‘Mary Berry’s Festive Feasts’ 2021: Mary guides us through her Christmas cooking challenge show

In 'Mary Berry's Festive Feasts' Dame Mary is helped out by Alex Jones and Patrick Grant who raise morale in the kitchen.
In 'Mary Berry's Festive Feasts' Dame Mary is helped out by Alex Jones and Patrick Grant who raise morale in the kitchen. (Image credit: BBC)

In Mary Berry’s Festive Feasts, cookery guru Dame Mary has got her work cut out helping three hopeless non-cooks create surprise festive feasts for their loved ones. The kitchen novices are invited into Mary’s home as she gives them a Christmas cookery lesson with the help of two very special celebrity elves, presenter Alex Jones and Sewing Bee’s Patrick Grant (see above). But will the wannabe chefs be able pull off Mary’s stunning yuletide spread once they’re back at home?  

Here’s our all-you-need-to-know guide to Mary Berry’s Festive Feasts on BBC1 as cookbook author Mary Berry guides us though her special Christmas TV show.

Mary Berry’s Festive Feasts air date

Mary Berry’s Festive Feasts is on Monday December 20 at 7.05pm on BBC1. After its initial release date the show will then become available on streaming service BBCiPlayer. We don’t yet know if the show will have a US or worldwide release date, but we’ll update should we hear.

Can you explain for viewers what 'Mary Berry’s Festive Feasts' is all about?

Mary Berry says: “In Mary Berry’s Festive Feasts I help three truly novice cooks; cousins Jack, James and Leah throw a fantastic Christmas feast for their lovely mums who’ve been apart for two years due to the pandemic. I invite them to my home to teach them the dishes I create especially for the Festive Feast. With one-on-one lessons this truly is a once in a lifetime experience for the novices and a chance for me to do what I loves most - teach people how to cook! It will be a fun, entertaining watch and there will be lots of take-home tips so viewers can prepare the recipes yourselves for the big day. Once I’m confident our new cooks have the skills they need to go it alone so I send the novices off to practise their dishes at home. To offer moral support and an extra sprinkle of Christmas magic I have enlisted the help of Alex Jones and Patrick Grant, who take their roles as my Christmas helpers very seriously! On the day of the Festive Feast while temperatures will no doubt rise in the kitchen, myself and my helpers will be on hand to assist in the hope that the guests of honour and their family and friends are served up a very special Festive Feast, and one that our novices can be extremely proud of.”

Could you tell us a bit about each of the novice cooks, and who they want to spoil?

Mary says: “we have cousins Jack, James and Leah want to reunite their respective mums for a Christmas feast they will never forget. They haven’t all been together for two years as Kaz has MS and Jack works with the public so had to stay away to protect his family.  Jack is the worst cook ever! He struggles to cook a frozen pizza without burning the oven, but he’s determined to change that and surprise his mum Caz and her sister, Alison. James is a lifeguard and works for the Police. Working with the public meant he had to distance from vulnerable family members last year and ended up getting a burger from a roadside van for his Christmas dinner. James’ older sister Leah is married with two children, who describe her cooking as ‘burnt’; she calls it ‘well done’! Sadly Leah was also unwell during the pandemic so had to shield meaning her mum couldn’t see her or be with her to offer support which her mum found incredibly difficult. As many of the country, they have had a truly difficult time so the three cousins are determined to make this the best Christmas ever by preparing a delicious Christmas feast and reuniting the family for the first time in two years."

What sort of dishes do you give them to learn? Do you go easy on them or give them a challenge?!

Mary says: "I chose a delicious smoked salmon and watercress pate as an impressive festive starter. Jack has never cooked salmon but was a very attentive pupil and lined the tin with smoked salmon very delicately. He stepped up to learn the starter as he wanted to get his dish done first as he was so nervous! 

"James chose to cook the main course because he’s very keen on meat, so I teach him how to make a gorgeous gammon, with a lovely clementine glaze, garlic roasted potatoes and a double mustard sauce. It’s a perfect main for a festive table, not too difficult but looks impressive and tastes delicious. When I was teaching James how to make his gammon dish, I wanted to finish the glaze off with sliced clementine. I asked James to take the clementine and cut it in slices to put on top – he took it and cut it into four wedges! I realised then we had to go back to the very basics…I needed slices for a lovely decoration on top of the gammon, and James was thinking more for half time at a football match! 

