Chefs and hospo pros share their last-minute Christmas hacks from perfect roast potatoes to no-cook pudding

If you're roasting turkey, remove the wishbone first, and try the reverse-cooking method.
If you're roasting turkey, remove the wishbone first, and try the reverse-cooking method. Photo: William Meppem

Christmas might be your biggest event of the year, but for chefs, bar managers and front-of-house professionals it's an easy gig compared to a typical night turning tables, managing spot fires and making dozens of people feel welcome.

We asked them to share their top tips to make Christmas entertaining easier, whether you're hosting or contributing to the spread on the big day. Bookmark now and consult it right up until the first guests arrive.

Anna Pavoni

​Co-owner, Ormeggio at The Spit, Chiosco by Ormeggio, a'Mare, Sydney

I think the old adage of "too many cooks" really holds when entertaining. Alessandro [Pavoni, my husband] and I have pretty clear boundaries of who does what, even when entertaining at home. With him being the chef, I am not allowed in the kitchen! Having a clear idea of who will do drinks and facilitate the pre-meal aperitivo is a great start.

Before everyone arrives, set your table beautifully with a small personal detail like a posy from your garden, and make sure your "mise-en-place" is done for the meal. This is really important to make people feel comfortable and welcome. There's nothing worse than walking into chaos.

The same holds if you're bringing a dish – having something that doesn't require much assembly or cooking in someone else's space is key to keeping a calm head.

Atlas Dining's Charlie Carrington is doing cook-along recipe boxes for the home. 

Atlas Dining's Charlie Carrington recommends pre-heating the fat or oil that you'll roast your spuds in. Photo: Supplied

Charlie Carrington

Chef-owner, Atlas Dining, Melbourne

The secret to the crispiest roast potatoes is to pick the correct potato variety for the job, such as sebago, maris piper, king edward, dutch cream or desiree. Wash the potatoes after you have cut them to get rid of the starch, then place them in cold, salted water and boil until they are almost breaking apart. Strain and set aside to cool. Shake them around to create rough edges – these will become crunchy!

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Preheat the oil for about 5 minutes at 200C in your roasting dish before you add the potatoes. I recommend duck fat, vegetable oil or olive oil (and a generous amount of it). Turn the potatoes every 5-8 minutes during roasting and allow at least 20 minutes to get that golden colour.

Johnny Di Francesco

Chef-owner, 400 Gradi, Melbourne

You want Christmas lunch or dinner to look really amazing, even though it's your family, so presentation is always key. If you're serving cold seafood, get lots of bags of ice, really deep plates or trays and cover these with ice. Arrange your prawns on the ice, with cut lemons and big leaves of fresh parsley, so people feel as though they're not just at home but at a special event. For oysters, find a nice stand so it's elevated above the table. It does make it feel different.

We always find a Christmas tablecloth to put on the table and some decorations around the room we're about to eat in. We'll try and eat outside if it's a nice day and even put decorations out there, like balloons.

Rosheen Kaul, head chef at Etta Dining. 7 April 2021. The Age Good Food. Photo: Eddie Jim.

Rosheen Kaul, head chef at Etta Dining, has perfected the art of a make-ahead Christmas. Photo: Eddie Jim

Rosheen Kaul

Chef, Etta Dining, Melbourne

I've traditionally always worked Christmas Eve, so Christmas lunch takes a bit of pre-planning so that I can cook as little as possible. I generally do cold starters and set the table with an impressive spread early on. The main event lately has been an enormous lobster pasta for the middle of the table, which looks beautiful and is quick to cook.

Use cooked lobster, pull the meat from the shell and toss it through foaming melted butter, soy sauce and wilted cherry tomatoes in a pan for a Japanese wafu-style dish. If you time it right, your pasta will finish cooking just as your lobster is warmed through. Toss pasta through the sauce with a splash of pasta water and a big handful of basil.

For dessert I blind-bake a tart shell the night before, and either finish it with cherries and frangipane if there's time, or fill it with creme patissiere and cover it with stunning summer fruit.

Hartsyard chef and co-owner Dorothy Lee with some of her Christmas-themed napkin folds. For use in a Good Food story on top Christmas tricks from hospitality pros.
For Good Food, 13 December, 2021

Napkins in festive shapes and colours are an easy way to make guests feel special, according to Dorothy Lee. Photo: Supplied

Dorothy Lee

Co-owner and chef, Hartsyard, Sydney

I am all about Christmas. My number one hack for hosting at home would be napkins. They are a good conversation starter as well as something small but thoughtful that shows you really care about the people you've invited to your space. Get some good linen or cotton ones, preferably in green or red, and fold them into Christmas trees, bows, candles or pretty much any festive shape. Just look at YouTube videos if you need help with folding.

At the restaurant we fold trees and bows for regular customers that visit around Christmas time and they are always very surprised. It's a nice, easy touch to make the meal memorable even before any food or drinks arrive.

