Christmas lunch: Seven colours that went to private school

Chef Marcus Modimokwane.
Chef Marcus Modimokwane.
Image: Sibonelo Ngubane

Christmas lunch is a family affair at chef Marcus Modimokwane’s home. Everybody pitches in and, as in most families, there are some dishes that always make it to the table. For the Modimokwanes, beef stew is a staple on the menu, but his personal favourite is stuffed fish.

“I love fish, so I’ll make maybe two or three whole fish for the family — it’s easy to make and everybody loves it,” says Modimokwane, who stuffs the fish with lemon, garlic, and fresh parsley.

The 32-year-old Capsicum Culinary Studio graduate hasn’t been in the culinary industry for long, but he has emerged as the most visible young male chef of 2021. Modimokwane previously worked in the media industry, handling huge client accounts, which meant he had to be on the ball at all times. This stint has served him well, as he has been able to leverage this experience to further his culinary ambitions.

We are discussing his career highlights over a sumptuous Christmas lunch spread that Modimokwane has prepared. The aforementioned fish is superb, and the table is also loaded with succulent duck, pasta salad, juicy pork belly, caramel cake, and a refreshing berry sorbet.

“Prep is always good, and by prep, I’m talking about making your oxtail, stew, and curry a day before. This helps to lock in and absorb the delicious flavours,” he says, talking about ways to make Christmas lunch less strenuous and more enjoyable. “Try to prepare anything you are going to stew in advance — cook it, Ziploc it, and freeze it. It will still absorb the flavours and it will still be delicious on Christmas Day, just ensure you take it out in time.” 

Modimokwane is a champion of vegetables at the Christmas table and lists various options, from boiling to grilling your veggies. Visually, he says, the greens will pair well with the warm reds and browns of the stewed dishes on the table.

Image: Veli Nhlapo

In addition, he says, cake is a fool-proof dessert that caters to everyone and saves time. “It’s easy and straightforward and you don’t have to make individual desserts.”

Whole Trout Stuffed with Lemon Butter 


  • 1 whole rainbow trout
  • Olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 lemon, sliced


  1. Preheat oven to 150°C. Rinse fish, make sure all the scales have been removed, and pat it dry.
  2. Grease some foil, place it on a baking sheet, and put the fish on the foil.
  3. Inside the body cavity: drizzle with olive oil, spread garlic over the flesh, season with salt, as desired, sprinkle the parsley, and line with the lemon slices.
  4. Close the body of the fish, drizzle it lightly with olive oil, and season skin with salt.
  5. Roast on the baking sheet for about 25 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven and squeeze the juice from the cooked lemon over the fish before serving.
You don’t want a completely revamped menu, just a tweak to some of the Christmas faves we all know and love? Fear not, as Modimokwane has tips on how to add some panache 

Chicken: For a beautiful roast chicken, make sure you season it the night before and put it in the fridge. If you want to keep it moist, you can brine it — put it in a mixture of lukewarm water, salt, bay leaves, herbs, and a bit of cooking oil. Leave the chicken in the mixture for five hours before you season or marinate it, and then put it in the oven. 

Another idea is to take dry herbs, basic barbeque spice, or garlic (powdered, dry, or fresh) and mix this with butter or margarine. You can stuff this mixture underneath the skin of the chicken for a golden-brown roast chicken with all-round flavour. Don’t forget to add salt and pepper to season your mixture.  

He also advises against deep-frying chicken (or anything else), as food loses flavour this way. But if you can’t help yourself, Modimokwane says, “Once you are done deep-frying the chicken, put it in the oven on a low heat to ensure that it’s cooked inside, because sometimes you deep-fry chicken and it’s nice and crispy on the outside but not cooked inside.”

Beetroot: Beetroot goes beautifully with feta cheese, so mix beetroot, feta, and pumpkin (roasted or steamed) for a beautiful salad. Drizzle it with honey or a little bit of chutney.

Potato salad: Fresh herbs are the way to go for this dish — herbs such as parsley and dill will elevate it and make it look pretty. 

Coleslaw: Put down the raisins! Updating this dish shouldn’t be a hassle — simply opt for Asian coleslaw, which is a lighter, less fatty option. If you don’t have soy sauce, dress it with a mixture of honey, balsamic vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper. You can also use apple cider vinegar as a dressing.

Chakalaka: Don’t mess with a good thing. Chakalaka is already a medley of many things, so let it go.

Pumpkin: Roast it and let the flavours speak for themselves. 

Bean salad: Are beans in mayonnaise a salad? Modimokwane has this to say: “I think that’s one ‘salad’ we need to accept is not a salad. It’s not happening.”

Image: Veli Nhlapo

Basil Pesto Pasta Salad


  • 500g ribbon pasta
  • 2 tbs basil pesto
  • 1 packet of cherry tomatoes
  • feta cheese
  • A handful of pitted olives (optional)
  • salt and pepper


  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.
  2. Cook the pasta until al dente.
  3. To assemble the salad, pour all of the pesto over the pasta and toss until the pasta is lightly and evenly coated.
  4. Then add the cherry tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese, and olives.
  5. Toss again to combine, and season to taste with salt and pepper.