Day 13: For a Celebrated Chef, the Tastes and Smells of St. Lucia Day in Sweden Linger

I love the holidays, especially through the lens of food as a chef. I came to Sweden from Ethiopia when I was very young, so while my own holiday traditions started with my adoptive mom and older sisters, I have always been fascinated by how people celebrate throughout the world.

Some of my own earliest memories of growing up in Sweden are of the tastes and smells of Dec. 13, St. Lucia Day. The Feast of St. Lucia is widely celebrated throughout Scandinavia in schools, churches and homes. For my family, it was a time to come together over good food.

The meal was always a grand smorgasbord piled high with herring, gravlax and meatballs. Sometimes we had turkey, other times roasted pork. We had the traditional saffron buns studded with raisins or almonds; each person had their preference. But the one thing we could all agree on — kids and adults alike — were the gingersnaps. There had to be gingersnaps at our St. Lucia Day feast.

Growing up in Goteborg, I was always in the kitchen with my grandmother. Cooking with Grandma Helga laid the foundation for my culinary aspirations, and on St. Lucia Day, there was something magical about that time spent together. I can still feel the oven heat and the smell of the spices wash over me, the exciting moment the warm gingersnaps were baked and ready to be devoured.

There’s nothing quite like the chill of Scandinavian winter, which means there’s nothing better than finding warmth during the holiday season. For me, that was — and still is — all the family, a crackling fire, and a hot cup of glogg: red wine infused with star anise, cloves, cinnamon and orange peel.

The holiday season is a busy time for everyone in the kitchen — home cooks and professional chefs alike. For me, this year will be particularly busy because I’m in the midst of opening my new restaurant in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. Hav & Mardraws inspiration in part from my Scandinavian roots, so I’ve been able to return to the amazing food and drink of St. Lucia Day and holiday seasons past. In that spirit, we will have glogg and gingersnaps on the winter menu — so that we can welcome people in from the cold to create memories of their own.

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