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In business and life having a plan makes all the difference

06 December 2013

Traditional fare associated with the Christmas New Year period can be simple and light without sacrificing those feelings of comfort and nostalgia we crave. Get the Best Festive Eating here...

67_Union Dining _Nicky _14x 21cm NR Flowers1

Union Dining co-owner and chef Nicky Riemer (above) shares some time saving, flavoursome tips for holiday eating (see recipes below). She also confesses to her growing Instagram following - under the humorous hashtag ‘chefflora’ - for her flower arrangements (above right).

“The first thing I think about when it comes to summer holidays is a little preparation goes a long way,” says chef Nicky Riemer, having just finished Friday lunch service at her restaurant, Union Dining in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond.

With her mother and sister, Nicky shares a beach house Christmas tradition and has already begun to think about the menu for their beach holiday. Her choices will involve variations on some of the usual suspects: pig, fowl, salads, and, as we chat, she remarks that her way of approaching Christmas reminds her very much of the way Union Dining approaches its very popular Sunday lunches.

“Diners share entrees. They’re usually salad-like in style and then there is the hero main dish and a dessert. The restaurant’s signature is its decision to feature wherever we can what the state of Victoria can bring to the table. In that sense our inspiration is provincial, tracing what we use back to the fresh produce of the state,” says Nicky, returning to our original Christmas topic.

“We all lack time and want to be as stress free as possible at Christmas time, and that means having a plan: thinking about what to do a couple of weeks out, the week before. A plan means I don’t have to do too much on the day and I have time to consider my options,” Nicky explains, savouring the idea of being barefoot with a glass of cold Riesling in her hand, cooking, but not chained to the sink.

A couple of tasty, easily prepared, and refridgeratable salad dressings spring to mind, as well as a couple of marinades (see Nicky’s Spiced Hoisin, chilli, honey marinade, below) and they can be pre-prepared ready for use.

“As a family of ‘ladies’ we like things simple with big flavours,” says Nicky humorously, and that’s why the beach house must have a great BBQ.

As her nod to tradition she’ll also glaze (see recipe below) and bake a ham in the morning.

Order the ham early in December and get smoked as it has more flavour, recommends Nicky, who also points out there’s no need to be intimidated by size, a two kilogram joint would be perfect for a small family.

“I like grains, quinoa, nuts, the fresh salad ingredients available around summer,” she says, recommending an Agrodolce style dressing (see below) for its versatility.

“I use it to dress cooked lamb, tuna salad and broad beans, or on anchovies.”

Nicky has been cooking now for 20 years and says the moment she began her apprenticeship she never looked back.

“I began chemical engineering after school but I just couldn’t see myself in 20 years, not even 10, in the job. I never felt excited by the prospect – it was portrayed as either sitting in a lab or out on a mine or in the middle of nowhere doing research.

“To earn money I had jobs in bars in the hotel industry and was fascinated watching the kitchen work. I began to teach myself to cook. It was my father who said, tongue in cheek, well, why don’t you be a chef then?”

Off went Nicky, finishing her apprenticeship with Stephanie Alexander where she learned her love of light, simple cooking that lets the fresh seasonal produce shine through: it has to be “picked well, washed well and dressed well” was the motto.

“What I’ve noticed,” says Nicky, “is how much more delicate we are in our seasoning. Some chefs I know don’t have pepper in their kitchens and it is amazing what a little white wine vinegar can do to a dish.

“Our artichoke and potato mash gets lots of comments. We season it with vinegar. It highlights the flavour of the artichoke. People really get the subtleties. Palates are so much more educated.”

In a surprise twist, Nicky’s also established a loyal following among floral enthusiasts.

Using the hashtag ‘chefflora’, she began by posting on Instagram shots of flowers at the markets.

“I’m down at the markets early to look at the produce and the flower markets always catch my eye. I decided I’d do the flowers for the restaurant which is every Tuesday and Thursday. When I didn’t post, people would message me asking, your flowers weren’t up on Tuesday, what’s going on? I’m a chef with a flower following, that’s kind of funny I think.”

