Chef's Holiday

Chef's Holiday: Five local culinary artists share their beloved seasonal recipes and the stories behind them
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(Left to right) Karen Donatelli, Canolli Cake; Michael Gilligan, Almond-crusted Brie; Anthony Cerrato, Braciole in Ragu; Rachel Miriam, Kugel Noodle; Cleophus Hethington, Grandma Daisy Mae's Sweet Potato Pie.

Karen Donnatelli {Karen Donatelli Cake Designs}

Karen Donatelli started working at a bakery when she was just 15. She’s since gone on to bake for Disney and Wolfgang Puck, and even made a custom cake for Stevie Wonder. After moving to Asheville, she opened Karen Donatelli Cake Designs in 2011, crafting specialty cakes and desserts for celebrations and catered events. “Life should be sweet, although we know that many times it simply isn't,” she says. “Perhaps dessert can make life a little sweeter anyway, and this is what I hope for, that this special creation will bring love and happiness to all that partake in it.” Karen’s cannoli cake is a guaranteed hit to wrap up any holiday dinner. >>GET THE CANNOLI CAKE RECIPE HERE

Michael Gilligan {The Henderson Inn/Harvey’s}

After serving as the culinary director for Royal Caribbean International, Chef Michael Gilligan and his wife Jeanne settled in Hendersonville, where they run The Henderson Inn and its in-house eatery Harvey’s. “This is a throwback from the Old Country,” he says of his recipe. “I’m originally from England, and traditionally we would always have a baked brie as our appetizer before our Christmas meal. It’s so simple! You can bang it out in 20 minutes and let your guests serve themselves.” Gilligan suggests taking advantage of the myriad quality local cheeses available from North Carolina creameries. He also recommends serving with a salad and a vinaigrette, and topping with a cranberry sauce for a complete appetizer course. >>GET THE RECIPE FOR ALMOND-CRUSTED BAKED BRIE WITH A CRANBERRY REDUCTION HERE

Anthony Cerrato {Strada Italiano}

When Anthony Cerrato, owner and chef of Asheville’s Strada Italiano, tells a story, it usually starts with a host of family members gathered either around a table or in the kitchen getting ready for dinner. And nearly all of those tales revolve around some kind of Italian tradition. “This was a pretty traditional dish for us for Christmas Day,” he says of his braciole recipe. “Feast of the Seven fi shes was always served on Christmas Eve, but that was never my favorite,” he add. “I didn’t really like seafood. But then on Christmas Day, my grandmother or my Uncle Johnny would make braciole.” With the substitution of potato fl akes for the more traditional breadcrumbs, Cerrato’s dish is even gluten-free. >>GET THE BRACIOLE IN RAGU WITH GNUDI RECIPE HERE

Rachel Miriam {Jewish Family Services}

Kugel is served as a side dish at just about every Jewish holiday,” notes Asheville-based chef Rachel Miriam. Before her stint at Asheville favorite the Admiral, Miriam worked as a city planner, but the stresses of bureaucracy led her back to her true passion in the kitchen. “I just wanted to work with my hands,” she says. These days, Miriam cooks for Jewish Family Services’ Elder Club and offers her services as a private chef. “This is my Great Aunt Bee’s kugel recipe and it’s been in my family since the Depression era,” she says, noting that her interpretation is a bit different from the original: she’s upgraded from American cheese to a sharp cheddar, added dill, and reduced the sugar to make it a little more refined. >>GET THE SAVORY KUGEL NOODLE RECIPE HERE

Cleophus Hethington {Benne on Eagle}

My grandmother and mother are both great cooks, and one of the things I can always remember my grandmother cooking was sweet potato pie, especially around Thanksgiving time,” says Chef Cleophus Hethington. “When my grandmother passed away, I decided that I would always do a sweet potato pie as a fi nal course.” The Atlanta native and Navy veteran left a career in healthcare to return to his roots in the kitchen, cooking his way around the world. Now he heads up the kitchen at Benne on Eagle in Asheville. He also runs his own spice company, Triangular Traded Spices, which highlights black history and resilience by giving context to the origins of their spices. This recipe uses Cleophus’s Ębí spice blend (available at ttspices.com), a combination of allspice, clove, cinnamon, and dried rose petals, among other ingredients. >>GET GRANDMA DAISY MAE'S SWEET POTATO PIE RECIPE HERE