since first taste.

If you haven’t yet been to the Christmas Market at Canada Place, you must go find the wonderful old German man cooking his fresh spaetzel. This will be my third year attending the Christmas Market, drawn in specifically for his decadent South German pasta, served with lardons and roasted chestnuts. If that’s not enough for you, cross the road and come find me at Botanist for a few other winter tips and tipples.


5. Pumpkin Spice Latte

Daniel McGee, Au Comptoir

This is embarrassing, but it’s the one time of year that I go to Starbucks because I really like a Pumpkin Spice Latte. I know it’s super sugary, but I love pumpkin pie, so being able to drink something trashy like a PSL is kind of fun. I probably have one or two a week through the season.


6. Panettone

Melanie Witt, executive chef at Osteria Savio Volpe

I always look forward to panettone around Christmas time. I like to toast a big wedge under the broiler and eat it with thin slices of cold salted butter. It’s incredibly difficult to make panettone properly. I only know a couple bakers that make naturally leavened panettone with high-quality ingredients. The store-bought panettone from Italy is nice in a pinch, but if you can get your hands on small-batch produced panettone, it’s so much better. Hands down, the best panettone I’ve ever had comes from a bakery on Vancouver Island called Fol Epi. I’ve heard rumours that they start feeding their starter months in advance, every six hours, for it to be active in time for Christmas. It’s so good!


7. Duck and seafood

Felix Zhou, Heritage Asian Eatery

For me, duck is always a good choice around the holidays and being in Vancouver and right by the Pacific Ocean, seafood of course too. Scallops, oysters and geoduck are all things I love. We go to the Grand Honour Restaurant on Granville; it’s a lovely small, intimate place and they do everything so well. It’s great when you go with a few friends, so you can feast on Peking Duck, wok-fried lobster, braised abalone… the lot!


8. Christmas Market fare and eggnog

Sabrine Dhaliwal, Canadian Ambassador Belvedere Vodka

The holidays are a time to have a little more of everything. More hugs, more laughs and more food and drinks (and board games… I really love playing board games!). The holidays begin as soon as my husband and I head to the Christmas Market and indulge in the mulled wine, spätzle, raclette and schnitzels and finish with marzipan stollen. Coming from a Dutch background, these were all staples growing up. Let’s not forget the must-have Avalon egg nog in the fridge.


9. Stollen, mulled wine and Bûche de Noël

J-S Dupuis, Tableau and Homer Street Café

Chef Kenta Takahashi’s Christmas stollen at Boulevard is the greatest thing I’ve ever had. I love mulled wine at the Christmas Market and La Bûche de Noël de Fabrice at Plaisir Sucré on Arbutus and 11th is amazing as well. His Galette des Rois and all of his baked goods go in my belly during the holidays.


10. Stollen/croissant, eggnog lattes and a hot rum toddy

Amanda Healey, Royal Dinette

I don’t get much of a chance to get out during the festive season as I am pretty much always at the restaurant, but on the off chance I can get outside, I end up at Purebread where they have a hybrid of stollen and a croissant. I’ll go to Breka Bakery for eggnog lattes, or to Earnest ice cream where they just released their rum and eggnog seasonal ice-creamplus at Royal Dinette, we are lucky enough to have Kaitlyn who makes a mean hot toddy!


11. Cocoa and hot buttered rum

Kristi Leigh Akister, Pidgin

The festive season is always a busy one for the hospitality industry and it can be challenging to find time to enjoy the holidays; however, when those moments do arrive, I love to take full advantage of them.

Afternoons well-spent sipping wickedly decadent drinking chocolate from East Van Roasters always tops the list. They roast their own cacao and coffee in house and also create some of the most delightful truffles flavoured with exotic Mayan spices among many other seasonal ingredients. Not a fan of chocolate? No problem. They offer a wide array of hand-roasted caffeinated beverages to keep you fuelled for a long day of holiday cheer.

As the early evening chill sets in, I love to slip into the ever-cozy Cascade Room for one of Justin Taylor’s famous hot buttered rums. One sip and you’ll be hooked. Better yet, grab yourself a jar or two of this delicious mix and take it home for future chilly evenings. All proceeds of sales go directly to the Fawkes Academy School for Autism Spectrum disorders.

A nightcap at the Keefer Bar is usually in order, as the talented Amber Bruce and her team of bartenders are quick to deliver divine libations that would warm even the Grinch’s heart.