From special meals with family and friends to creative stockings filled with delicious treats, food takes center stage during the holidays for many of us. Whether you’re gathering around the table with the entire extended family for a feast on Christmas Eve or noshing on cookies and eggnog on Christmas morning, it’s all about fine food served amid enchanting holiday decor.
If you think you pull out all the stops for holiday meals, just imagine what it’s like at the home of a talented chef! Fortunately, we got a taste of the good life when we
invited three local chefs to gather for a pre-holiday celebratory potluck Christmas dinner. Chef Taylor Wilson of The Gafford (and the upcoming Palm City Social), Chef Jason Stocks of District Table & Bar and Colab Kitchen, and Chef Paolo Ferretti of Chef’s Table each prepared some of their favorite holiday dishes to share with one another and a few special guests. Supplying the liquid fun, mixologist George Olsen of Libations Mobile Catering Company created unique holiday drinks to mix and match with the food and mood.
To host the dinner, the chefs turned to event planner Heather McAdams of Anything Eventful, who, along with business partner Missy Moxley (Chef Wilson’s mother-in-law), decorated her Palm City home to the nines for the occasion. Inside, the spirit of the season dazzled throughout every room, from the formal dining area to the whimsical kids’ table to the festively busy kitchen bursting with aromas evoking memories of Christmases past.
Running the kitchen of a restaurant leaves little personal time during the holidays, so the chefs were more than happy to experience a few hours of relaxed joy. “I have to work really long hours during the season, including on Christmas Eve, so it’s nice for us all to get together with our favorite holiday dishes before things get too crazy,” says Wilson, who was accompanied by his wife (also named Taylor) and their daughter, 2-year-old Maebelle, adorably attired in a Janie and Jack Christmas frock.
Wilson comes from a large family, and these days he loves celebrating with his own growing family at Christmastime with many favorite dishes from both his and his wife’s childhoods. “We grew up with traditional turkey, ham, prime rib, and lots of great pies and cookies,” says the chef, who was born and raised in the Dallas area before moving to Martin County 10 years ago to open The Gafford. “Our Christmases were always grand and over-the-top with way too much food!”
For the evening’s potluck, Wilson prepared herb-crusted prime rib au jus and an assortment of freshly baked breads. He also brought a scrumptious banana pudding in honor of his wife’s memories of the special desserts her family enjoyed during the holidays.
For his part, Chef Stocks paid homage to both sets of grandparents with his side selections of double bacon brussels sprouts with pickled mustard seeds and a potato pavé. “I was born and raised in Stuart, and I have such fond memories of my grandparents,” he says. “One set is from Germany, and the other is from southern Kentucky, and I like to continue preparing the dishes they made for us while adding my own touches.”
For example, his German grandparents might have prepared a traditional European beef on Christmas Eve, while his Kentucky grands cooked a more relaxed Christmas Day meal of ham and collard greens. Chef Stocks likes to raise the bar on those food memories. “With the brussels sprouts on the German side, I elevated the recipe by adding double bacon,” he says. “And from what I remember about my family’s scalloped potatoes, I created a more refined version, a potato pavé, for a great side dish.”
Before he was owner of District Table & Bar, Stocks was accustomed to working on Christmas Day. Now that he can make his own rules, he prefers to let his employees enjoy the holiday away from the job. “I like to give my staff Christmas Day off,” he says. “It’s nice for all of us to get to be with our families.”
Chef Ferretti, who came to Chef’s Table three and a half years ago from Senigallia, Italy, a port town on Italy’s Adriatic Coast, spent 25 years in the kitchens of Michelin-star restaurants after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America. For this special dinner, he prepared a charcuterie board filled with imported Italian meats and cheeses, tortellini en brodo (a traditional Italian Christmas soup), and a tasty Italian rotolo con Nutella for dessert.
“I loved the Italian tortellini soup at Christmastime when I was a boy, so I knew I wanted to prepare it for this event,” Ferretti says of the dish that is typically made with a flavorful capon broth and offered on Christmas menus in Italy. “What I enjoyed most about the holiday as a boy was the gift giving, all of the family fun, and of course the food.”
To help bring the “merry” to its fullest potential, mixologist George Olsen created a few quintessential Christmas cocktails. “I design drinks based on the colors of the event and the food being served,” says Olsen. “I just look around and gather my ideas.”
