With celebrity cooks on TV entreating us to add new twists to nearly every traditional Christmas dish, I thought I would find out if dining on 'The Day' is really like that for some of the busiest chefs in Orkney.
I headed to The Sands, the year-round hotel and restaurant in Burray, to find out how the cooks there would be spending their Christmas and Boxing Days, a precious forty-eight hours off with their families: will they be in or out of their own kitchens?
Most chefs, in my experience, are not after fame. They thrive on cooking for people and, with the long hours required in a professional kitchen, they need to love the pressure of the pass to keep going. The Sands has a brigade of four covering lunches and dinners with an average length of service of ten years. Mind on, as we say in Orkney, Lauren is the newest recruit and has been in the kitchen for six months whilst Evelyn has been at The Sands for pretty much twenty-seven years. Gabriella joined seven years ago and Stewart just a year later. A good brigade cooks together and stays together.
Evelyn turns her hand to everything but loves cooking fish at The Sands, her husband and the men of her family all being fishermen. Nevertheless, she’ll be cooking a turkey crown with all the trimmings at home on Christmas Day and there will be a choice of puddings which must include a plum duff, made with raisins and sultanas. She said there will be Orkney fudge cheesecake and sherry trifle as well - amazing! But it might depend on how busy the week before Christmas is at work.
Gabriella is from Romania and will be roasting a joint of pork, her traditional festive feast. I got into a bit of a culinary debate with her about the merits of apple sauce with the meat (she is not a fan, I am.) I hope she can get lots of chipolatas as pigs in blankets were definitely part of her planning when we spoke. It was her pudding that impressed me - she makes a panettone by hand, the sweet buttery yeasted cake that we think of as Italian but is popular in many parts of Europe. Gabriella’s will be full of raisins and chocolate chips - bring on the bread-and-butter pudding with the leftovers!
Lauren’s Christmas is sorted - roast chicken, but with some delicious local beef as well. Her pudding is definitely going to be a chocolate log - and why not? I haven’t made one for years and maybe this is the year to fix that? Christmas pudding doesn’t seem to be big in Orkney and I am not a fan either. Panettone or chocolate log? Either would be good.
Stewart wasn’t yet quite sure about what he was going to be preparing, but it would be for all his family. His menu is either roast local sirloin of beef, or a cold buffet that people can graze from for most of the day, the thought being that it is then all done and he can relax along with everyone else.
When I was working on magazines and Christmas advertising, recipes were always written and photographed for Christmas publications in the middle of the summer. So, when Christmas actually came around, I wasn’t up for more turkey and pudding and we often had (and have) ham, egg and chips! I’m so impressed that these four will put in the effort for their families, no matter how many feasts they have dished up at The Sands in the run-up to the celebrations.
I bet their left-overs will be pretty special.
Rosemary Moon ‘retired’ to Orkney after a long association with the salmon industry in the islands. The author of 19 cookery books and countless more recipes, including writing for Waitrose and Lakeland, she has brought journalists and food writers to Orkney in the past to show off our diverse and delicious food and drink. After several holidays here Rosemary and her husband Nick have settled in South Ronaldsay but, once a cookery writer always a cookery writer, Rosemary is finding it impossible to stop jotting down the new recipes that she is creating with the island produce.