By Dominic Stefanatos
Have you got a dinner party coming up, and wonder, how I’m going to get it done? Or perhaps you’re just putting one off, even though you know it’s your turn?
Well, I’m here to help. I’d like to share with you some thoughts, tips, and tricks that should help you get it done!. My advice and knowledge comes from many years in the hospitality sector as a chef. So I hope the advice I share with you today not only helps you get it done with ease but also helps you relax and enjoy the process as well.
So, for this blog, I’ll share with you some valuable tips and tricks on how to plan and prepare your next dinner party, so that it runs as smoothly as possible and stays on track. This should then allow you to enjoy the process as well as give you more time with your guests.
I’ve been a chef for over 30 years, having worked in many different establishments in Australia and around the world. But I still find cooking at home a challenge sometimes, especially for larger groups. For me, there are different things to consider when cooking at home that can be quite different from cooking in a commercial kitchen.
Firstly, there is usually a severe lack of preparation space. On top of that, a very limited amount of space in the refrigerator (which we’ll address later). We’re used to having a lot more bench space, and for the most part, a cool room (or large fridges) to store our food in. So, here are my top tips for dealing with these limitations while still being able to host a successful dinner party.
1. Know the number you’re catering for.
There are obviously many different occasions and reasons for wanting to celebrate with your family and friends, but knowing the number of people attending the party is essential. Not knowing the number just makes everything else much more difficult. So where-ever possible get your RSVP’s back as early as possible, that way you can plan and prepare your event properly.
2. Plan the menu accordingly.
Now, there are a few things to consider here, none the least is your prowess in the kitchen. And depending on your skill level, I would generally advise keeping things simple and sticking to dishes that you have previously tried and tested (even if it was only on the family for dinner a couple of times). Even if you are a fairly seasoned entertainer, sticking to dishes that you are familiar with and have made before is a really good idea.
Also, a lot depends on the number of people you’re catering for as well. That may also determine whether or not this is a formal sit-down type of affair or something a bit more casual, like a buffet, or even finger food or platters that can be handed around. Bear in mind too, that it can be a lot more difficult to cook for larger groups than you may imagine, especially when it comes to plating and serving the food hot. You can quickly run out of time before you know it. So time and timing are key here!
Another consideration here is the actual cooking and preparation time you have to spend on your dinner party. Do you have only a few hours, a whole day or, if you’re lucky, a couple of days to spend cooking and preparing? Keep in mind too, that you’ll need time for the shopping and, don’t forget, cleaning the house and setting the table before your guests arrive!
And lastly, the storage of your fresh and/or prepared food. Unfortunately, most domestic refrigerators are not designed to hold the sort of quantities needed for a full-scale dinner party, especially with drinks included. This is where you can get creative. I personally find large foam boxes ideal for this situation and you can usually get some with tight-fitting lids as well. You can often pick them up from your local greengrocer or food retailer. Fill them with ice and you have an instant cooler box. Any large watertight receptacle would do though, including sinks or even the bathtub (especially for drinks).
So, with that all considered, it’s time to sit down and write yourself a menu. You may also consider printing a menu for each of your guests, particularly for a more formal sit down dinner party.
3. Write a detailed shopping list.
Once you have devised and written your menu, write yourself a comprehensive shopping list. This is very important! The last thing you want to be doing is running out to the shops at the last minute. I would also suggest doing the shopping at least one to two days beforehand. Not only doe’s that give you plenty of time for preparation and cooking beforehand, but if you’ve forgotten anything you’ll know well in advance.
Don’t forget to include your drinks and possibly some extra ice and things like dinner napkins and any table decorations. You may also want to consider flowers and possibly even candles for the table for a touch of ambiance. And check you have enough crockery and cutlery on hand to cater for your numbers (borrow some if you have too).
4. Write yourself preparation lists.
You will probably want to have two lists here (depending on what you’re cooking). One list for the things that can be done the day(s) before (and I would suggest as much as possible here, especially for any desserts or baking), and the second list is for the day of the party. This one is essential. Even in professional kitchens we still write ourselves a daily prep list. It’s all too easy, especially under pressure, to forget things! Also, set a timeline for when things should be completed as well. That way you’ll know if you’re on schedule or not.
5. Prepare what you can the day before (or in advance).
Consider cooking times for all your dishes and work out if there’s anything that needs to be cooked the day before. It may be that you have a cake to bake, as well as a joint of meat to roast. And unless you have a very good fan forced oven, cooking them at the same time is not recommended.
Cooking the cake (or any dessert or pastry) the day before would also give you plenty of time to cool it down, which in turn allows you to decorate them properly should they need it. There are many other desserts that may require setting in the refrigerator for several hours beforehand, so consider those as well.
6. Give yourself plenty of time.
Always allow more time for cooking (and plating) than you think you need. It only takes a few distractions (or things not working as planned) for things to go pear-shaped in a hurry. (even with help). And remember, the big pile of dishes and messy kitchen needs to be clean before your guests arrive as well.
Hopefully then, if you’ve managed your time well, with good planning and preparation, by the time your guests arrive you are relaxed enough to enjoy the moment with them and leave them wondering how you managed to pull it all off with such ease!
I hope this helps you host your best dinner parties ever.
For more on me and my story check out my about me page here.
See you in the next post, and happy cooking.