For this fete, Olsen came up with three signature drinks: a Hibiscus Mimosa, made with elderflower hibiscus syrup, hibiscus blossom, and Champagne; an Allspice Rum Old-Fashioned, using Allspice Dram liqueur, 21-year-old Eldorado rum, orange bitters, and rosemary skewered blackberry garnish; and a simple bourbon poured with the very fine 10-year Old Rip Van Winkle Kentucky bourbon.
Everyone mingled over cocktails as the chefs put the finishing touches on the dishes they had prepared for the night’s festivities. The evening was a special treat to be sure, each having the opportunity to indulge in one another’s delicious creations, and one that likely won’t come again during the busy holiday season. It’s back to their respective kitchens after this, where they will cook up tasty dishes for the rest of us. But tonight, they toast and take some time to celebrate the holidays together.
Deck the Halls!
The home’s stunning holiday decor was pulled together by two longtime friends who recently partnered in a new design biz
For years, both Heather McAdams and Missy Moxley have loved to decorate their individual homes and often would talk about their shared love of design. Last year, they finally got down to business and joined forces to launch the Treasure Coast event planning company Anything Eventful.
“We have been friends for years and always wanted to start an event company together,” says Moxley, who handles the business side of things. “Heather is creative and design-oriented, so she is in charge of most of the decor at our events. We both have a passion for event planning and especially holiday entertaining.”
When McAdams agreed to host this chefs’ holiday gathering in her Palm City home, she and Moxley wasted no time getting the house in holiday-ready condition. In fact, the duo started decorating for the event back in July. “Heather and I both love Christmas, and she is so talented at decorating, so we were excited to loan her house for the holiday dinner that my son-in-law [Taylor Wilson] and the other chefs were cooking up,” says Moxley. “It was such fun to decorate, and we went all out!”
McAdams and Moxley transformed the home into a winter wonderland, beginning with a pink and silver wreath welcoming guests at the door. Once inside the home, guests were greeted with both an adult Christmas tree and a smaller children’s tree in the dining area. The white-trimmed adult tree by the dining table was filled with white magnolias, giving off a sweet, soft vibe. The mini white children’s tree (put up for Chef Wilson’s daughter, Maebelle) across the room was adorned with soft lighting, glittery ribbon, and animal and bell ornaments. Vintage toys and beautifully wrapped gifts completed the vignette.
In the living room, amid cabinet displays of lighted miniature trees and collectibles, walls filled with Santa art, and side tables piled with Christmas books, stood a tall family tree. The branches were strewn with personal family ornaments collected over the years. “Heather even popped presents throughout the branches as an unexpected surprise,” Moxley points out. “She finished it with cute polar bears perched atop a burlap tree skirt.”
Across the room were two more holiday trees, each symbolic in its own way. A tall, white tree twinkling with lights was decorated with lollipops and colorful doughnut and ice cream cone ornaments honoring McAdams’ fond memories of trips to the ice cream parlor with her uncle. Next to it, a small gumdrop tree was created in honor of McAdams’ “sweets-loving” daughter.
In a nook of the kitchen, McAdams designed a unique pink tree highlighted with blue and gold ornaments, gold magnolias, and royal blue and white ribbon. “I crowned this one with tiaras,” she says. Another nook is filled with angels and Christmas china.
When it came time to enjoy dinner, guests gathered around a lovely holiday tablescape. Gold and white geometric porcelain plates sat atop sea sponge–colored chargers, with matte gold flatware, gold-rimmed crystal goblets, and sparkly rhinestone napkin holders. A garland swag centerpiece picked up the beautiful pinks and whites in the surrounding wreaths and trees.
With the finest food and cocktails and a gorgeous ambience, nothing was spared to make this holiday party a night to remember. “Decorating the house was a labor of love for us,” says Moxley. “We would do anything for our kids, and we wanted to make this Christmas scene really special.”
When it came to be seated for dinner, guests gathered around a lovely holiday tablescape. Gold and white geometric porcelain plates sat atop sea sponge–colored chargers. Other appointments included matte gold flatware, gold-rimmed crystal goblets, and sparkly rhinestone napkin holders. A garland swag centerpiece picked up the beautiful pinks and whites in the surrounding wreaths and Christmas trees.
With the finest food and cocktails, and a gorgeous ambience created with personal touches, nothing was spared to make this Christmas party a night to remember. “Decorating the house was a labor of love for us,” Moxley says. “We would do anything for our kids, and we wanted to make this Christmas scene really special.”