Star-Power Holiday Meal

Chef Antony Ballard of North Salem shares some of his celebrity clients’ favorite holiday dishes. (We’re sure Michael Crichton and Chevy Chase won’t mind.) 

Star-Power Holiday Meal


Chef Antony Ballard of North Salem shares some of his celebrity clients’ favorite holiday dishes. (We’re sure Michael Crichton and Chevy Chase won’t mind.) 

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By John Bruno Turiano with Carol Caffin

Photography by Phil Mansfield

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Ever wonder what it would be like to have your own personal chef? Not in the budget this year? Well, we’ve got the next best thing. We asked personal Chef Antony Ballard, who cooks for the rich and famous (see box, opposite page), to share some of his all-star clients’ favorite holiday dishes. Prepare one dish, or try ’em all. Your holiday gala may not be a snap, but it will be a hit.


IT’S NOT EVERY CHEF WHO GETS TO COOK WHILE PAUL McCartney casually strums his guitar nearby. But then, Antony J. Ballard is not every chef. 

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His client list reads like a Who’s Who of celebrity royalty—from best-selling author Michael Crichton, for whom Ballard, a British-born North Salem resident, worked as a personal chef for five years while the writer was living in Bedford (“To have a storyteller of his caliber reel off a 15-minute yarn for you is captivating,” Ballard says); to comic actor and Westchester resident Chevy Chase, who Ballard, a 46-year-old father of two, says was full of compliments and “fun to cook for” (and, no surprise, can tell a really good joke); to McCartney,
for whom Ballard prepared a vegetarian meal at a Los Angeles PETA benefit where the former Beatle’s deceased wife, Linda, was being honored. “I was there with him while he was practicing his guitar. How great is that?”

He has also cooked for Richard Gere, Ringo Starr, the Kennedy family, Christopher Reeve and Keith Richards. 

Part of Ballard’s success has to do with, he says, the fact that he is a master of the fine art of pampering. Sure his clients expect great food (“They are paying me to be a chef”), but they also know that, when they hire Ballard, they are employing someone they can trust, someone who won’t fawn or tell secrets. Unless otherwise requested, he tries to be as unobtrusive and invisible as possible.

At age 19, Ballard began working at the five-star Highcliff Hotel in Dorset, England, where he received a “traditional, rigorous training.” He moved to Los Angeles in 1980 at the age of 22, and left after a year to try to make it in New York.

Without formal training (“Culinary schools can be a waste of time,” he says), Ballard began an 11-year-stint as an executive chef at the Grolier Club, a private club in Manhattan where he hobnobbed with the literati, including authors Tom Wolfe and Stephen King, and made connections to “high society and certain inner circles.” In 1993, Ballard left to become a full-time personal chef.  

Not surprisingly, Ballard does all the food shopping and cooking for his family. “My wife absolutely never cooks,” he says of Sharon, a speech pathologist in the Brewster schools. “She hasn’t cooked in 20 years, though she makes the kids sandwiches for school. God only knows what they look like.”

When dining out, Ballard and his family which includes daughter Christiaan, 14, and son Paxton, 11, enjoy the Taj in Mt. Kisco for Indian food, but they usually eat in.  “I look at the food on the plate and say ‘I can do that myself.’”



[serves 8]


This extravagant French dish is a favorite of Ballard’s client, Chevy Chase.  “But his wife doesn’t like him eating it because it is fattening,” Ballard says. Still Ballard sides with Chevy. “It has a great build-up—the smell while it’s being prepared is unbe-lievable. Plus, in moderation, most any food is fine.”  


For Dressing:

1/2 cup blackberry vinegar

1/2 tsp. cracked black pepper

1/4 tsp. white wine mustard

1/2 tsp. sugar

pinch of salt

1/2 cup olive oil


Whisk together vinegar, pepper, mustard, sugar and salt. Briskly incorporate olive oil, whisking continuously until emulsified.


For Foie Gras:

fresh foie gras (1 1/2 to 2 lbs.)            

   [order from an upscale

   butcher shop]

18 oz. mesclun greens

fresh blackberries (for garnish)


Season foie gras with salt and pepper. In a hot skillet, sear meat for 30 seconds on both sides until golden brown. Place salad greens in center of plate. Drizzle with dressing. Place warm foie gras on top, garnish with fresh berries.



[serves 8]

“Duck’s a good change from turkey,” says Ballard. “After November 29th, who wants turkey again?” 

For Port Wine Reduction Sauce:

3 Tbs. salted butter

1/4 cup minced shallot

2 Tbs. flour

8 fl. oz. port wine

32 fl. oz. beef stock


In a heavy saucepan, melt butter and shallots until shallots become translucent. Add flour and stir. Pour in wine and cook for 10 minutes over a medium flame. Add beef stock. Lower flame and reduce stock by half. When ready to serve, reheat sauce and pour through a sieve.


For Mahogany Duck:

1 whole duck (6 to 7 lbs.)


Preheat oven to 450°F. Place duck in a heavy tray. Season with salt and pepper and place in the center of the oven. Reduce temperature to 350°F. Roast for 2 hours, basting often.




