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Chefs guide to Christmas

 
He may be master of the kitchen as a prolific TV chef, but how does Antony Worrall Thompson cope with Christmas lunch at home? He shares his secrets for success with Women's Editor Sarah Foster

IT'S clear that Antony Worrall Thompson is very much a Christmas person. Unlike the Ebenezer Scrooges who eschew the festive season he takes pleasure in its magic and the bonhomie it brings. He feels the nicest thing about it is the chance to be with family.

"It's the best thing," enthuses Worrall Thompson, who's 56. "That's what Christmas is all about. I don't know what we'll do when the kids leave home.

It's all about giving and seeing their little faces light up."

Home for the Worrall Thompson clan is Henleyon- Thames, in scenic Oxfordshire. The chef is married to Irishwoman, Jay, and has a son called Toby- Jack, his eldest at 12, and ten-year-old daughter Billie-Lara. So do they still believe in Santa or are they now much too grown-up? "Billie does but Toby doesn't," says Worrall Thompson. "We have a saying in the house if you don't believe, you don't receive'."

While family Christmases do vary, they're either spent in Henley-on-Thames or with Jay's relatives in Ireland. This year the Worrall Thompsons are hosting - which means they're cooking for 18.

"There's quite a mob of them," says Worrall Thompson wryly. "The Irish have great hospitality so you've got to reciprocate."

AS Jay is also a trained chef she and her husband share the cooking. They may be confident in the kitchen but won't 18 test even them? "It's water off a duck's back really," says Worrall Thompson. "The main thing about Christmas is being organised. We've got two pubs which do Christmas lunches so we'll pop in there at some point.

"With that number you have to really go for turkey. I love goose, but it's really only good for six people. Turkey has a shocking reputation but that's just the way people cook it."

In terms of what they will be eating the Worrall Thompsons are quite traditional. The TV chef says careful planning is of paramount importance. "The key is to be organised really," says Worrall Thompson.

"I would say to write a list, and it's always very satisfying when you can tick things off. We try to prepare some things ahead - bread sauce, brandy butter and things like that. I always say use the microwave a lot - not many chefs say that - and prepare as much as you can the day before.

"I make a puree, usually with parsnip and carrot or something like that, which can be made and heated up again in the microwave."

FOR many cooks on Christmas Day a major problem is logistics - just how to utilise the kitchen so things are ready at the same time.

What Worrall Thompson tends to do is use the oven on rotation. "I part-roast my potatoes for 40 minutes and the same with the roast veg," he says. "I put the veg in the oven while the turkey is resting.

A lot of people don't have many ovens - I've got lots.

It's down to planning and being organised."

One thing he's not afraid to do is allocate jobs to other people. He says the children love to help and so he gives them their own chores. "Get the kids to lay the table the night before then set them some task," advises Worrall Thompson. "I get my kids to do the stuffing and that sort of thing. They're pretty good. They like to feel part of it. I think it's all part of the family spirit."

A Christmas lunch would typically start with the traditional smoked salmon, with Worrall Thompson using this to make his crab and salmon parcels.

He says that starters should be light so there is room for the roast dinner, but when it comes to the dessert he tends to stick with Christmas pudding.

"The family like it a lot," he explains. "I always find it a bit too rich. We have lunch at about five so we might have the Christmas pudding quite late."

Yet even keeping with tradition you can have interesting side dishes and here, perhaps, is where the cook might do a little showing off. For Worrall Thompson it's tarte tatin that's made with delicate shallots or just a simple, baked terrine that adds a twist to Christmas lunch.

"You get a loaf tin or a terrine mould and line it with puff pastry, then pre-cook some risotto and spread a layer of that on the pastry, and then spread some veg," he says. "On each layer of veg you put a layer of cheese and basil leaves, then build up different layers and give it a nice colour, wrap the pastry over the top and bake it in the oven for 25 minutes, something like that, and cut it into slices."

No doubt his guests will be replete with all the food that he has planned but if their waistlines do expand - and he himself gains extra pounds - you get the feeling that Worrall Thompson won't be inordinately upset. It seems he really does love Christmas and is determined to enjoy it. "I really like Christmas," he reflects. "I think it's a nice time of year."

* Antony Worrall Thompson presents Saturday Cooks on ITV1 at 11.30am on Saturdays.

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Tags: Antony Worrall Thompson , Caterer , Celeb Chef , Tv Chef
 


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