Holiday Family Traditions – Chef-Style

By Joy Neighbors

Holiday Meals
When the holiday season rolls around, the chefs at French Lick Resort go into over-drive planning, prepping and working to make the annual holiday dinners a success. That’s why Christmas Eve is a special time for resort chefs. It’s usually the one holiday they can count on to be off work. 

Chef Paul Owens
After spending literally weeks getting ready for festive holiday dinners at French Lick Springs Hotel, Chef Paul Owen enjoys keeping it light for his family’s special meal.  “For Christmas Eve, I fix appetizers – finger foods,” Owens explains. “We have to have cold shrimp, filets, and my potato chowder. Then we round out the evening with homemade cinnamon rolls fresh from the oven. I start in the kitchen around noon and work there until around 9:30pm. It’s a good place to be; It’s party-central.”

“I usually expect about 20 people, my kids and grandkids,” Owen said. “Every year, our kids decide on a clothing theme and then show up dressed in Ugly Christmas Sweaters or footed jammies. We never know what it will be, but it’s always fun,” 

Chef David Lee Burns
Meanwhile, Chef David Lee Burns spends weeks preparing something sumptuous for Hagen’s Restaurant, located at the Donald Ross Golf Course. His family’s Christmas Eve menu came from necessity and has become a beloved tradition. “My wife had to work one Christmas Eve and I didn’t have anything ready,” Burns explained. “So I told the kids we were going to grill out. It’s been a tradition ever since. We do grilled seafood; crab legs, shrimp kabobs, fried fish and a shrimp bowl, and I always mix it up with grilled veggies like squash and zucchini, and corn if I can find some unshucked.”

Now the grilled dinner has become a family and friends event. “It started just the four of us,” Burns said. “Then the kids told my aunt who wanted to come and then she invited someone and they invited someone and it’s ended up being about 30 people, some I’ve known since elementary school. It’s always special.”

Every family has a memorable holiday tradition. For Chef Paul Owens, it involves a prized ornament. “My grandfather had a heart attack in 1967 so he was told to rest. He took a ceramics class and made all the kids ornaments. Mine is a blue drum that I always hang on the tree. I take it with me if we’re away for Christmas so I can hang it on the tree wherever we are – it says Christmas to me.”

Chef David in the Kitchen
That holiday feeling doesn’t start at Chef David Lee Burns house until “We get out the homemade glass pumpkin. It was something I won years ago and now it’s a holiday tradition. We have it out for Halloween and on into November for Thanksgiving. And by Christmas time, we just put a Santa hat on it and leave it out,” Burns laughed.

And there’s always that one favorite dish you have to serve every year. Chef Paul whips up homemade potato chowder. “When my wife and I had our first restaurant, I started making it. My wife has tried to duplicate it but she can’t. There are no secret ingredients, it’s all out in the open but it has evolved throughout the years. When I started making it at home, my kids loved it; they still request it.”

Fluffy Stuff
Chef David Lee has a family reputation for his “Fluffy Stuff.” “It started one year when I mixed up some fruit cocktail, marshmallows, cream cheese and whipped topping, and everybody loved it. We’ve served it as a dessert for years but now it’s part of the meal. Somebody always asks if we have the “fluffy stuff” when they arrive and we always do.”

Here are two “Chef family favorite” recipes for your holiday dinner. Enjoy!

Homemade Potato Chowder
Chef Paul Owens

1 lb. diced bacon
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 baked potatoes, diced, steamed and cooled (with skins on)
3 tbsp. chicken base
1 qt. water or chicken stock
4–5 tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 qt. heavy cream
1 qt. whole milk
2 tsp. black pepper
2 cups cheddar cheese (optional)
2 cups frozen or canned corn
Pinch of cumin
1 tsp. dried thyme

Sautee bacon until crispy, then add onions.
Once onions are cooked till soft, add flour to make roux.
Cook 3 – 4 minutes on low heat.
Add heavy cream, whole milk and chicken base to roux and whisk.
Add remainder of ingredients and let simmer until ready to serve.

Fluffy Stuff
Chef David Lee Burns

2 bags small marshmallows
1 tub whipped topping
2 blocks cream cheese – softened
1 can fruit cocktail – drained

Mix all together and let set overnight. Keep chilled.