Food and family: Area chefs talk Christmas dinner plans

Starkville Chef Eric King in the kitchen of his restaurant, King's Craft Butcher and Cafe. For his own Christmas dinner, King will cook a dry-aged standing rib roast, among other treats. (Photo by Charlie Benton, SDN)

Charlie Benton
Staff Writer

Sitting down to a festive meal has long been a holiday tradition.

Some choose to keep it traditional with turkey and ham, while others let their skills and tastes go wild, cooking much more exotic dishes. In any case, sitting down to that delicious, special meal with family and friends is for many, the highlight of the season.

For those in culinary fields, the excitement gearing up to Christmas dinner is perhaps even greater. The SDN caught up with two Starkville chefs to discuss plans for their big feasts.

Jay Yates, owner and chef of The Veranda said he would be keeping his dinner traditional this year, cooking a turkey and a ham for family in Natchez. However, he said his ham would be special.

“We get access to all the great suppliers, so I’ll get a Berkshire ham from one of my suppliers, a bone-in heritage breed ham,” Yates said. “I’ll put on some brown sugar, cinnamon and stuff and bake it.”
He said he would cook his turkey sous-vide, breaking the bird down and vacuum sealing the pieces before cooking them slowly in a temperature-controlled water bath.
Yates will then briefly deep-fry the turkey pieces to crisp them up.

“You cook it for a long time, so it gets cooked, but it doesn’t get hard roasted,” Yates said. “It leaves all the juice in it. It’s just a different thing.”

Yates said he cooked a sous-vide turkey at Thanksgiving to great effect.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Yates said.

For side dishes, Yates plans to cook both oyster dressing and cornbread dressing, along with shrimp-stuffed mirliton squash and baked Brussels sprouts.

“I grew up in Natchez and went to school in Louisiana, so I grew up on oyster dressing, so we always do that,” Yates said.

He will also bring some caviar to the celebration.

“My family hasn’t been into it very much, but I thought for Christmas, just bring something special,” Yates said.

He also said ham biscuits with fig preserves and butter were a Christmas morning tradition in his family.

Despite the timelessness of ham and turkey, not all will be cooking them at Christmas.

For King’s Craft Butcher and Café owner, chef and butcher Eric King, opulence will be the name of the game.

“I always do a whole standing rib roast, which is a whole bone-in ribeye,” King said. “This year we’re actually going to do a dry-aged one to test it out, since I have the dry-aged here now.”

He said he was going to season the roast simply, with just salt and pepper before cooking it initially on high heat and dropping the temperature down for about two and a half hours.

“Medium or medium rare is what I’m aiming for,” King said. “Me and my brother-in-law would eat it as bloody as possible, but not everybody else does.”

King said his brother-in-law was also a chef, and the two often made a point of trying to one-up each other during Christmas.

“When we get together we always try to outdo each other, I guess,” King said. “It’s usually fun and tasty.”

He said he would cook lobster for lunch on Christmas Day, after serving the beef on Christmas Eve. However, he said he and his brother-in-law, who runs a catering business in Oxford, had not made up their minds on how they would cook the crustaceans.

For breakfast on Christmas morning, he plans to make monkey bread and breakfast casserole, which is a family tradition. He also plans to cook a ham with a Coca-Cola glaze at some point, since he didn’t get the opportunity to cook a ham at Thanksgiving.

King reminisced about watching his mother and Grandmother cook Christmas dinner when he was a child, saying those meals were part of what inspired him to become a chef.

“She used to do a roast on Christmas,” King said. “It’s the same roast recipe that I use on the debris fries at the restaurant. She’s been doing it since my dad was a kid, so I don’t mess with excellence.”
King said his Grandmother would also make rolls and numerous side dishes to go with the roast.

“My Grandmother was a huge cook, and I just remember every Sunday going out to her house for Sunday lunch, on a step stool in the kitchen with her, learning everything that she did,” King said.

Yates also reminisced about watching his Grandmother cook at Christmas.

“It was always my grandmother with my mom helping,” Yates said. “They did something similar to what we’re doing. We do turkey and dressing at Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

He said his mother and grandmother would cook almost three times the amount of food he was going to cook at Christmas.

Both chefs recommended home cooks begin their Christmas meal preparations a day or so in advance.

“Plan ahead,” King said. “I always say you can never have too many lists, because it’s always nice, and it always feels good to check something off the list.”

Yates also advocated for cooks to get as much as they can done in advance of the meal.

“Literally cook as much as you can in the day or two beforehand, and maybe just get up and put your turkey in the oven early that morning, so that’s all you’re having to cook,” Yates said.

King also said he looked forward to the season every year.

“I have multiple Christmas sweaters,” King said. “I have a Christmas apron that I wear in the kitchen. This year is our first dry-aged to do. I’m really excited about this year.”