"Leah’s mum and Aunty Caz usually do all the cooking for the family on Christmas day and always make either a tiramisu or cherry gateaux for pudding, so I created my own scrumptious Christmas tiramisu red fruit trifle which is a combination of both! I’m sure their mums will love it and Leah was very keen to learn how to make it.

"They all take it extremely seriously, you’ll see whilst I teach one novice, the other two are taking notes and asking questions so they can help each other when they have to recreate the dishes on their own at home. We also had great fun in the kitchen. James didn’t mind me telling him off for cutting wedges with the clementines and his cousin certainly liked teasing him about it! I think their mums are going to be really surprised and proud when they find out what their children have done for them." 

How helpful are your celebrity helpers, Alex Jones and Patrick Grant? Are either of them particularly skilled in the kitchen?

Mary says: “Oh no, my helpers are not cooks as such, they are very good at raising the moral if things get a little tense for our novices! Their skill is in making sure it’s a really successful party and they really do make it fun and help to make light work of it.”

The show features festive recipes sure to impress, will it appeal to viewers who might not be particularly experienced or confident in the kitchen themselves, to have a go at home for their big day?

Mary says: “I think it definitely will, they are easy to follow recipes with clear instruction, and some really lovely ideas. I am teaching our beginners from scratch and it’s all about the detail, so if they follow the demo it’s a wonderful step-by-step guide of the recipes for viewers to make at home too. Perfect to try for a Christmas Eve treat, Christmas Day or anytime over the festive season.”

Mary Berry has been giving us sumptuous recipes on the BBC for years.

Mary Berry has been giving us sumptuous recipes on the BBC for years. (Image credit: BBC)

When was ‘Mary Berry’s Festive Feasts’ filmed? 

Mary says: “We filmed in November but it already felt very festive. We had the tree up, the fire going and the crew had their Christmas jumpers on! I think everyone is very excited for Christmas this year and we were more than happy to get stuck in.”

What would be your advice to anyone who might be cooking Christmas Day dinner for the first time this year? Any top tips?

Mary says: “I know Christmas cooking can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming, my best advice would be to keep it simple, write lists and choose a Christmas dinner that you know your family will enjoy. It’s great to start thinking about Christmas early to avoid feeling rushed - find out who’s coming, make your lists, buy the things that you can ahead like tinned things. You can pre-order everything you’re going to order, you can make mince pies now and freeze them, you can also make the cake now and the Christmas pudding of course. Prep as much as you can before, on Christmas Day it’s lovely to be with the family rather than stuck in the kitchen all day!

"We love chestnuts at Christmas, especially in stuffing; a tip of mine is to use frozen chestnuts instead of using fresh ones which you need to boil and peel (it’s very difficult to get the peel off and you often get stained hands too!). You can buy frozen prepared ready to roast chestnuts which you just chop and use in your stuffing and things, they have a very good texture and flavour. I love celeriac, it goes beautifully with Christmas dinner. I cook it until it’s tender and add crème fraiche to it, season it well then puree it, and it also reheats very well! Everyone would expect a classic roast potato – I par boil my potatoes and rub them against the side of the pan and then roll them in semolina and roast them. I always cut my sprouts in half; they cook in half the time! It’s great to make a vegetable you can do ahead like a red cabbage, that can be cooked the day before and reheats beautifully."

Mary Berry reveals her Christmas hopes for 2021 and beyond.

Mary Berry reveals her Christmas hopes for 2021 and beyond. (Image credit: BBC)

What are your plans for Christmas 2021? 

Mary says: “We’ll be hosting for all the family this year and I’m thrilled about it! We will think ourselves exceedingly lucky to be together. I will be doing the turkey, the family all bring contributions and my husband Paul is in charge of the wine! I absolutely love it and this year especially it will be so lovely to all be together again. We always love to play games on Christmas Day and this year I’m going to ask everybody to do a turn at something – it could be a poem, a piece of music, a song or a game – whatever they choose, we’ve warned them ahead so they can plan! We’ll do a good walk after lunch, it’s great to wear the five grandchildren out! Then very importantly, 3pm is the Queen’s Speech, which is always extremely special. In the evening we play charades, which I love, and eat open sandwiches with all the bits that are left over and in theory we have Christmas cake but it’s often enjoyed after the day!”

Finally, what are your hopes and wishes for 2022?

Mary says: “I’m looking forward to being able to travel again. I will be hoping very much that we can see an end in sight for the pandemic and that everyone can find some kind of normality back in their lives, but whatever happens we must always keep being patient and kind.”

Nicholas Cannon
TV Content Director on TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus Whattowatch.com. I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.