They are the tastemakers - celebrity experts in everything from fitness to fashion. They share their dream gifts in their specialist fields with Ciara McDonnell.
Neven Maguire is Ireland’s best-loved chef. To him, Christmas is all about relaxing with family.
“People get very worried about cooking on Christmas Day. I find that when you give people advice about what can be done ahead, they breathe a really huge sigh of relief, because it’s a very stressful day. I do a lot of the preparation in the days leading up to Christmas. We shut the restaurant and the last place I want to be is stuck in the kitchen when I could be enjoying the day with my family.
“I’ll have some of my family up on Christmas Eve and I’ll do a few homemade pizzas, but that’s it and then this year on Christmas Day we’ll have ten, which is a smallish crowd for me. I’ll be organised and it’ll be a relaxed day that should be, as it should be enjoyed with family.
“You can make your ham glaze weeks in advance; I make a delicious one with maple syrup, redcurrant jelly and allspice with some balsamic vinegar. I like to make up extra and give it as a gift to people calling to the house. I cook my ham two or three days ahead of Christmas and I’ll glaze it on Christmas Day. Don’t over-complicate things with starters - think simple and not too filling - nobody wants to be too full to enjoy the Christmas dinner.
“A great side vegetable is braised red cabbage and it will keep in the fridge for up to three weeks in the fridge. I’ll do cabbage, sprouts, roast potatoes and a mash and that will be it this year. I am cooking goose this year from a local producer, and it’s so delicious. Turkey is still so popular and my buttermilk brine is the best one; I get boneless turkey breast and it’s easy to carve. I pre-cook it on Christmas Eve and then I warm it through on Christmas Day.
“The twins will get involved this year peeling potatoes, and that’s all part of the fun for me. I used to do all the prep in the restaurant, but now everything is prepped at home.
“Santa is big this year with Conor and Lucia; I have great memories of Christmas with my family. There are nine in my family, five boys and four girls and Santy came every Christmas morning and he would always spell my name wrong. I got over it, because he was always very generous. My wee Conor and Lucia are seven next February and they are finalising what they want. Conor wants a lobster tank and Lucia is loving the LOL dolls. It’s all about them.
“When it comes to gifts, handmade is always lovely. Chocolate truffles are really easy to make and always appreciated, I find. A really good set of knives or even one good knife is hard to beat, for someone who enjoys cooking. You’ll laugh, but the most popular piece of equipment in our kitchen is our garlic press. It’s by Henkel and it’s the best one I’ve ever found.”
Sonya Lennon spends relaxing with her family, and says that clothes must be comfortable for a day spent with loved ones.
“We do the Bay Area Tour every Christmas day visiting family; we literally go from one end of Dublin bay to the other and it’s important to see everyone and spend time with people that we love. It’s all that matters at the end of the day, and we are all just dying for Christmas to land and spend as much time with family and loved ones as we can.
“We would present in terms of clothes on Christmas Day, there is no doubt about that. I’m not somebody who would necessarily buy something new to wear on Christmas Day, mainly because I’m dressing myself predominantly in Lennon Courtney, which is available to me! There is a sense of ceremony to the day, if only for the fact that you get to rubberstamp this time with the family and spend it together.
“I have no idea what I’ll wear this year. I have always said that I do not believe that comfort and style are mutually exclusive. You should be comfortable, particularly on Christmas Day. Whatever your choice is, it needs to flex with you and how you will be spending the day. My sister and I do all the cooking, so what I wear needs to be comfortable and functional. There is a definitely a point in the day where everyone in our family will need to switch into loungewear, and that’s ok - it’s great, actually.
“I buy Voya products for a huge range of people on a loop, each year. They are absolutely fantastic and smell incredible. I have bought lots of people a Swiss Army Card. They are unbelievable. It’s a little thicker than a credit card and has around eleven different functions from tweezers to toothpicks. You carry them in your wallet and there isn’t a man or woman I have given them to that hasn’t absolutely loved them.