Milpa Collective is opening Casa Merida (Mexican restaurant) on Kellett Street in Potts Point.
Liber Osorio and Pablo Galindo Vargas
Supplied PR shots

Liber Osorio (left) and Pablo Galindo Vargas suggest DIY tacos and ready-to-blend margaritas to keep things easy yet fun. Photo: Lauren Gray

Pablo Galindo Vargas

Co-founder and director, Milpa Collective, Sydney

To make your main course go further on Christmas Day, DIY tacos are always a great hack. There are no rules when it comes to building your own, so why not encourage friends and family to get involved and be creative?

For example, serve up a whole grilled fish alongside tortillas and a selection of toppings and salsas, then ask guests to build their own. Not only does it make the main meal go so much further, you're always covered for any unexpected guests, too.

Camarones borrachos, Tacos al pastor, BBQ corn salad.

Feliz navidad fiesta: Camarones borrachos ("drunken" mezcal pawns), tacos al pastor (with pork and pineapple) and barbecue corn salad. Photo: William Meppem

Liber Osorio

Co-founder and director, Milpa Collective, Sydney

Margaritas are always a crowd pleaser, but they're also the perfect cocktail when you're hosting a group. By adding ice, it makes your ingredients go so much further and also means you've got a perfect cocktail if it's a hot Christmas Day.

Prep your glasses in advance with salt rims, measure out your ingredients and cut your limes so they're ready to juice. Once guests arrive, simply pop all the ingredients in a blender, using a quality mezcal or tequila, along with ice, and drinks are served.

Troy Wheeler

Co-owner and head butcher, Meatsmith, Melbourne

When you're preparing a turkey to roast, you want to completely remove the wishbone – you'll be surprised at how much easier it makes carving, and allows for even slicing of the breast. Use a small, sharp knife to remove the wishbone from inside the turkey's cavity before you add the stuffing. Get more of Troy's turkey tips.

Tom Sarafian

Sarafian Hummus, Melbourne

The last couple of Christmas lunches with my girlfriend's family have inspired me to cook cold mezze. Everyone brings a cold plate of food, which is prepared in advance so there is no actual cooking (or cleaning) on the day. There's always plenty of hummus, falafel, kibbe nayeh, pickles, olives, stuffed vine leaves, cold seafood, marinated vegetables and salads like fattoush and tabbouleh.

Every year, it's my job to make the hummus. This year I'll be cooking king prawns and serving them cold, with hummus and fresh lettuce cups, to wrap up and finish with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Always buy fresh prawns! It's so easy to cook them and you can taste the difference. Just add them to boiling water, remove saucepan from the heat and leave them covered for 5-10 minutes. It's an easy dish to prepare, and a fresh and delicious way to start Christmas lunch. Plus it's a fun alternative to prawn cocktails.

Michael Flouch

Chef-owner, Flouch's, Point Lonsdale

If you want to roast a duck for Christmas, make sure you buy a fresh duck. When you defrost frozen duck, something happens to the fats and the duck doesn't turn out quite the same. I like Luv A Duck or Great Ocean Ducks.

A little trick to add flavour is to mix half a tablespoon of brown sugar and three teaspoons of soy sauce and add this to the cavity. It won't taste like soy duck, it just adds a bit of umami.

Make sure your oven is pre-heated to 180C. Truss your duck – it's very simple and you can look at YouTube for help. Put about half a centimetre of water in the bottom of your roasting tray (with the duck on a rack) to create a bit of steam.

When it's done (allow at least 45 minutes), serve with some just-ripe peaches that you've roasted in the oven for 10 minutes.

Nick Hildebrandt

Co-owner, Bentley Restaurant Group, Sydney

Christmas time is the time to dig deep into the cellar. Drink the wines you have been saving. There should always be abundant Champagne (or pet-nat if that's your thing). Drink wines with some age: quality not quantity. Riesling with your oysters, chablis with your shellfish, pinot with your roast and pedro ximenez with your pudding.

Anton Forte

Co-founder, The Swillhouse Group, Sydney

I always say: magnums only. Setting up a massive drinks bucket laden with ice and filled with magnums of wine creates an atmosphere of celebration. It's an experience that people don't usually have. Then, have everything prepared in advance so you can just bang stuff in the oven, [serve] it out beautifully and enjoy some magnums. Put some good music on – and don't pick any fights with parents.

Neil Perry's summer pudding recipe.

Martin Pirc suggests swapping Christmas pudding for summer pudding (try Neil Perry's recipe). Photo: William Meppem

Martin Pirc

Owner, Punch Lane, Juliet, Waygood

If you're doing a whole turkey, do reverse cooking which means low heat at first (120C for up to 6 hours), then 180C for 30 minutes for a golden colour.

Not everyone likes Brussels sprouts but everyone likes coleslaw. Try a sprout slaw with cranberry and chestnuts – it's a winner for sweetness and crunch on the Christmas table.

If you haven't had time to put a traditional pudding together, an alternative is a summer pudding, which is lighter, doesn't require cooking and showcases our bounty of mulberries, raspberries, blueberries and more. Plus it can be made the night before.