Go big, go bling: how three top chefs set their tables at Christmas
Kevin Dundon, Maria Raftery and Rory O’Connell on how less is definitely not more
Maria Raftery’s Christmas table: ‘I always go all out with a bit of glamour and sparkles’
When it comes to setting the table for the annual festive feast, a little effort is required and so the candles will be lit, the centrepiece beautifully arranged and the “best” glassware and crockery shimmering in anticipation of the delicious dishes and drinks to adorn them.
But what do the experts think about dressing their Christmas table? Do they go all out with a festive fanfare or keep things to a subtle minimum with just a couple of simple nods in the direction of the season?
We spoke to three chefs to find out how they set their table on the Big Day and the general consensus seems to be that less is definitely not more over the Christmas period.
Kevin Dundon of Dunbrody House, Co Wexford
Dundon says that while space is tight around the dinner table on Christmas Day, elaborate decoration is a must.
“Our Christmas table is ultra-traditional and is all about family and the generations before. It was my great grandparents’ beautiful mahogany table and chairs, so definitely not for the everyday, and we always set it a couple of days beforehand.
“It is laid with our family antique silverware and will usually feature our wedding china along with Newbridge silver, Waterford Crystal and Catherine’s favourite – lots of candles. Our sitting room really lends itself to Christmas, so all the candle light does look amazing. We also got a lovely present of a set of place names years ago which the kids fill in and decorate and we love taking these out every year too as it all adds to the occasion of Christmases past and present.
“We use the sideboard inherited from Catherine’s Mum and Dad as a buffet table so everyone can just help themselves. And as I love my Christmas dinner it’s the turkey and ham and every trimming you can think of, so plenty of space is a must. It’s the only time of the year that we go all out at home so every detail helps make it very special. Just add crackers and wine and I’m a very happy Christmas chef.”
Maria Raftery, head chef at Butcher, the Butterslip, Kilkenny city
Raftery says having a specific colour theme is important and this year she has decided to go for an ultra-modern look.
“I always colour co-ordinate and this year I’ve chosen blue and silver for my main colours. I think it’s important to do a nice table setting as it is the first thing your guests will see, so if they see you have made an effort setting the table they will know the food is going to be equally amazing. Also, you are going to be at the table for a long time on Christmas Day so it’s a good way to make the most of it.
I always go all out with a bit of glamour and sparkles
“The look I have chosen is a contemporary one but I always start with crisp white linen and napkins which I put into a Christmas tree shape. The table must be special and fun so I always go all out with a bit of glamour and sparkles.
“This year I am going to have a statement centrepiece, made by Lamber de Bie florists here in Kilkenny and add a silver tree and stars from Meubles also here in the town. I have cutlery from my restaurant which has a little sparkle on them while the place mats and baubles are from Next. And I will have the star-shaped Christmas crackers from Marks & Spencer along with a selection of glitter candles – so it will be a very festive look.”
Rory O’Connell of Ballymaloe Cookery School, Co Cork
O’Connell says his Christmas table is laden with memories.
“My table will be dressed with all of my favourite things that I associate with Christmas. I use my Irish Georgian Society table mats, green glass wine glasses and ruby glass water glasses. My cutlery is old with bone-handle knives and my napkins are linen and properly starched for the occasion. Each guest has their own little silver salt cruet with coarse sea salt, and butter is served with butter knives in little green tagines I picked up in Morocco.
“There are lots of candles, generally proper church ones as I like the traditional colour and all in a variety of candle sticks – some precious, some not so precious but still loved. The plates and serving dishes are inherited from my mother and I just adore them. They are quite colourful Mason ware and huge emotional significance is tied up in them.
“There will also be flowers, sometimes just fine nude branches, berried holly, ivy and if possible some winter flowers. The overall effect should be that of celebration but not of ostentation – a table full of sparkle and shimmer and precious memories.
“I don’t focus on a centrepiece as such, as really so many of the elements of the decoration of the table are the same from one year to the next; I might add a few bright red pomegranates and leaf clementine’s to the mix and I love that so much of my table is recycled items – the cutlery, silver, some of the linen and ware are second-hand at least – these items seem like old friends.
“I would encourage people to use the things that are precious – the notion of creating a new theme for your table every year strikes me as wasteful and unnecessary – and spending loads of money on crackers also seems a bit crackers to me but really people have different priorities and if the crackers are a significant part of the day, then pushing out the boat seems perfectly reasonable. I like the really cheap ones though with terrible jokes and hats which sit on your head to the Kildare side.
“I do think it is important to create a lovely table as a mark of respect to my guests and also as a note of thanks that one has made it through another year. These days of family and friends celebrating are rare enough in life and they are worthy of a beautiful setting.”