Christmas Secrets of Canadian Celebrity Chefs

Christmas table setting
At Christmas in November, all the table-scapes are top notch.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend Christmas in November at The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. During the event, Canada’s top lifestyle gurus teach you how to make their favourite holiday meals during demonstration classes. But the best part (besides tasting their yummy recipes) is chatting with the celebrity chefs about their favourite holiday rituals and tips for successful entertaining. Here’s a few of their secrets.

Elizabeth Baird

Former Canadian Living Food Editor
Now a member of the Order of Canada!

The former food editor of Canadian Living is such a doll! Her husband used to be a Dean, so they did a lot of entertaining. When it came to appetizers, his rule was no pits, no sticks, but he wasn’t the one doing the cooking, laments Baird. “If you don’t serve some sort of shrimp or crab cake or dip, your guests might never come again!” she warns. .

Chef Michael Smith

Michael Smith at home
He’s so chill! Maybe it’s because he has a yoga studio in his own home…

This Food Network Canada star is a staunch believer in involving kids in the kitchen. Every year his family makes a Christmas hamper filled with gourmet goodies and sweet handmade ornaments. A peek inside his basket reveals:

  • One frozen apple pie spiced with Vietnamese cinnamon (which is apparently, the best in the world), bought online.
  • A starter kit for Michael’s no-knead bread
  • Homemade Butterscotch Sauce
  • Gluten-free Sparkle Cookies

Anna Olson

Sugar Star Anna Olson
So lovely in person!

I’ve seen this pastry chef’s TV shows a few times, but I had no idea how warm and charming she was! Anna swears by her Classic New York Cheesecake for large gatherings and after tasting it, I have to agree. Her secret is the sour cream glaze on top or “Spanx for cheesecake,” as she calls it. But her best tip was how to pose for holiday photos. Stand up straight, angle yourself a quarter turn from the photographer, throw your front foot out and twist your waist in that direction so your midsection is pulled nice and taut. Throw your head back and place a hand on your hip for dramatic Kardashian-like effect.

Julie Van Rosendaal

Dinner with Julie
Calgary’s favourite food writer and recipe developer!

Cookbook author and ParentsCanada Food Editor, Julie Van Rosendaal’s favourite holiday tradition was copied from friends years ago. In her words:

We call it Polyester & Cheese, and everyone wears polyester and brings a piece of cheese. People want to bring something anyway – giving them something to bring makes things easier on you – just fill in the gaps with crackers, dried fruit and perhaps some candied nuts. Who doesn’t love cheese?

It also makes life easier to choose at least a few things you can make in advance – like spiced nuts (see recipe below) or dips that get better after a day or two in the fridge – that also don’t need to be kept hot or cold in order to taste good. When putting together a bar, rather than try to stock everything, mix up a fun cocktail by the pitcherful and then stock wine and beer.

Candied Almonds
Candied almonds are the perfect hostess gift!

Alice’s Award Winning Almond Comfits from Alice Eats: a Wonderland Cookbook, by Pierre A. Lamielle and Julie Van Rosendaal (Whitecap)

Comfits are nuts, seeds or pieces of fruit, coated in sugar – this is a recipe I frequently pull together at the last minute when I need a little something delicious for a party nibble or to bring along as a hostess gift, and they go brilliantly on a cheese platter.


  • 2 cups whole almonds, with their skins
  • 3 Tbsp. honey
  • 2 Tbsp. water
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon (optional)

In a large, heavy skillet set over medium-high heat, toast the almonds for 3-4 minutes, until starting to turn fragrant. Add the honey, water and butter and cook, stirring, for another 3-4 minutes, until the syrupy mixture has been almost absorbed by the nuts and there isn’t much left in the pan.

Stir in the sugar, salt and cinnamon, if you’re using it, and stir to coat well. Remove from the heat and spread out in a single layer on a parchment or foil-lined sheet; set aside to cool. Break apart and serve in a bowl or small paper cups, or pack in a jar to give as a gift.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

What are your secrets for a successful holiday season?

About The Author

5 thoughts on “Christmas Secrets of Canadian Celebrity Chefs”

  1. Wow! you are so very lucky to meet them 🙂 Thank you for sharing this recipe. I will definitely try this 🙂

  2. Awesome ideas! I love the cheese party idea and the make-ahead suggestions. I don’t entertain much because I stress myself out too much.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Tamara. I’m like you and don’t entertain as much as I used to, but now I don’t care as much about how my house looks. I’m hoping guests come to see me not my place.

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