I met with a new client last week. Like many of my clients, she’s a mom, but unlike most of my other mommy clients, her kids stopped calling her mommy awhile ago. With all three kids at college, she called ready to start a new stage in her life – a stage that involved finally entertaining in her beautiful kitchen. Her goal was to learn to throw a dinner party, something she had never ever done before. I on the other hand cannot count the number of dinner parties I’ve thrown or helped throw. Bringing friends and sometimes strangers together in the kitchen, providing them with a simple but delicious meal, seeing bottles of wine evolve into laughter, ever more amusing conversation, and sometimes even impromptu music jam sessions – these moments have been the heart of my life, so I was pretty excited to help this client create these very memories in her own home.
While I’ve gotten dinner party throwing down to a science (believe me it’s as much science as art), it wasn’t always this way. I still remember the debacle of my first dinner party. I was 20 and had just returned from a summer in Florence. So excited to share the Italian dishes I had enjoyed at restaurants, I invited 3 friends over to my parents house. Menu choice was my biggest mistake. I picked a high-maintenance dish that I had never made before. As my friends arrived, I had only par-cooked risotto that had ballooned in size, though volume clearly had nothing to do with flavor, which this pot of mush completely lacked. I also decided to make a cheesecake, another dish I had never made before. I remember watching my friends pick at the dishes, my ego completely deflated.
Luckily, I’ve learned a lot since then, and I’m so glad I didn’t throw in the towel after that first bad incident. Here’s how I approach dinner party throwing now:
Pick the right menu
- Select recipes that you’ve cooked before
- Select recipes that can be done mostly ahead of time and then “finished” at the last minute quickly (quick sautes) or passively (like in the oven)
- Keep it simple. Maybe choose one “wow” factor dish or learn to make one or two tasty sauces / vinaigrettes that will up the flavor of any dish
Make a plan
- Make a schedule (especially important for novices). You can go as far as a detailed spreadsheet or simply jot down what needs to be done so you don’t forget something
- The sequence of events I typically follow are: 1) Prep everything and then clean so your kitchen isn’t a disaster when guests arrive; 2) Set the table; 3) Get out all necessary serving dishes; 4) Shower and primp! That way you’ll be so fresh and so clean when guests arrive
Remember the *why*
- Remember the company is more important than fancy food. A night of awesome food that requires you to slave inside the kitchen all night is not a successful dinner party. Your friends could have just gone to a restaurant on their own to not get to see you
- If you need to ask for a little help to bring it all together (e.g., a pre-mixed cocktail, an appetizer / dessert contribution), don’t hesitate. Your friends are happy to help (and if they aren’t, you need new friends)