The Christmas or “Chrissy” season Down Under is never the iconic “White Christmas” from the carols and holiday movies. December 25th is the same date around the world, but it’s smack in the middle of summer in Australia! We found a bloke with a similar challenge Chef Thomas Horner, Executive Chef of the JW Marriott Palm Desert Resort as he gears up for the holiday rush. If you see Santa at his hotel, he’s probably wearing shades and a Hawaiian shirt.
What does the holiday party season look like at the JW Palm Desert?
It’s a challenge, because in December in Palm Desert, it doesn’t look anything like Christmas. Still, most people that come to us for the holidays are looking to escape winter weather, so we don’t try to fake it. No matter the weather though, people still want the traditional holiday foods. We do a ton of all-day brunch buffets, and carving stations are always a hit. People actually plan six months out at our property; our marketing team does what we call “Christmas in July” to look at what we can improve upon from the prior year, and come up with new ideas.
How do you get in the “Chrissy” spirit six months out?
Believe it or not, I actually love looking at the Aussie magazine Donna Hay; it’s on my desk right now. Because it’s based in Australia, our summer is their winter, so the pictures and food are all in that winter mode. It also features a lot of lighter, fresher items, which is totally on point for Southern California.
What are some of the new ideas with lamb you’ve been working with?
We’ve been playing a lot lately with unique crusts, char rubs, using cane sugar, honey crystals, even date crystals. The sugars form this hard crust that helps seal in the juices, and the caramelization is fantastic. Dates from the Coachella Valley are some of the finest in the world, and also where most of the dates in the US are grown, and we always love to take advantage of a celebrated local produce item. At a wine dinner recently we did a sage and date crystal rub - with a little chili for kick - on an Aussie lamb loin. We grilled it and finished in the oven…so good!
What is it about lamb that makes it so popular during the holidays?
During the holidays at the property, carving stations are a key driver, no question. For big-time buffets, we’ll do 1400 covers for Thanksgiving and Christmas, all-day brunch. Everyone wants to see those big hunks of roasted meat; lamb legs, racks, and the like. The visual and the aromas bring people in, and help make it feel like the holidays. When you’re sitting outside dining in Palm Desert and it’s 75 degrees and sunny on Christmas, setting the ambiance with the food is important!