Celeb Chefs Dish on Holiday Travel
During a recent trip to Atlantic City to attend the 5th Annual Savor Borgata, I had the pleasure of sitting down with acclaimed chefs and top Borgata restaurateurs Bobby Flay (Bobby Flay Steak), Wolgang Puck (Wolfgang Puck American Grille), Geoffrey Zakarian (The Water Club) and Michael Mina (SeaBlue, A Michael Mina Restaurant) to get the inside scoop on how they celebrate the holidays.
Settling into plush sofas in the opulent Borgata Residence Suite, we nibbled on mini lobster tacos and chicken liver croquettes while sipping cava by Gramona and specialty cocktails from Pernod Ricard. In conversation, these culinary icons dished on everything from their favorite holiday traditions and festive dishes to their ideal travel destinations and dream holiday getaways.
JB: What’s your favorite way to celebrate the holidays?
Bobby Flay: Because we stay at home every Thanksgiving and host -- and I’m in charge of cooking a huge meal for dozens of friends and family -- my wife and I love to get away over Christmas/New Year’s. My wife is very adventurous, so she’ll often throw out pretty edgy travel destinations. This year, she actually wanted to go to Beirut and then a bomb went off there recently and she was like, “Maybe we shouldn’t go,” and I was like “Uh, that’s what’s making you say ‘No’ now?” Ultimately, we net out with a location we both agree on. This year we’re considering Copenhagen.
JB: It’s great that you’re able to travel over the holidays? Is there anything else that you always do … a favorite tradition?
Bobby Flay: Every year at Christmas time, my wife and I go ice skating at the Rockefeller Center ice rink in New York City. I’m a really bad skater, but that’s where I proposed to her, on the ice. So it’s a special place for both of us to return to over the holidays.
JB: Do you prefer to stay at home over the holidays or travel?
Wolfgang Puck: Every year for Christmas my wife and I take the kids out to the Vail/Beaver Creek area. Growing up in Austria, I love the snow and skiing. So nothing feels more like Christmas to me than going to a cold and snowy destination with my family. My kids and I spend a lot of time skiing together; they’re getting better than me now actually. We always stay at the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, where my Spago restaurant is located there in the ski resort, and where my family and I eat an amazing Christmas dinner.
JB: Sounds like an amazing way to celebrate Christmas. Do you have any other holiday traditions or places you like to visit?
Wolfgang Puck: Well, Vail is actually just the first part of our holiday travel and celebrations. We like to go from a cold to a warm environment, so each year we travel from Vail to Maui, where we spend New Year’s Eve together. It’s such a relaxing and beautiful place to be. We just sit outside and enjoy the gorgeous weather and beaches, and spend time together before returning home to LA.
JB: I seriously may join you and your family next year. But I’m curious, if you were going to travel to another destination over the holidays other than Vail or Maui, where would it be?
Wolfgang Puck: I think I would choose Paris. I love the city and it would be a perfect place to spend the holidays. My family and I would stay at Terrace Suite at the Hotel de Crillon and celebrate with a Christmas dinner there. And we’d stay through the New Year so we could watch the New Year’s Eve fireworks show over the Eiffel Tower.
JB: How do you celebrate the holidays?
Geoffrey Zakarian: Since I’m involved in hotels and restaurants, which are both busy and open over Thanksgiving and Christmas, I often have to work over the holidays. So my family and I will rotate going out to dinner at one of my restaurants (the Lambs Club this year) and having dinner at home. My wife is Lebanese, so when we celebrate the Christmas holiday with her family, it’s a big gathering. It’s so much food, incredible amounts. Mostly it’s very healthy. A lot of salad, squash, beans, lentils ... and then lamb, of course.
JB: When you do cook, what are your favorite dishes to prepare?
Geoffrey Zakarian: I’m generally very traditional with my holiday cooking. I always do a chestnut dressing and I play around with it, like I put white truffles on the side. I also love to make butternut squash soup.
JB: If you were able to get away somewhere for the holidays, what would be your dream destination or trip?
Geoffrey Zakarian: Dream trip, very easy. I’d take my wife to an Eden Rock villa in St Barts. That’s one of the very few places where I can relax. It’s very hard for me to relax. I take my kids, too, because they’re really fun. They’re 3 and 5, both girls. I certainly don’t rule my household between my wife, 2 girls and nanny! I get the last piece of food, the last cupcake and I’m perfectly OK with it.
JB: Describe a typical holiday for the Mina family?
Michael Mina: I always cook dinner at home for a very large number of people at Christmas time. My wife is Italian and Puerto Rican, so we have a lot of relatives and family members over at our place in San Francisco. I think last year, I served somewhere close to 60 people. And I don’t think we’ve ever had less than 20 to 25 guests for dinner.
JB: Wow! So you definitely spend a lot of time in the kitchen over the holidays. What are your favorite dishes to make?
Michael Mina: On Christmas Eve I always make crab cioppino for dinner, which is a popular seafood stew in San Fran, but originated from Italy. It was my late mother-in-law’s favorite dish to prepare at the holidays, so I now keep the tradition going. On Christmas, I make a prime rib, which is another family favorite.
JB: Sounds like holiday traditions are very important to you and your family. Is there anything else that you all do together every year?
Michael Mina: For the past 10 years we’ve organized a huge basketball game with the adults and kids; we mix up the teams and all play together. We have an amazing time and it gets pretty competitive. But I just love watching my kids grow from year to year and get better.
JB: If you were going to travel over the holidays instead of staying home, what would be your ideal trip?
Michael Mina: It would definitely be somewhere in the French Alps. Living in San Fran we don’t really get to experience snow, so I’d love to go to a beautiful, snowy destination somewhere in the French Alps over the holidays. I think going to a destination like this would really make it feel like Christmas.