Chef and family man George Mahaffey plays Father Christmas at a holiday feast in the Rockies.


"I CAN'T THINK OF A BETTER PLACE TO CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS THAN ASPEN," says chef George Mahaffey. "It's winter the way it should be." Mahaffey, until recently the chef at The Little Nell Hotel, has a broader base of comparison than most, having lived in a number of places, including New Jersey, Virginia, the hills of Pennsylvania, an island off the coast of Georgia and the city of Los Angeles, before he and a growing number of Mahaffeys finally arrived in Aspen.

For as Mahaffey was moving about, winning accolades and adding restaurants to his résumé, he was also adding members to his family. By the time he and his wife, Jamie, settled in Aspen five years ago, Mahaffey had acquired not only an acclaimed cooking style, but also a family of five (born in three different states). Of the former Mahaffey says, "I guess you'd call it an innovative take on traditional American cuisine," and of the latter he declares, "I told my wife we can't move again. This family can't get any bigger."

In fact, Mahaffey is presently in the midst of negotiating for a restaurant space in downtown Aspen, one that he hopes will ensure that he need never think about leaving town. "The restaurant should open sometime early next year. It's not yet certain," he says.

One thing that is certain, however, is that this Christmas Day the chef is at home cooking the holiday meal. As Mahaffey explains, "Although we've always had dinner together on Christmas Eve, on Christmas Day I've usually had to work. This year we're having a big Christmas together while the restaurant is in the works."

The festive center of the feast is a rack of pork. "Having grown up in Virginia, I find it hard to imagine a Christmas dinner without pork," Mahaffey says. This year he put ham in the soup and served a roasted pork rack "not just because I like the flavor, but also because I like the way it looks, especially accompanied by the pears and onions."

Mahaffey says other traditional holiday offerings include "some sort of smoked food"--in this case, salmon with a spicy molasses glaze--and the special eggnog that he made every year for the staff at The Little Nell. Mahaffey notes that it may have been the addition of three different kinds of liquor that helped his concoction to disappear faster than your average Christmas eggnog.

But perhaps the most interesting disappearance of all during the family's holiday dinners is that of the food from his children's plates. "My children are pretty sophisticated eaters," he says. "They eat just about everything I make."

What better Christmas present could any chef ask for?