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Forage’s Chef Welbert Choi On Effortless Holiday Entertaining (Plus: Recipes!)

“Food is all about the connection, so I don’t want to spend the whole day cooking and end up in the kitchen by myself.”

You might expect the chef of an acclaimed Vancouver restaurant to be picky about his holiday meal. But that’s not the case for Forage‘s own Chef Welbert Choi. “For me, it’s about who’s around the table, not what’s on the table,” he says.

Growing up with a Chinese background, he enjoyed family-style meals throughout his childhood. “We’re always sharing all together at the big table,” he says. As an adult, with a busy schedule, it’s rarer for any of us to share those kind of moments, so to Choi, the holidays are a special chance to get everyone together… “and if you have delicious food, it’s a bonus.”

With the holidays fast approaching, we asked Chef Choi to share his tips for entertaining effortlessly so that we call make more time for what really matters.

Forage’s Chef Welbert Choi

Rule #1: Embrace simplicity

“It’s kind of common sense,” laughs Choi. “Just keep your dish simple.” The whole point of the holidays, after all, is to spend time with the people you love…so why spend it sweating over a hot stove while everyone else is sipping cocktails and swapping stories in the living room without you? “Food is all about the connection, so I don’t want to spend the whole day cooking and end up in the kitchen by myself.”

Family style dishes simplify the serving process.

Rule #2: Story worrying about the turkey, already

Because he favours simple, straight-forward dishes for special occasions, Chef Choi’s person go-to is turkey or roast pork, paired with traditional cranberry sauce and a creamy pomme purée. While not everyone would consider turkey straightforward, Choi has a zen approach to the star protein come Christmas day. “People worry about the turkey way too much—how long do I cook it for, what do I do beforehand. There is always that pressure when you have to cook for somebody, but cooking to me is about following your heart rather than a recipe,” he says. “Ultimately, it doesn’t actually matter how it turns out—everybody’s gonna enjoy it because they’re together, spending time with other people.”

Rule #3: Do as little cooking as possible the day-of

And if you do want to flex your culinary muscles and try something more elaborate, look for recipes you can prep ahead of time for minimal work the day-of. “Do steps before they even happen and you feel way less stressed, whether it’s side dishes or the main course,” says Choi. “If you try to do everything last minute, it’s going to be very stressful for your holiday gathering, which is not what you want the experience to be at all.”

Prep a big batch of cocktails the night before, then pour and garnish as needed the day-of.

Rule #4: Quality ingredients can make any dish shine

At Forage, Choi has fostered strong personal relationships with local producers and suppliers—the ever-evolving, seasonally inspired menu celebrates the very best ingredients from the region. He recommends bringing that same ethos into the home kitchen…not just because of its positive community impact (“I know buying local isn’t necessary the cheapest at the moment but if we stop supporting this local community it will never become more accessible”) but also because it just tastes better. A simple recipe plus top-quality ingredients? That’s a recipe for a holiday dinner to remember.

Try out one of Chef Choi’s ready-for-entertaining recipes below, but if you really want to focus on family this holiday season, just call up Forage to take care of dinner for you. Choi and co. can handle feeding your crew so you can stay hands off and all-in.

Recipe: Roasted Pork Rack

Ingredients

1 pork rack
1L hot water
1kg Ice
½ C kosher salt
½ C sugar
4 bay leaves
3Tbsp shallot
3Tbsp onion (diced)
3Tbsp celery (diced)
3Tbsp carrot (diced)
2tsp cracked black peppercorn
2tsp coriander
2tsp fennel seed
2tsp star anise
2 spring of thyme

Directions

To make the brine:

  1. Toast coriander, fennel seed and star anise on dry pan until aromatic
  2. Dissolve salt and sugar in hot water, mix toasted spices, and all ingredients
  3. Steep with cover for 10 minutes
  4. Add ice to cool down liquid
  5. Brine pork rack for 4-6 hours in fridge

To roast pork rack:

  1. Preheat oven to 325F
  2. Take pork rack out from the brine, pad dry with towel
  3. Season whole rack with salt and pepper
  4. Roast rack in roasting pan until internal temperature reached 135F
  5. Rest pork rack for 20 minutes, cover with foil
  6. Serve pork rack with remaining pan jus

Recipe: Spice Box Whisky Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients

1 kg cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1.2 kg sugar
200g fresh orange juice
2 sticks cinnamon
5 zest of orange
100mL lemon juice
100mL spice box whisky
5 bay leaves
1 tsp salt

Directions

  1. Place all ingredients except whisky in large pot. Bring to boil, turn down to simmering for 20 minutes.
  2. Add whisky and bring it back just to boil, then remove from heat.
  3. Cranberry sauce should be hot to be canned. Follow proper canning instructions. The recipe yields about 10 Cups. (The cranberry sauce’s shelf life is about 2 weeks in the fridge. Canning is not necessary if it will be consumed within its shelf life.)

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