Personal chef Jennifer Peters’ share 5 ways to make your dinner party a success
Entertaining at home is a bit like throwing together a chic outfit: some people just have the knack for making it look effortless. For those of us who break a sweat at the thought of cooking for a group—especially when you’re the sole chef, sommelier and host—there are ways to ease the pressure. Personal chef Jennifer Peters of the Toronto catering company the Spice Sisters has spent ten years cooking in clients’ homes, serving up dinners for twelve with aplomb. She shared a few tricks she’s learned along the way.
2. BE PREPARED
In professional kitchens, mise en place is more than a prep technique, it’s a mindset. Having all your ingredients set out and pre-measured in the order that you’ll use them—like TV chefs do—doesn’t just save time, it helps you stay on your game when the inevitable hosting hiccups occur. The day before, put together your antipasto platter, and assemble your main course so it’s ready to pop in the oven. “All the little tasks add up if you haven’t done your prep ahead of time,” Peters says.
1. KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID
Now’s not the time to try to impress your guests with a super-complex recipe, especially one you’ve never cooked before. Focus instead on simple dishes with the best quality ingredients you can afford. “Head to your local butcher and pick a cut of meat that’s already tender, like lamb chops or beef tenderloin,” Peters says. “You don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen fussing over something that takes hours to cook.” Likewise, with courses, stick to no more than three: an appetizer, a main with a maximum of two sides, and dessert.
4. GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM ONE FRIEND
Your guests will inevitably want to “help,” and sometimes the entire crowd migrates to your kitchen. Peters advises limiting the number of helpers to one and assigning them a specific task, like keeping the drinks topped up, carrying platters to the dining table, or adding the last-minute garnishes.
3. KEEP ONE EYE ON THE CLOCK
When your guests arrive at the door, you’ll want to spend some time greeting them, pouring drinks and getting them settled. “Set out your appetizers and excuse yourself to the kitchen, but not for too long,” Peters says. Once guests are about halfway through the apps, it’s time to cook the entree. “You don’t want too much of a lull, or you risk having your guests downing too many drinks on an empty stomach,” says Peters. And we all know what those parties are like.
5. RELAX, IT'S JUST DINNER
Hosting should be fun for you, too, so don’t shoot for perfection. Skip the elaborate plating that you saw on Chef’s Table and go for family-style serving dishes, Peters advises. “People get so consumed with doing the exact right thing,” Peters says. “You don’t want to be so stressed that you shy away from ever having people over again.”