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How Charles Nuttall, Nobel Prize-Winning Doctor and Part-Time Santa, Spends His Sundays

December 21, 2018

Alyson Krueger, The New York Times

For most of the year, Dr. Charles Nuttall is a trained nephrologist and a clinical research consultant to pharmaceutical companies. He is also an actor, model, photographer, and lest we forget, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, having won the award in 1985 as part of a group of doctors and medical workers who formed to prevent nuclear war. And for the past four years, Dr. Nuttall has taken on an extra role: Santa Claus. Between Dec. 16 and 23, he suits up for Santa’s Corner, part of the holiday market in Bryant Park. “You can say I’m sort of an accidental Santa,” he said. “I never intended to grow up to look like Santa, but since it happened, I’ve decided to make the most of it.” Dr. Nuttall, 73, lives on the Upper East Side with his wife, Marcia Lerner, 63, in a building once occupied by Rube Goldberg.

FREEDOM Now that I no longer work in an office but consult from wherever I happen to be in the world, every day is like Sunday. I’m not a morning person, and I never need an alarm clock.

CONTRABAND COFFEE SWEETENER I shower and then fix breakfast. Usually it’s eggs, with a nod to my Southern roots in the form of grits or scrapple, but on Sundays I might treat myself to Bagels, lox and cream cheese, which I garnish with capers, tomato, onion and cucumber. I wash it down with coffee. Chock Full O’ Nuts New York Roast is a favorite, brewed in a Bodum French press. I smuggle cyclamate artificial sweetener from Canada and add half and half.

MEDIA FIX I watch a news channel, such as MSNBC, while I eat, then switch to a classical music station, while I check emails and messages and read The Times online.

WHEN HE’S A REGULAR GUY I use the gym in my building, but I prefer to walk outdoors. I enjoy urban hiking and street photography. It’s an easy walk from my apartment to Central Park to capture the changes in the seasons, as well as the adjacent cityscape. Weather is not a deterrent. I have been known to walk across town to the Metropolitan Opera House during a raging blizzard when there were no taxis or buses.

WHEN HE’S SANTA I really enjoy meeting new people, both young and old, from all over the world and getting to hear their Christmas wishes when they come visit me. One very poignant memory I have is of a man who hesitated in front of the platform on which I sit. Eventually he motioned to me during a lull in the activities, and I stepped down to see what he wanted. He had a St. Christopher’s medal that he asked me to bless for his mother, who was terminally ill and couldn’t come to the park. I clutched the medal he was holding and said a Baha’i prayer. He was profoundly grateful and turned back with tears in his eyes, as did I. I really spooked one young man by calling out to him by name. “How did you know?” he started to ask, before realizing that his name was embroidered on his shirt.

THIS SANTA COOKS I also almost never eat out; I enjoy my own cooking far too much. I love to forage at the Union Square Greenmarket and Trader Joe’s. I also get fruits and vegetables from sidewalk vendors in my neighborhood. I like to grill steaks with baked potatoes, mushrooms and broccoli or brussels sprouts. I recently acquired an Instant Pot, which I use almost daily for soups, stews, arroz con pollo and other dishes.

SO DOES HIS DAUGHTER My daughter Greer lives nearby with her husband. Occasionally, I take in Broadway shows with them. Most recently we saw “Hamilton.” She is a chef who has worked as a private chef for Jerry Seinfeld and helped Jessica Seinfeld with her cookbooks and preparing for an appearance on “Oprah.” She has recently accepted the head chef position at a new restaurant, “Three Owls Market” on Washington Street in Greenwich Village. She cooks for me on special occasions.

SCREEN TIME Before bed I might spend time on social media, where I keep up with friends going back to middle school, usually while watching TV. I also might be inclined to enjoy my new smart TV. I’ve been binge-watching old shows like “Battlestar Galactica” and more recent miniseries like “Game of Thrones” and “Black Sails.” I try to get to bed by midnight, but if I’m caught up in a show, it can be much later.