I love holidays, especially through the prism of cooking as a chef. I came to Sweden from Ethiopia when I was very young, so although my own holiday traditions started with my adoptive mother and older sisters, I’ve always been fascinated by how people celebrate across the world.
Some of my earliest memories of growing up in Sweden relate to the tastes and smells of December 13, Saint Lucia’s Day. The feast of Saint Lucia is widely celebrated throughout Scandinavia in schools, churches and homes. For my family, it was an opportunity to get together over a good meal.
The meal was always a large buffet filled with kippers, gravlax and meatballs. Sometimes we had turkey, other times roast pork. We had the traditional saffron buns sprinkled with raisins or almonds; everyone had their preference. But the one thing we could all agree on – kids and adults – was ginger cookies. The had to be gingerbread cookies on our St. Lucia Day.
Growing up in Gothenburg, I was always in the kitchen with my grandmother. Cooking with Grandma Helga laid the foundation for my culinary aspirations, and on Saint Lucia’s Day, there was something magical about this time spent together. I can still feel the heat of the oven and the smell of spices wash over me, the exciting moment when the warm ginger cookies were baked and ready to be devoured.
There’s nothing like the cold Scandinavian winter, which means there’s nothing better than finding warmth during the holiday season. For me, it was – and still is – the whole family, a crackling fire and a cup of hot glogg: red wine infused with star anise, cloves, cinnamon and orange peel. .
The holiday season is a busy time for everyone in the kitchen – home cooks and professional chefs. For me, this year will be particularly busy because I am opening my new restaurant in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York. Haven & Mar is partly inspired by my Scandinavian roots, so I was able to go back to the amazing food and drink of Saint Lucia Day and holiday seasons past. With that in mind, we’ll have glogg and gingerbread cookies on the winter menu. — so that we can welcome people from the cold to create their own memories.