Let Me Entertain You: Judith Tabron

Judith Tabron shows her approach to entertaining and celebrating Christmas in style

Judith Tabron of Soul Bar and Bistro. Picture / Guy Coombes.

Owner of Auckland’s Soul Bar and Bistro, Judith Tabron was New Zealand’s first female chef apprentice and is highly regarded as one of New Zealand’s top restaurateurs. She was recently inducted into the Hospitality Association of New Zealand’s Hall of Fame, and later this month will be honoured for her contribution to hospitality with AUT University school of Hospitality and Tourism’s top award.

She is from a large family, so celebrating Christmas is always a busy time in her household and is always enjoyed with a glass of rosé in hand.

“Christmas means a large family gathering for us. Every year, we get together with all the cuzzies: there are about 25 of us in the immediate family as well as partners and children. It’s the annual gathering of the tribe and we celebrate with a great feast and the traditional Christmas sing-a-long to the guitar or the piano.”

Christmas entertaining tips?
1. Mise en place…mise en place…mise en place — prep everything beforehand. Don’t leave it to the day. I always get a little helping hand in the kitchen.

2. Clean out your fridge and clear out all those jars and bottles that have been gathering dust all year so you have room for all your Christmas goodies.

3. Work out your menu in advance and work out what you will be cooking on all your appliances, so you’re not preparing all your dishes on one appliance.

4. Make the first course something simple and straightforward that you can prep the night before. Seafood dishes such as shrimp cocktail, sashimi or a scampi dish along with a tasty mayo dip can be prepared in advance and kept in the fridge. (Aren’t you glad you cleared out that fridge?)

5. Don’t go to work on Christmas Eve — if you can help it.

6. Order your meat from the butcher well in advance so you’re not left scrambling at the last minute to find a Christmas ham. In fact, order as much as you can before the big day.

Christmas day essentials?
Rosé. As a Champagne or as a wine, rosé is absolutely essential on Christmas Day.

Christmas is not Christmas without our Santa tree — I only allow Santa ornaments on the tree and I have been collecting them for the past 22 years, since my son Jack was born. Candles, pine cones and floating candles in the pool are also Christmas must-haves.

My Entertaining Style?
Well, with so many people coming and going and so much going on around me, I just need to keep things rolling.

Christmas Day games?
Every year Mum brings the Christmas quiz, which she makes up herself.

Christmas playlist?
Our family really looks forward to the annual Christmas sing-a-long. At one stage we all had our own individual song books. Now with the advent of phones and tablets, we can just pull up our favourites along with a few newbies. We love the traditional Christmas carols, including good ol’ Kiwi favourites, with a smattering of top 10 and Irish ditties thrown in for good measure.

Planning ahead?
We usually hold a couple of discussions within the family before December to work out whose house we will be gathering at and to allocate jobs.

Favourite festive tipple?
Though rosé is the absolute essential, I always like to start with Champagne and orange juice. I have learnt over the years that if you don’t pour the orange juice ahead of the Champagne it can prove disastrous for how the rest of the day goes.

I wear . . . This year I will be breaking out my new designer blue-denim apron that my sister got in France for my birthday. Once the feasting is over, I change into my Christmas dress, which is always either a Trelise Cooper or Yvonne Bennetti — my favourite designers. I will also be donning my recent purchase — a beautiful bright fluoro-pink jacket from Trelise’s summer collection.

Real tree or fake?
It has to be a real tree for the scent. Fake ones take too long to assemble and I’d get too much flak from the family that they can’t smell the tree.

Favourite pudding?
Our family favourite Christmas pudding is a recipe that I have been baking for more than 25 years, since my Ramses Bar and Grill (her first restaurant, before Soul Bar and Bistro) days. This year, it’s been handed over to my husband Nigel to make. He’s pretty convinced that he can outdo me — it remains to be seen!

Once the table has been cleared?
This is when I sit down with the family, and as I never manage to eat much, I bring out a beautiful cheese board with a nice fresh French stick and I dig into that.

Christmas Day breakfast
I always start the day with a fresh plate of fruit featuring Clevedon strawberries — the best in the country. I may even sneak in a croissant.

On Christmas Eve . . . we usually get together with friends over a few drinks but not too many if I’m on duty the next day.

Most memorable Christmas?
Since I come from a family of five kids, the most memorable Christmases are the ones where we all come together to celebrate. This year will be one of those, as my brother along with his wife and children will be visiting from Vancouver.

Favourite Christmas recipe?
Vodka and dill cured salmon. This cured salmon is perfect for Christmas. Marinate it 3 days in advance so it is ready to serve on the day. Thinly slice on a large platter or individually plate as a starter. Sprinkle with finely diced red onion and drizzle with a good olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice or lemon oil. Serve with warm ciabatta, or slices of brown seed bread. If you can find some fresh horseradish it would be delicious grated over this dish.

1 side of Salmon
30 grams sugar
30 grams sea salt
10 grams freshly ground pepper
30 grams chopped fresh dill
65ml Brandy
65ml Vodka
35ml olive oil
Remove bones from salmon but leave the skin.
Place the salmon skin side down in a long pan and cover it with the sugar, salt, pepper, dill, brandy, liquor and oil. Spread the marinade evenly over the fish. Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for 3 days, turning the fish over on the morning of the second day.

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