Here’s what some of Seattle’s chefs from different cultures eat to celebrate the New Year

On the first morning of every year, my mother cooks ozōni. This soup, consumed only on New Years Day in Japan, has regional variations. But our family’s version was simple: sliced ​​shiitake mushrooms, komatsuna leaves, abuurage (twice fried tofu) and grilled mochi floating in clear broth.

Lightweight yet nutritious, it always felt like the perfect first meal of the year. As I got older, I found it also healing for the stomach ache from a night of drinking. No New Year’s Day is complete without it.

The New Year is an important celebration in many cultures – a time to reflect on a year that has gone well, celebrate, and plan goals for the next. Most cultures have their own versions of ozōni – dishes as important for the holidays as counting seconds until midnight or setting resolutions for the following year.

I asked six Seattle-area chefs from different cultures what they ate on New Years Day. They told me about New Years dishes ranging from devil’s eggs and black-eyed peas to tamales and Turkish tripe soup – and the rich cultural stories behind why they eat these things.

(Note: Many chefs in the Seattle area celebrate the Lunar New Year instead of the Gregorian calendar. But for the purposes of this story, we’ve chosen to focus on those celebrating the upcoming Gregorian New Year. )

Trey Lamont

Lamont is the chef and co-owner of Jerk Shack, a Belltown restaurant with Caribbean-inspired cuisine.

For Trey Lamont, New Years means beans: specifically, black-eyed peas and rice and peas – a Caribbean dish of rice and red beans cooked with coconut milk and spices like cumin, thyme and allspice.

Lamont’s lineage, from his father’s side, leads back to Senegal. This is where his ancestors lived before settling in the Caribbean, being enslaved there and ending up in the southern United States. He says most people in the West African Diaspora eat beans on New Years Day.

“The bean represents new life, doesn’t it? Because it’s a seed, and if you put it in the ground, it germinates and grows, ”says Lamont.

He has fond childhood memories of eating black-eyed peas, originally from West Africa, with his father and grandmother every New Year. Now Lamont serves black-eyed peas with chicken and andouille sausage on Jerk Shack’s New Years Eve menu (he serves rice and peas all year round).

At home on New Year’s Day, he carries on the tradition with his wife and children.

“It does me good to be able to pass something on to the next generation that they will remember for the rest of their lives,” he says.

Lamont also wants his children to stay connected to their West African heritage.

“There aren’t many cultural foods that African Americans (eat) that predate slavery,” he says. “These are things they couldn’t get rid of. ”

Shota nakajima

Nakajima owns Taku, a Capitol Hill restaurant that offers karaage and other Japanese snacks. He was a finalist in season 18 of “Top Chef”.

When Shota Nakajima trained under celebrity chef Yasuhiko Sakamoto in Osaka as a young chef, December was the toughest month of the year. The cooks at the Michelin-starred restaurant were busy making their osechi-ryōri (New Year’s food served in stackable boxes, like an elaborate bento) that sold for $ 1,000 each. The restaurant’s osechi was like a jewelry box, filled with over 100 multi-colored sweet and savory dishes, many of which were extremely painstaking. To make the candied chestnuts, for example, Nakajima had to gently brush each one with a toothbrush to remove the inner skin without breaking the fragile nut and ruining its appearance.

In Japan, you’re not supposed to work on New Years Day. So in the last days of December, chefs and home cooks make osechi – savory and sweet dishes that keep at room temperature – to snack on. at the beginning of the year.

When Nakajima returned to Seattle, he continued to do osechi. His family version has around 40 elements. Most of the dishes have special meanings, often using puns based on their names: kuromame (black beans in syrup) for hard work, tazukuri (candied dried anchovies) for a bountiful harvest, red and white kamaboko fish patties. (Red for ward ward off evil spirits, white for purity.)

On most New Years days, Nakajima drinks sake, eats osechi, and makes mochi in a variety of ways. He toasts the soft dough, brushes it with soy sauce and the crispy nori envelope; he sprinkles it with kinako (roasted soy flour) and the asparagus with black sugar syrup; he puts it in oshiruko (sweet red bean soup), and of course, in ozōni, which in his family, is made with chicken as well as vegetables.

Nakajima’s parents are out of town this year, so he doesn’t cook a full osechi, but without certain foods, New Years is just not New Years.

“There’s no way I won’t eat mochi on New Year’s Day,” says Nakajima.

Mwana Moyo

Mwana is the chef and owner of Moyo Kitchen, which serves dishes from Tanzania, Somalia and Kenya from his stall in Gastronomic Hall of the Spice Bridge in Tukwila.

Mwana Moyo would spend New Years Eve having a big picnic on the beach while growing up in Zanzibar, an archipelago and an autonomous region of Tasmania off the east coast of Africa.

There was usually a lot of fried fish and other seafood, like octopus, squid, and crab, and always a bunch of pilau – rice cooked with broth and some kind of meat, usually beef.

“Growing up, my mother and grandmother would cook (pilau) during the holidays,” says Mwana.

Earlier in the day, she was drinking chai and eating cookies and cakes with her family. And after a night out at the beach, she was watching fireworks.

Once Mwana moved to Seattle, the beach was a bit too cold and the sunset a bit too early for a New Years Eve beach date. But she still cooks the same foods for her. family.

Berk Güldal

Güldal is the chef behind Hamdi, one of the hottest summer pop-ups, which currently serves kebabs, kokoreç sandwiches and other Turkish fare at Fair Isle Brewing in Ballard every Sunday.

Growing up in Istanbul, Berk Güldal started New Years Eve with a big meal for his friends and family. The table was loaded with half a dozen mezzes like ksir (a bulgur salad) and çerkez tavugu (a chicken spread his family only made on holidays), a large salad, and a roast turkey.

The meal started around 7 p.m. and lasted for hours. He ate very slowly.

“Sometimes it even goes until New Years if the conversations are really good,” he says.

After dinner, he drank raki (grape alcohol made from anise) with friends until 4 or 5 a.m., when the festivities ended with a tripe soup that was supposed to relieve the hangover. the following day.

Since Güldal moved to the United States to work at Michelin-starred restaurants like Eleven Madison Park and the SingleThread Farm restaurant, he has spent most New Years Eve working in a kitchen.

Last year, however, he took a break from the pandemic and ate a dry duck with his partner, Katrina Schult. This year he will celebrate with another meal with Schult, accompanied by lots of raki, of course.

Stuart Street

Lane is the chef and co-owner of Spinasse, a gourmet restaurant in Capitol Hill focused on cuisine from the Italian Piedmont region.

Like Güldal, Stuart Lane has spent many New Years in a kitchen. He now finishes working with his collaborators at Spinasse every year.

While working at the Juanita Cafe in Kirkland, Stuart would start work at 9 a.m. on December 31 and go out after 2 a.m.

“Our busiest time of year is between Christmas and New Year’s Eve,” says Lane.

Besides being busy, preparing complex special dishes for the holidays, including many new dishes each year, is stressful.

So Lane is always exhausted on New Years Day. He says he celebrates by “doing as little as possible”.

But Lane still takes the time to make devilish eggs, which he eats every New Years growing up in Edmonds, a family tradition he continues with his 2-year-old daughter. Eggs, he says, represent a new beginning in Italy. (Lane’s mother is half Sicilian.)

At Spinasse this year, he offers a six-course meal rich in symbols. It’ll start, auspiciously, with a free lentil dish. (In Italy, lentils, which look like coins, are believed to attract wealth for the following year.) And one of the choices for the third course is red silk handkerchief pasta with braised guinea fowl. and white truffles. In Italy, wearing red underwear on New Year’s Eve brings good luck.

Even though New Years Eve is busy at upscale Italian restaurants, kitchen staff often find brief moments of celebration. When working in Italy, Lane remembers a chef who would stop cooking – while customers waited for dessert – so staff could toast glasses of prosecco to celebrate the end of the year.

Osbaldo Hernandez

Hernandez is one of the owners of Frelard Tamales, a takeaway tamale shop in the Lac Vert district.

Osbaldo Hernandez celebrates New Years Eve with a tamalada, a tamale-making party. Since he and her husband, Dennis Ramey, opened Frelard Tamales in 2018, most days of his life have felt like a tamalada.

But a New Year’s tamalada is special. When Hernandez was growing up in Jalisco, Mexico, a large group of family and friends gathered in the early morning of December 31 to start the party. Moms and grandmothers made the garnishes. The children mixed the masa. Then they would work together to put them together and wrap the tamales in corn husks while drinking ponche (hot, alcohol-free fruit punch infused with sugar and cinnamon.) Once the tamales were steamed, everything everyone ate them with pozole.

Tamales and pozole aren’t New Years specific dishes per se, but they are both popular holiday foods in the winter.

“Mexicans call the winter season the tamales,” Hernandez says. Pozole has been a festive dish in Mexico since the days of the Aztecs, for whom corn was a sacred plant.

Hernandez is hosting the New Year’s Eve tamalada this year. He will be bringing back tamales from his restaurant. But when Frelard Tamales closes at 2 p.m. on New Years Eve and the main cooks (his parents) come home, they show up to reheat the steaming ponche and pozole on the stove.

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