Earlier this year Dai Chef landed his dream job when he was appointed as Resident Chef at Bodnant Welsh Food in the Conwy Valley.
A champion of Welsh produce for some 30 years, Dai has vast and varied experience. A native of Aberystwyth, he gained his initial experience in some of the largest hotels in London’s West end and by the age of 21 he was the youngest “chef saucier” at the world famous Carlton Club in St James’s.
For 16 years he was head chef at the Bryn Howel Hotel in Llangollen and while there he cooked for Pavarotti when he came to perform at the International Eisteddfod in 1995.
Most recently Dai was chef director at the Ship Inn at Red Wharf Bay on Anglesey and in 2008 he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship at Glyndwr University in Wrexham.
Dai also founded the Welsh Culinary Team and is now seen as the “Daddy of Welsh Chefs”, having trained the like of Rhodri Williams, the Senior Sous Chef at Raymond Blanc’s legendary Oxfordshire eatery, Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons.
Now as Executive Chef in charge of Bodnant’s kitchens he will be extra busy in the run-up to Christmas, serving up meals for diners in the Hayloft restaurant and overseeing the tearooms, however he still can’t wait to sit down with family to enjoy a festive feast.
According to Dai there’s two vital ingredients needed to make a perfect Christmas, – great produce plus your family and friends, but he’s also got some useful tips to ensure you can serve up a family feast without missing out on the festive fun.
“This is the time of year to treat your family so get a free range turkey, goose or chicken, and buy good quality butter, sausages and bacon and locally grown vegetables. One mistake people make is buying a massive bird, which they may then overcook, and everybody quickly tires of eating. Instead, spend wisely – opt for a good quality bird that’s not too big: a large free-range chicken tastes as good as turkey and you can still get plenty of meals from it.”
If you do decide to go for turkey, then buy a farm reared bird from somewhere local, such as our farm shop or a local butcher. Don’t be tempted to get one that’s too large, as it may not even fit in your oven. If you really do have 20 round the dining table, then serve an additional meat, such as baked ham or roast pork. I like to bake a ham for Christmas, it’s great for cutting for sandwiches, plus it looks fabulous for a buffet. It’s so simple to do, and also gives you some stock to make soups with, which will be simple to re-heat.
A bit of pre-planning will ensure that you’ve got all the ingredients and utensils you need, while the shops are still open! If you’re worried about whether the bird will be cooked, then get yourself a temperature probe so you can check how it’s doing.
A few days before Christmas, take a little time to sit and have a think about your menu, and then write a time plan. It really helps to remind you about the key stages, even simple ones like when the carrots need to go on. It’s something that many professional chefs do – just watch Masterchef and you’ll see them making notes.
Prep quite a bit beforehand – such as making the pigs in blankets and putting in the fridge, or get your stuffing ready, so you can just pop them on to cook. Prepping your vegetables also helps to avoid last minute problems – and gives visitors who want to lend a hand something to do.
Remember to check that the giblets – the liver and heart – are not inside, then add some flavourings inside, such as a lemon, onions and fresh herbs, which will help to keep it moist.
Don’t put stuffing inside that you plan to serve. Instead, make the stuffing into balls to cook quickly alongside, or in a long roll that slices easily, which is great when it comes to sandwiches later.
Make sure you put plenty of good quality butter under the skin on the breast and over the legs, and then top that with some lovely thick bacon.
Once you’ve put the butter under the skin, and covered the breast with bacon, start off cooking it breast side down, first one side then the other. That helps to reduce the cooking time, and gets the legs and other areas cooked through more quickly. Then, stand it back upright for the final part of the roast.
It’s important to take the bird out of the oven in plenty of time, and keep it covered and warm, though not in an oven, so it carries on cooking very gently. That way the meat rests and takes up the moisture, so it is lovely and succulent. It also means you can turn up the oven to do your roast potatoes and parsnips. Plus it gives you time to make the gravy then cook the fresh veg, like peas and sprouts.
“If you get the basics right, then the rest will be easy!”
Click here for Dai Chef’s festive recipes for a Traditional Family Feast.
For more information about Bodnant Welsh Food visit