If you’ve ever fantasized about sitting at a chef’s table during the holidays, here’s your chance.

Chefs are just like the rest of us when it comes to celebrating Christmas and New Year’s. They have favorite dishes they like to serve their families, including recipes that have been passed down through the generations. We asked local chefs what they like to prepare at Christmastime, and they responded with favorite holiday recipes from childhood.

So take a seat at their tables, and enjoy.


Josh Berry, executive chef of Union Restaurant in Portland’s Press Hotel, is the first to admit that Indian pudding isn’t the most attractive dish in the world. But this quintessential New England dessert, especially popular during the holidays, unleashes his inner 5-year-old.

“When you eat it,” he says, “it’s like melted gingerbread. How is this possible? It really opens your eyes to the magic of cooking and how it’s like part science, part alchemy.”


Chef Joshua Berry finishes a serving of Indian pudding and ice cream at Union restaurant in the Press Hotel.

Chef Josh Berry finishes a serving of Indian pudding and ice cream at Union restaurant in the Press Hotel. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Berry, who was born and raised in the Sebago Lake area, has wanted to be a chef since he was 5, when he started experimenting in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother. Indian pudding is easy to make, so it quickly became one of his favorites.

This traditional American pudding is a “crazy hybrid mash” of Puritan and Native American cultures. It’s made with cornmeal, which was known by colonists as “Indian flour” or “Indian meal,” and milk, and sweetened with molasses. The dish reminded the homesick colonists of their beloved English “Hasty Pudding.”

In his previous job as executive chef at The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in New Hampshire, Berry added Indian pudding to the menu to represent the region’s heritage. He’s done the same at Union, where it appears on the menu right around Christmastime, including the day-after-Christmas brunch.

Berry still makes Indian pudding at home too – his 10-year-old daughter Jillian “loves it to death” – but never until after Thanksgiving. To the chef and his family, Thanksgiving until Christmas is “Indian pudding season.” Just a couple of weeks ago, his family gathered at Sugarloaf for the weekend, and Berry made them a batch.

“You’ve got to have it warm,” Berry said. “Scoop it right out of that pan with some ice cream and oh, it’s delicious.”

Anders Tallberg, chef at Roustabout, makes Swedish meatballs with his family every year at Christmas.

Anders Tallberg, chef at Roustabout, makes Swedish meatballs with his family every year at Christmas. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer



As the chef at Roustabout, the Italian restaurant on Washington Avenue in Portland, Anders Tallberg makes a lot of meatballs. Some weigh in at as much as a quarter-pound.

But it’s little Swedish meatballs the size of a large marble that he looks forward to every holiday season, even though it can take hours to roll them all out. This annual ritual becomes less of a chore when the whole family pitches in, he says.

“I don’t think I’ve ever actually made the recipe myself without my family involved,” Tallberg said. “Every Christmas, there’s always a couple hundred of these things.”

Tallberg’s mother is of Sicilian heritage, and his father’s grandparents were Swedish. The chef grew up in Hampden, but usually spent the holidays visiting family in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Tallberg said that participating in these holiday family gatherings, and making and eating the food that was served at them, is one of the reasons he chose cooking as his life’s work.

The meatball recipe was passed down from his Swedish great-grandmother, Alma Tallberg, who died long before Tallberg was born. Tallberg says his family typically makes a batch a few weeks ahead of Christmas and freezes them. Later, they’ll make another batch to freeze. By staggering the production, they are able to spread the work out and have more meatballs available during the holidays.

"Your dad's original! It just says Christmas," reads a note on Anders Tallberg's family recipe for Swedish meatballs.

“Your dad’s original! It just says Christmas,” reads a note on Anders Tallberg’s family recipe for Swedish meatballs. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Tallberg said his family usually lays out a big spread of appetizers on Christmas Eve, and the Swedish meatballs are a part of that. Any family who happens to be in town comes over to visit and partake of the Christmas abundance. “There’s always a big table of food,” he said.


Alma Tallberg’s Swedish meatball recipe is safely tucked into her great-grandson’s family recipe book, which was a gift from his mother. It’s filled with all the dishes he ate as a child. “It’s not the most glamorous food, and it’s not necessarily the most authentic stuff, but it’s what I ate coming up, and it’s stuff that means a lot to me,” he said.

He hopes one day to travel to the land of Swedish meatballs with his wife, Kate.

“My wife’s family is Swedish as well, so we’re both chomping at the bit to get over there,” he said.


Chef Brian Hill’s great-grandmother Elsie, who was originally from Austria, died when he was 5 years old or so, but he still remembers being in the kitchen with her as she worked her magic making “incredible desserts.”

Hill, the chef-owner of Francine Bistro in Camden, recalls watching his great-grandmother roll out apple strudel by hand until it was so thin “you could read through it.” Her Sour Milk Orange Cake, reminiscent of a holiday fruit cake made with lots of dried fruits and spices, was another favorite.


Brian Hill, pictured in 2015 at Francine Bistro, makes his great-grandmother's Christmas cake both at home and at the restaurant this time of year.

Brian Hill, pictured in 2015 at Francine Bistro, makes his great-grandmother’s Christmas cake both at home and at the restaurant this time of year. File photo/Whitney Hayward

Elsie’s cake is dense, Hill says, but not heavy like fruit cake.

“When the cake came out of the oven, she would put this orange juice, sugar and booze mixture over the top, and it would just candy over the entire thing,” Hill said. The orange juice mixture glazes the top, creating an “incredible crunchy, sugary, glossy top that’s really neat.”

The cake was usually made the day before Christmas Eve so it could “ripen” on the counter for a day before being cut and served the night before Christmas.

“Having to stare at it there on the counter drove me crazy because it smelled so amazingly good,” Hill recalled.

But the deliciousness, apparently, skipped a generation. Once Hill’s “proto-hippie” parents inherited the recipe, they tried to make the cake more healthful, which always led to disappointment.

“They would put whole oranges in it and wheat germ – horrible hippie additives,” Hill complained.

Hill’s parents passed the recipe along to him about 20 years ago. Eventually, in addition to making Sour Milk Orange Cake at home, he started serving it at the restaurant so he could share the cake with his customers. His staff starts making it the day after Thanksgiving and serves the last slice on New Year’s Eve. The cake is usually served with a scoop of blackberry jam ice cream, or this year persimmon ice cream.

“We have customers that ask for it all year round, and we say, ‘No, you have to wait,’ ” Hill said. “It’s really moist, and it’s just the sort of thing you want to eat this time of the year.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.