Chow Town

Bringing Christmas food traditions from Homeland to New Land

Chef Martin Heuser and his wife, Kartin, Affäre Restaurant in the Crossroads
Chef Martin Heuser and his wife, Kartin, Affäre Restaurant in the Crossroads

I got this idea the other week while taking part in a meat tasting at The Reserve Restaurant in The Ambassador Hotel in downtown Kansas City.

Yes, a meat tasting. I know, I know. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

The corporate chef at The Ambassador is Irish native Shaun Brady, who by all accounts is a nice young man and a very talented chef. Brady hails from County Tipperary, which lies smack dab in the middle of Ireland.

To put a spin on the song, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” I starting thinking that Brady was a long way from Tipperary as Christmas approached. I wondered what he missed of the Irish Christmas culinary traditions and what he did to bring a piece of “The Old Country” to his new one.

Then, I started thinking about other foreign-born area chefs and their Christmas food traditions. What I discovered is pretty much exactly what I thought — food traditions for chefs are particularly strong and the ones revolving around Christmas are some off the strongest of all.

Let’s start with Brady who told me he hasn’t been home for Christmas in nearly a decade.

“Christmas dinner is the same in every household in Ireland — roast turkey, baked ham, brown gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, Brussels sprouts and a traditional Christmas fruit cake,” Brady said. “My mom would start making the fruit cake in June so it would be ready in December. It was so heavy, it was like a brick.”

Brady has two older sisters and a younger brother, but he’s the one who took over the cooking duties when he was 12 or 13. I wondered why that didn’t fall to his older sisters?

“Oh, they can’t cook at all,” Brady shared. So, Brady did the cooking, which was fine for the young man with a passion for all things culinary, a passion he’s made into a career.

Now, that he’s in Kansas City with a one-year-old daughter and a four-year-old son, he’s starting his own family Christmas traditions, which will include a roast turkey ala Ireland, but not just any roast turkey.

“Many years ago, I started roasting the turkey by first removing the legs and thighs, removing the bones, tendons and sinew, rolling it, then roasting it with the rest of the bird,” Brady said. “My daughter was born on Christmas last year, so we’re going to do our own special Christmas-presents in the morning, the meal around mid-day, then it’s all about her birthday.”

Chef Martin Heuser and his wife, Kartin, will be cooking up a bit of Bavaria, Germany, this Christmas. The owners of Affäre Restaurant in the Crossroads District, moved to Kansas City with their four children in 2007.

For the Heusers, Christmas is also about “the bird,” but in their case, it’s not a turkey, it’s a goose leg braised in red wine. The goose is stuffed and served with brussel sprouts, red cabbage, and potato dumplings.

For dessert, the Heusers will also have traditional German Christmas cookies, and a stollen with Chantilly cream.

“Germans celebrate Christmas dinner like Americans do Thanksgiving with family at home,” Heuser said. “Holidays mean a little more to me food-wise because the dishes are very seasonal, and seasonal is what we do all year-round at the restaurant.”

Last, but not least, we check in on the Christmas food stylings of Edson and Leonice Backes. The Backes, natives of Sao Paolo, Brazil, have just opened Espirito Do Sul, a Brazilian Churrascaria on Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park. I spoke with Leonice about what she misses about Christmas in Brazil. It seems just about everything.

“We call it Ceia De Natal, or Christmas Dinner, and it’s amazing,” she said. “There’s a huge table with turkey, stuffing, everything else. I want to go to Brazil now. You’ve made me homesick.”

Leonice said the big Christmas meal is traditionally served on Christmas Eve so everyone can make it to the Midnight Mass. It sounds spectacular. It includes Salpicao, which is a special chicken salad, julienned tomatoes, celery, roasted baby pig with the apple in its mouth, a traditional dish made with a Yucca flower and more.

It all sounds delicious. I might not be homesick, but I wouldn’t mind a trip to Brazil right about now myself. For now, I’ll have to placate myself with a trip to Espirito Do Sul.

Merry Christmas everyone. Hope it’s a great one.

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons.