The holiday season tends to be more stressful than relaxing. With parties, shopping and so much cooking, it can be hard to take the time to enjoy it. For Ricardo Larrivée, the holidays are all about bringing the family together to make memories — and food is a perfect way to do that.

We caught up with one of our favourite Quebec chefs to get his best tips for preparing a stress-free meal and how to make lasting memories this year.

Ricardo Larrivée

1. Experiment with your menu but keep your traditions. The holidays may seem like the perfect time to try new recipes, as guests may remember the ones you bring out year-after-year. Ricardo keeps 70 percent of his menu the same every year but gets creative with the little things. “I’ll add a different salad, a new twist to dessert, maybe a new sauce for my turkey — but they know they will have their mashed potatoes.” Ricardo always serves a Bûche de Noël but plays with the flavours each year, maybe caramel or cherry the next.

2. Focus on one dish at a time. Having too much on the go at once is where kitchen nightmares are born. Give one task your full attention. Ricardo makes his sides, stuffing and salads in advance so the most important dish, the turkey, has all his attention on Christmas Day.

3. Make the most challenging recipes before the main event. Never made pumpkin pie or homemade rolls before? Take the pressure off by making them a day or two ahead of your meal. Then you won’t be stressed if they are less-than perfect.

4. Borrow what you need. Need a few more plates? Ask friends, family or neighbours if they have extra dishes, cutlery and chairs to borrow for the big day. You never know who might have an extra slow cooker they aren’t using.

5. Use your thermometer! The easiest way to prevent an overcooked — or worse — an undercooked turkey, is to use a thermometer. Be sure to take a reading from multiple spots and adjust the roasting time if necessary. 

6. Let your guests help. If a guest wants to help you in the kitchen, let them! When guests volunteer, have a list of tasks they can help with. Simple tasks like preparing salads or assembling appetizers are easy and a huge help.

7. Serve your dinner buffet style. Keeping serving dishes in the kitchen means you’ll have more room at the table.

8. Highlight what you did right. Your guests don’t know how your recipe was supposed to turn out, so don’t point out mistakes. Guest are often excited and so engaged in conversation, they won’t even notice the lumps in your gravy. “The food is there for one thing, to bring people together,” Ricardo says. Just take the compliments.

9. Give guests a reason to stay at the table. After dinner, it’s easy for everyone, especially kids, to run off and check out their presents. Ricardo likes to prepare miniature gingerbread houses for the kids to decorate at the table after dinner. This way kids and adults can spend time together and pass down stories from one generation to another.

10. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Your friends and family are coming over to spend time with you, not to judge you. Even if you do burn the turkey, you’ve just created a funny story to tell next year!