“Our last pre-Christmas drop at Lennon Courtney is kind of a bridge collection to take you through the holidays. There is a dress, which is burnt orange and it is knitted, with a knitted belt. If you want to talk about flexing to your environment, this is so comfortable. It’s a light knit, machine washable so if you spill the gravy on it there won’t be a crisis.”
Francis Brennan knows all about how to make a room look good. He’ll be hosting the guests at The Park Hotel in Kenmare, as he does every year.
“For the last 39 years, I have worked on Christmas Day. The hotel is always full to capacity, and I start the day at about half seven in the morning. We will inevitably have children at reception who need batteries – ALWAYS. I was actually checking our battery stocks today to make sure that we have enough. My advice when it comes to batteries is make sure that you have a range of screwdrivers too, because now all batteries must be screwed into place! Now, that’s my top tip.
“We have a staff Christmas lunch at around 11.30am, between breakfast and lunch for the guests and we take all the staff off the floor for around 40 minutes, so they can enjoy a meal together. The heads of department serve this meal to all the staff; it’s tradition with us. We serve a light lunch to our guests at lunch and then start competitions and games for the guests. This is important both to create a sense of fun, but also so the guests get to know each other. We have afternoon tea at four o’clock and then Santa arrives at 5pm for the children. There is a gala dinner that night followed by music and singing and I finish up at around half twelve. I never notice it’s Christmas Day, because I am too busy to think about it.
“I live on my own and always go home on Christmas Eve night after midnight mass and my tradition is that I always light the candle in the window and I open my presents. Last year I was given the best present from my niece and nephew. They got me a twenty-one day trip along Route 66, which I did in June. I was really excited that night.
“I don’t want anything this year. I have a house full of things and my head spins sometimes. The gift of a trip last year was so brilliant and I was so excited by it because it was something that I wanted to do but never would have booked for myself. I have so many pens - I have three of four unopened Mont Blanc pens. My sister gives me a tin of Chocolate Kimberley every year and I love that - it takes me a whole year to eat the tin.
“A book is always a good idea I think. You can make it personal by getting people a book about where they live – that’s a lovely gift. We are very lucky here in Kenmare with local shops that make pottery and crafts that are native to the area and I really think it’s lovely to shop locally where you can. A nice vase or a bowl is always appreciated. There is lady at Blackwater Bridge here who does woodturning and she does Christmas tree decorations and it’s nice to give someone something that they will take out every year and use it - I think a decoration is a great gift and is all about the spirit of Christmas time.”
Cooking doesn’t come easily to Rick O’Shea, but he knows his place in the kitchen.
“For me, Christmas is about getting everyone together and spending time in the best way. This year, as we have just bought a house we are definitely going to host everyone for dinner. That involves my wife, my kids and my parents, my wife’s parents, me. We are also going to try to get my brother and his wife and their children to come over too, so it’s going to be busy, but we are so excited. We only have a table that fits six people, so I imagine there will be a lot of banging together and sticking things together and trying to find seats, but it will all work out in the end.
“The dinner will be a collaboration of sorts. I am not a great cook, but I pride myself on being really good at taking instruction. So what happens is, my wife is the general who is in charge of the whole day, and I am the foot soldier so I’m the one who peels and cleans and makes sure that everything is exactly the way she wants it. I have no sense of the overview of how it is all supposed to work, but I know that if I take orders as we go along then it will all be fine.
“When I was growing up, there were always people that we visited at certain points of the holiday. As a child, we always visited my Granny first thing on Christmas morning and we’d meet other family members there. From there, we’d go off and visit other family members so that by about 2pm we’d be swinging back around and end up back at home in our house, where we’d have dinner. Now, because of the way our families are set up, I have the kids on Christmas morning every second year, so our day varies to suit where the kids are each year. It’s one of those things that twenty first century families have to get used to and get on with.
“My wife and I meet somewhere in the middle when it comes to gifts. I would be perfectly happy to buy stuff for people in the weeks leading up to Christmas. I like to pick a day and spend the day soaking up the festive vibe in the city centre and when it’s nice and crisp and cold out and there is music playing.
