Awesome Upscale Chinese Food On Christmas. Thanks, Michael Leviton!

If you're not chowing down on standing rib roast or ham come Christmas Day, one can only hope you're eating Chinese — the other Christmas food. I myself have fond memories of the way-friendlier-than-usual folks at our takeout spot handing over a huge bag of dumplings, lo mein, chicken with broccoli and the like.

Several years ago, Chef Michael Leviton of Newton, Massachusetts' bistro Lumière took the time-honored tradition to a new level, constructing unique and authentic menus for "Chinese Christmas." Something about not having to deal with little cardboard boxes and foil containers really classes that up. I spoke with him to find out what cooking Chinese Christmas for a crowd of people with a good sense of humor entails.

How did you end up developing this beloved tradition into a full-on Chinese menu for your restaurant?

I actually grew up in a conservative observant household. We kept Kosher, so Chinese wasn't a huge part of that repertoire. We'd go out for a little while on Christmas but rarely ended up at Chinese food and a movie. For the longest time we didn't open at Christmas at Lumière, but a lot of people were asking. I didn't want to just do a special Christmas menu, that didn't seem to make sense to me. We wanted to do something that involved different winter holiday traditions. The funny thing is we're also across the street from a movie theater — makes it a lot easier for those inclined.

How long have you done "Chinese Christmas?"

5 years. When I lived in San Francisco, I was exposed to a lot of stuff other than the traditional American/Polynesian Chinese food. I don't like to repeat dishes, so we do different things. We started out with red-braised pork belly, some pork ribs with brown bean and hoisin BBQ sauce, crab wontons. We did a salt and pepper shrimp, we made our own XO sauce (here's the recipe). Rather than getting stuff out of a can or dried, we dried out own scallops and shrimp and made it all ourselves. The depth of flavor is great.

What's the most successful dish that has come out of this?

The brown bean and hoisin ribs were particularly successful. It's a complete umami overload, very addictive. The pork belly also went over well. This year I'm excited, I'm getting some black chickens to do a consommé and we'll do a chow fun dish.

How about the response from your clientele?

It's an interesting mix we get on Christmas Eve. We do get people coming in for Christmasy dishes, another segment likes the latkes and house-smoked fish, then there are people who have their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks and understand what we're doing. It's very reflective of our clientele. We have three cultures in one restaurant every Christmas.

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