[serves 8]

This is a standard on the Michael Crichton Thanksgiving table. “Michael and his wife would have his brother’s family over plus some friends, about 12 people in all. They love it.”


12 slices fresh bread, cut in 1/2- 

   inch cubes

1/4 cup thyme leaves

3/4 lb. thick-sliced bacon,
   cooked then diced (save
   bacon fat)

2 cups whole canned
   chestnuts, peeled

8 fl. oz. fresh chicken stock


Preheat oven to 350°F. Place bread in a large mixing bowl. Add thyme leaves in a skillet with bacon fat. Sauté whole chestnuts until golden brown, then add to bread mixture. Pour in chicken stock, then mix together. Bake
in a Pyrex baking dish for 15 to 20 minutes.




[serves 8]

Ballard serves this sauce instead of plain cranberry sauce. “It’s a great marriage of sour and sweet and the orange zest gives it a good  bite. Plus the figs add texture and dimension.”


1 cup water

1 cup granulated sugar

24 oz. fresh cranberries

2 oranges

zest of 2 oranges

1 pint fresh figs, quartered


Put water and sugar in a heavy saucepan. Add cranberries and cook until soft. Add the juice of the oranges. Fold in the zest and figs.


[serves 8]

This unconventional dish is a bit more time consuming to prepare but, Ballard insists, it is worth the effort. “The alternating red and white colors of the beets and the cheese create an incredible color scheme,” he says. 


For Sherry Vinaigrette:

1/2  cup sherry

1/4 tsp. sugar

1/4 tsp. white wine mustard

1 Tbs. shallots, minced

1/2 cup olive oil


Combine sherry, sugar, mustard and shallots. While stirring, slowly pour in olive oil to emulsify.


For Roasted Beet and

Goat Cheese Gâteau:

8 large beets

3 cups coarse salt

1 lb. soft goat cheese

1 cup walnut pieces, toasted


Preheat oven to 350°F. Wash and trim beets, leaving about 1-inch of stem. Place 1/2-inch of salt over the surface of a baking sheet with sides. Position beets root-end down in salt. Roast for about 90 minutes or until tender. Remove beets from salt and place in a bowl. Cover with plastic film, set aside and allow to cool. Slip off skins of beets, trim ends and slice each beet crosswise into 1/4-inch discs. Rebuild each beet into its own shape and set aside. Place goat cheese into a star-tip piping bag. Pipe one-at-a-time in between each layer of beet. Return onto a baking sheet to oven, set on 300°F, for
5 minutes before dinner. Drizzle with vinaigrette and serve on favorite platter. Garnish with




[serves 8]

Ballard says this traditional French side dish is “safe.” It “keeps everyone happy—even the kids. Brussels sprouts and walnuts are more creative but not everyone will eat it.” 


2 lbs. haricots verts, trimmed

12 shallots, peeled, trimmed
   and halved

2 Tbs. salted butter

2 Tbs. olive oil


Preheat oven to 350°F. Roast shallots in a shallow oven tray with olive oil for 25 minutes. Boil 8 quarts of salted water. Drop in beans and cook until just before tender. Drain and brush with melted butter. Add roasted shallots.



[serves 8]

“Michael Crichton loves this dessert,” Ballard says.


2 cups milk

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

2 eggs

2 egg yolks

2 Tbs. confectioners’ sugar

16 oz. vanilla cake (pound cake
   can be substituted)

6 oz. strawberry jam

4 fl. oz. medium sherry

10 fl. oz. heavy cream

2 oz. glazed cherries for garnish

3 oz. shaved semi-sweet chocolate


Heat milk until almost boiling, add vanilla bean, then remove from heat and cover for 20 minutes. Beat together eggs, egg yolks and sugar, and add to milk mixture and stir. Cook mixture on medium heat while whisking, until custard thickens. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to cool. Remove vanilla bean. Spread sponge cake with jam. Cut cake into 1-inch pieces. Place in a shallow bowl. Spoon the sherry over and leave for two hours. Add the cold custard. Whip heavy cream until softly stiff. Top custard with half the whipped cream. Pipe the remainder on top. Shave the chocolate and decorate with glazed cherries.



[serves 8]

“Be sure to have your wits about you with this centerpiece dessert,” says Ballard. “Make sure it comes out straight and doesn’t lean.”


For Choux Puffs:

1 cup milk

1/3 stick of butter

1/8 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. granulated sugar

1 cup flour

4 to 5 large eggs


Preheat oven to 450°F. Combine milk, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then quickly remove from stove. Add flour and stir mixture. Return to low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. (The mixture should be stiff.) After 1 1/2 minutes, transfer dough to a bowl. Add one egg at a time, stirring continuously. Dough should be smooth and hold its shape. Butter or spray a baking sheet. Place dough in a pastry bag with a round tip. Pipe small balls, 1 1/2-inch in diameter. Bake for
30 minutes or until it dries out. Cool.


For Caramel:

1 cup granulated sugar

3 Tbs. of water


Mix sugar and water in heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat until amber. Remove from heat. Glaze choux puffs and slowly assemble tower from base up, starting with a circle of desired size (approximately 7 inches). Use excess caramel as cement for dipping each choux puff to complete your tower. Serve with whipped cream or chocolate sauce.


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