15 Phoenix Chefs Share Their Holiday Food Memories

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The holidays are about a lot of things, mostly food. And just like you, chefs have their very own favorite holiday food memories. From tamale-making to turkey sandwiches drenched in gravy, Phoenix chefs discuss their top holiday food moments.

Share your favorite holiday food memory:

Samantha Sanz, chef of Talavera

My favorite memory has to be during Thanksgiving. My grandmother has always celebrated the holiday even though it’s not a Mexican tradition. She prepares her turkey days ahead with butter and her secret seasonings. The best part is watching her slap the turkey, because it is hilarious! I have asked why, and she just replies with a simple, “Because that’s how you do it.”

Tamara Stanger, chef of Helio Basin Brewery

It has to be my mom’s pies. She always made pumpkin and some kind of cream pie. Her pistachio cream pie was my favorite. She’s the reason I love pie so much.
Lester Gonzales, chef of Cowboy Ciao

Menudo. My dad used to make it, and family would come over throughout the morning to just eat. It wasn’t the greatest thing to smell while being prepared, but it was great when it was finished!

Cruz Robles, chef of Bevvy

I always have great memories of my mother’s cooking. For the holidays, she would always make paella, and the first time she made it was really my first experience with food culture and "fancy" ingredients. I remember her pulling out this little tin of saffron and being blown away by how little it was, and my mom told me how expensive it was. This always stood out in my mind. The fact that she would go out of her way to buy this little tin of saffron to make one dish, but when you eat it all made sense. I realized the importance of the little details in a dish, and when you're cooking for people, those details shine through the food.
Steve Freidkin, chef and owner of Texaz Grill

My wife went into labor in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner while we were hosting her parents. Silver lining: They did the dishes while we were at the hospital, and I got a wonderful son.

Gio Osso, chef of Virtu and Nico Heirloom Kitchen

Just last year, when my son Nico was old enough to understand what Christmas was and wanted to help [me] cook. My dad bought him a little stand so that he could reach the kitchen counter, and he spent most of the day helping me instead of playing with his toys. That's priceless to me.

Lucia Schnitzer, co-owner of Luci's Healthy Marketplace and The Orchard PHX

Tamale-making with my family. Smelling them when I was a child meant the holidays were right around the corner. We always made them with a little assembly line.

Chris Nicosia, executive chef of Sassi

My first Christmas after finishing culinary school, I was working at Lon's at the Hermosa. One of the chefs made Spam musubi [a fried slice of spam on rice that's wrapped with a strip of seaweed] for all of us. Loved it! The memorable part was when I told my mother about what I had for Christmas Eve dinner. She is a great cook and always goes over the top for holiday meals. She was so upset that my Christmas "feast" was Spam! Maybe it is such a memorable holiday food memory because she never lets me forget the Christmas that I made her feel so bad that I had Spam for dinner.

Jose Farias, chef of Vintage 95 Wine Lounge

My Grandpa letting me make the mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving. Grandpa always made the mashed potatoes, and was very particular on the technique: hand-mashed, mostly butter and a little milk, seasoned right, and definitely not overworked. When I was about 12, he finally let me make the potatoes, and I've done it every year since.

Garrison Whiting, chef of Counter Intuitive

My favorite holiday food memory is one of those things that isn’t funny until a few years later. When I was about 7 years old, my family didn’t have much money, and I think our oven was broken or something so we had Jack in the Box for Christmas dinner. Jumbo Jacks, tacos, and curly fries still make me think of Christmas.

Beau MacMillan, chef of Elements

One of my all-time favorite holiday food memories is Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s house. She lived in a very small village outside of Montreal, Quebec – population 1,500. My grandmother was an amazing
cook, but beyond that she really taught me the meaning of hospitality. She was constantly giving and caring for people. So, celebrating the holidays was something she was really great at. She would always cook a French dish called a tourtière (a savory pork pie). Whenever I think about her, I think about great times over the holidays, and that dish specifically. Over the past couple of years, I’ve started making the
same dish for my family, and it’s something I will continue to do for the rest of my life.

Kody Harris, executive chef of Fresko

My grandmother’s cheese onion bread. No family member has ever been able to duplicate it.

Pauline Martinez, owner of Perk Eatery

The smell of Thanksgiving stuffing as it perfumes the house.

Chris Neff, chef of Lincoln at the JW Marriott Camelback Inn Resort & Spa

Absolute favorite as a kid, and still to this day, is building warm turkey sandwiches on dinner rolls with mashed potatoes and giblet gravy.

Matt Taylor, chef of Gertrude's at the Desert Botanical Garden

One Thanksgiving, on our farm back home in Canada, my grandma had spent weeks preparing everybody's favorite pie. Pumpkin for my brother, apple for myself, rhubarb for Mom, et cetera. As she was preparing an exorbitant amount of food, she had formed the pies ahead of time, then froze them to be baked the day of. What was not taken into consideration was the fact that the pies were stored next to literally pounds of dill that had been picked in the summer. As we all anxiously dove into our favorite pie Thanksgiving Day, everyone noticed that something was a little off. Needless to say a very profound essence of dill had taken over each and every pie. Poor Grandma was mortified, and even in her passing we got to rib her about it to this day.

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