In a month of Sundays we will…

  • Serve over 700 glasses of champagne
  • Polish the same champagne glass over 60 times
  • Clean and shuck over 2000 oysters
  • Clean, portion, grill, roast or braise beef from about 10 big black angus steers
  • De bone and roast over 200 baby chickens
  • Clean, fillet, portion and pan roast over 50 gold band snapper fish
  • Clean and braise over 1000 artichokes
  • Pick, wash and finely chop 300 bunches of parsley
  • Pod, blanch and pod again over 5000 broadbeans
  • Fold over 3000 linen napkins
  • And our hard working little dishwashing machine will run over 2300 washing cycles….or thereabouts!


A simple marinade; a simple ham glaze and a simple dressing

Spiced Hoisin, chilli & honey marinade

This marinade is a favourite amongst all the kitchen staff at Union Dining. We marinate chicken wings with it and slowly roast them in the oven and serve with steamed rice and spring onions. I also like to marinate prawns in this mix and cook them on the BBQ – yum! A great recipe for your Christmas day lunch, you can make it a few days ahead then marinate your chicken wings or prawns in the morning and cook them on the grill when friends and family arrive – the smell alone will make everyone hungry!


200ml Chinese hoisin sauce

100ml honey

3 small red hot chillis fine diced

150m tomato sauce

70ml soy sauce

70ml rice wine vinegar

10ml fish sauce

15g fresh ginger finely diced

3 large garlic cloves finely diced

½ bunch of spring onions finely sliced


-Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and whisk until well combined

-Store in an airtight container in the fridge till required and make sure you stir the ingredients well before marinating.

-When marinating always coat the item generously and sit in the fridge in the marinade for at least 1 hour before cooking.


Ginger beer , cider vinegar & mustard fruit Christmas ham glaze

Everyone I know has their own “secret recipe” for the perfect Christmas ham. Well here is mine, so it’s no secret now! I like to use ginger beer and fresh ginger along with some other “bits and bobs”. You can increase this recipe as to the size of your ham. I like to get a 6kg smoked ham from my butcher – that way I have plenty left over for sandwiches and salads.

Ingredients :

1 x 6kg smoked ham

200g demerara brown sugar

300ml ginger beer

100ml cider vinegar

100g Dijon mustard

100g honey

30g fresh ginger finely diced

30g diced mustard fruits in their syrup (available from good delis or Italian food shops)


-Remove the outer skin of the smoked ham with a small sharp knife – make a small incision at the top of the ham near the hock bone and run your knife just below the thick outer skin, making sure you keep the fat on the ham. The skin should start to almost peel off, then discard the skin.

-Now score the fat in a criss-cross pattern and set on a rack in a large roasting tray that will fit comfortably in your oven (fat side up). I like to put a fairly generous amount of water in the bottom of the tray so as the ham and glaze cook you don’t get “burnt” fatty glaze in the bottom of the tray.

-Heat the oven to 180degrees C

-Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan over low heat until the sugar has dissolved – do not allow it to boil – now remove from the heat and use a pastry brush to generously coat the fat side of the ham with your warm glaze.

-Place the ham in the oven and cook for 1 to 1½ hours – ensuring that you add more glaze every 30 minutes.

-When done, the ham should be sticky and golden brown in colour and warmed through.

-Eat immediately or cold – either way it is delicious…


Agrodolce dressing

I love this dressing. It may be ‘simple’ to make, but it has so many uses. It is terrific on grilled fish, chicken or lamb (great just off the BBQ). I also dress anchovies with this and serve with lots of toasted baguette. It’s great with roasted red peppers and eggplant with a little fresh goat curd as well. During summer this dressing won’t last long! Keep it in an airtight container in the fridge once you have made it and just make sure you give it a good stir before using it.

Ingredients :

5 tablespoons white wine vinegar

70g caster sugar

75g Lilliput capers in brine

100ml extra virgin olive oil

4 medium size red shallots, peeled and thinly sliced

Sicilian sea salt

Freshly ground pepper


-Bring the vinegar and sugar to the boil, add the shallots and capers, remove from the heat

-Add the 100ml of extra virgin olive oil to the mix, season and allow to cool, this is the finished agrodolce dressing.




  • Louise Upton

    Louise Upton 6 years ago

    Yum - I am doing the ham and can say mustard fruits need a little bit of seeking out - but chasing them down is worth it.