He masterfully held his nerve in the Masterchef kitchen and these days travels the globe representing the country's food and drink industry in his role as Scotland's first National Chef.

And yet, Gary Maclean says that even the most seasoned professionals can crack under the pressure of Christmas Day cooking.

Ahead of the launch of his new cookbook, Scottish Celebrations: Treasured traditions and contemporary recipes from Scotland, Maclean shares his top tips for making the most of hosting on the big day.


The Herald: Photos by Colin Mearns

My thoughts on home entertaining have changed over the years. I once felt it was all about the food, showcasing skills and providing restaurant-style quality meals which is almost impossible at home.

Now, it’s all about the people.

So here are my tips on how to survive, and enjoy, big food occasions like Christmas:

1. Plan, plan, and plan again. I know it’s boring but it’s vital. Plan what you are going to serve, when you are going to prepare it and how you are going to deliver it.

2. Do not serve food on individual plates. Instead, serve it on platters, on large plates or in bowls that can be placed on the dining table. This style is called ‘family service’ and saves a lot of stress, with no one obliged to eat a plate full you have given them and kids able to take as much or little as they like.

3. Cook for your actual guests and style accordingly, by which I mean, think about the age group, personalities, and occasion. Ask yourself what you would expect if you were going to attend this event, and plan accordingly.

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4. Think about the equipment that you have in the kitchen and take this into account when designing your menu. Try and have a good mix of food coming from every part of the kitchen – some things in the oven, some done in the pressure cooker (if you have one) and some from the stove. Also, ensure you have cold food on your menu to make use of that vital piece of kit – the fridge.

5. Recruit some assistants, even if you are a kitchen maverick who always cooks alone. Having help with sorting the table, setting cutlery and preparing glasses, can be a real time saver.

6. Work within your capabilities and don’t be over-ambitious. Don’t create a whole dinner entirely with new recipes. It’s better to have a couple of dishes that you know inside out as this will give you the headspace and time to think about trying something different. It also means there will be at least one thing that you know is edible if the new stuff doesn’t work out.

The Herald: READ MORE: Chef Gary Maclean on Scottish celebrations and festive family traditions

7. Minimum work and maximum impact. Think of what you can buy that requires little effort but will have a bit of wow factor. For example, there are big flavours in smoked products like salmon, duck breast or chicken that require little work to make your own. Cured meats, pickled vegetables and olives also make for an impactful intermediate course.

8. Practise if you can, especially if you are going to try something different. Chefs always do the same with dishes long before attempting to serve them to the public.

9. Taste, taste and taste again. This is a vital part of cooking. For most chefs, it’s pure instinct, but when you’re learning you need to really focus on remembering each and every time. Seasoning is the same. The more you do it the more instinctive it becomes. However always remember the golden rule of tasting: never ever double dip.

10. Chill out, relax and enjoy the company. This is my most important tip, which is why I have saved it until last. Remember, it's just a plate of food. The worst that can happen is that you have to phone in a different one!

Gary Maclean’s Scottish Celebrations: Treasured traditions and contemporary recipes from Scotland will be published on Thursday, November 9 and priced at £26.00 (Hardback, Black & White Publishing Ltd. part of Bonnier Books UK)