Local Tastemakers Share Their Favorite Holiday Traditions

Elaborate gingerbread houses. Decadent breakfasts. Lots of cheese and perfect cocktails. When work takes a back seat to family and friends, the small traditions carry added importance. And it’s no different for local chefs and tastemakers. Here’s a sampling of what they’re planning for the holidays. If you’re still looking for a bit of holiday inspiration, keep reading.

Chef Glen Schwartz, The Douglas Room, Tilden Hotel

“As Bay Area natives, my family has always kept our holiday food simple and classic with local Dungeness cracked crab and fresh sourdough bread. The celebrations start a bit early for us, too, because my birthday is December 23. It’s awesome because crab is in season and if we have leftovers, I’ll use the crab to make bisque or sandwiches for Christmas Day. My mom also makes timeless and comforting hors d’oeuvres like baked cheese bites, and there is always lots of champagne.”

Blogger and mixologist Ashley Rose Conway, Craft and Cocktails

“I like to spread the cheer during the holidays by serving up my famous boozy Eggnog with rum, rye & bourbon which gets everyone into the spirit! I also love giving bottles of homemade Limoncello using SKYY Vodka as gifts.”

Chef Chris Cosentino, Cockscomb and Acacia House

“My family has two traditions around Christmas. Every year I make doughboys for breakfast for my wife and son. Doughboys are fried dough that I serve warm with powdered sugar and maple syrup. They’re delicious and the perfect start to Christmas morning. Our other tradition is that we order a ton of food from Russ & Daughters in New York to enjoy on Christmas Eve. We love their scallion schmear, assorted bagels, belly lox, herring, and pastrami cured salmon.  Another holiday tradition is my New Year’s Day Dawn Patrol Bike Ride, from the city to the top of Mount Tam before the sun comes up. It’s such a beautiful place to reflect on the last year and watch the first sunrise of the New Year.”

Kiri Fisher, Owner of The Cheese School of San Francisco

“I probably reach peak cheese during Christmas time. One holiday cheese moment stands out is Christmas Eve fondue. I sling cheese on Christmas Eve day, so the evening meal needs to be easy to prepare, but it’s still a big night! Fondue ticks all the boxes: luxurious, festive, communal, and relative to many meal preparations, quick. We melt up a blend of a strong Alpine cheese like Scharfe Maxx or Challerhocker, a lighter Alpine, like Comte, and a smaller amount of a smooth, creamy table cheese like Toma from Point Reyes Farmstead. We dip various breads and roasted veggies, open up some bubbly and a full bodied white wine and commence dipping!”


Chef Anthony Strong, Prairie

“Since 2016, I’ve been making extravagant and extremely well-designed gingerbread houses to celebrate the holidays. This year’s theme is mid-century modern, and it’s truly spectacular. It started as a random holiday project a couple years ago that I ended up getting really invested in and had a lot of fun with so I decided to keep it going as a holiday tradition. I really commit to a unique theme each year.”

Beverage manager Adam Chapman, Gibson

“One tradition, since I moved here, is to spend Christmas Eve with my two brothers and their family. Holidays are a lot of work, especially for people in the food and beverage industry, so we like to relax and take it easy. On Christmas Eve, after the little ones are asleep and everything is set up for the next day, we stay up late and make a Cioppino while sipping on a simple 2 or 3 ingredients cocktail made with really, really good spirits. Once the stew is done, we sit down, open a couple of great bottles of wine and unwrap a small gift that we got each other.”

Chef Kim Alter, Nightbird

“I would say we weren’t the most ‘in the kitchen at the holidays’ kind of a family, but we would always make cookies from my Great Grandma’s recipes and this tradition has been happening since before I was born. I still have the note cards with her writing and the vintage cookie cutters. Most of the recipes stem from Romanian vanilla walnut cookies (Vanillekipfer). I only make them at Christmas and it brings up memories from when I was a child. It was pretty hectic last year, so my mom flew up for Christmas and half her luggage was cookies to bring to my staff since I didn’t have time last year to make any.”


Whatever your holiday traditions, a common theme is shared in these experiences: spend a little extra time and money putting together delicious food & tasty cocktails; celebrate with friends and family; relax and allow yourself to get into the festive season; this is the time of year we make the memories we’ll reflect on for years to come.

With that said, stay safe and hopefully you enjoy your holiday send-off to 2018.