“In terms of gifts, I think that you can’t go wrong with a book token. They are fantastic. After Christmas has come and gone I go into the bookstore of my choice and have the best day spending my tokens and arming myself with the books I want to read in the coming year.”
Jennifer Rock is one of Ireland’s most sought after skin experts and Christmas is her favourite time of year. “Christmas growing up for me was ridiculously magical. I had the most loving parents who went overboard on everything and that’s where traditions really started for me. My son is nearly fifteen but I still carry on as though he is still really small. Instead of going to see Santa, we go out for dinner to Captain Americas, which is a tradition that I have had since I was small, and then we go to a pantomime in Dublin.
“My Mam always makes Christmas cake and pudding and we have to go down to stir the pudding and make a wish. My family all put their Christmas trees up on the same day, and then go to each others houses to admire all the trees. My favourite tradition of all the Christmas tree present. So, the Christmas tree buys us all a present every year! My grandparents started it and what happens is that after dinner, you get a small, funny present from the Christmas tree. I’m always late, so it’s always a watch or an egg timer or something like that.
“We go to my parent’s house for Christmas dinner, and this year will be different because Daddy passed away last year and I am very aware that it will be hard for everyone. We always light a candle for everyone who has passed and say a nice word about them.
“If you have someone who loves skincare, try to go as generic as possible. By that I mean, get products that are a treat but will not hinder the skin at all. If you know the brand, and are feeling confident, then get products that can be returned. A lot of the gift packs on offer are anti aging and I think you need to be careful when choosing your gift, because you don’t want to insult or upset the person that you’re buying for. I will always recommend SPF, even though it’s Christmas. Murad’s SPFs are super lightweight, which is essential for those of us who want to layer makeup over it. Kinvara is an Irish brand, which does gorgeous pre-cleansing oil that will suit everyone, and it comes in a little gift pack, which is nice. Fuschia is an Irish brand that has a beautiful mineral based makeup that’s really easy to blend and benefits the skin.”
Derval O’Rourke says the Christmas must be relaxing, and the key to survival is asking for help.
“My daughter Dafne is really excited about Christmas this year, the only problem is that she thinks that Santa is coming every day. Every time she sees a Santa she thinks that he is coming to deliver her presents that night. It’s going to be a long wait for her!
“Last Christmas we did dinner in our house and we are doing it again this year, because we absolutely love it. I think it’s become a thing where our house has become the new family Christmas venue and it’s perfect. I think our parents are quite happy not to have to do it, because they’ve been cooking and hosting Christmas dinner for years, but it’s still a novelty for us. I don’t do what a lot of people do on Christmas Day, where lots of people take the whole dinner on themselves, I’m the exact opposite. My Christmas dinner is more hosting/project management. I give everybody who is coming a job. This works so well that at one point last year there was nothing I had to do except set the table and I started to worry that I should have cooked something.
“It works so well. Everyone takes ownership of their own part of the dinner, whether it’s a starter or a side or a cheese board or wine. Because everyone is in charge of one part of the dinner, they get really into it and whenever it’s their bit, they’ll introduce their food and explain what it is and where it came from. Last year, one of the brothers was so excited about his starter that he wouldn’t tell us what it was until the day itself and it was fantastic. The day is really low stress, and nobody feels that Irish Mammy martyr thing of taking it all on and then being exhausted.
“Good sports kit can be quite expensive, and what I tend to do is club together with another family member to buy it. With kit, generally paying more means that it’s better quality. I have some kit that is over 12 years old, because it is made from durable fabric that lasts. For women, LuluLemon is super luxurious and looks great. Queen B Athletics is a great Cork brand that does really nice, quality leggings and their customer service is second to none. There’s another Irish company called I Spy. Subscriptions are always welcome in my world, and a subscription to Derval.ie will give you access to fitness plans, recipes, live sessions with me and advice from top health experts for €77 per year.”