If you’re not going to pull out the stops and do some serious cooking and entertaining over the holidays, then when will you?
If you are inexperienced, or just need a little help pulling the big feast together, we’ve put together course by course advice from some of the best chefs in the country on everything from how to get organized in the kitchen, and what to make ahead, to how to deal with guests who drink too much—or not enough.
You can never plan enough. I always plan at least two to three days ahead. The night before I’ll pull out all my platters and label them with Post-it notes for what goes on each one.
I always tell people just to keep it safe. But then sometimes I think it’s fun when you don’t do that. Because people usually mess up at some point and that’s all part of having a dinner party —no one gets it perfect.
People don’t appreciate how much stuff they can do in advance. But you can have pretty much everything ready to go. Outside of cooking a piece of fish, there’s not much you can’t do in advance. Nobody’s going to enjoy coming to your house for a party if you’re running around like a blue-arsed fly.
Your can’t be making sauces, vinaigrettes, dressings and things like that while you’re rushing to get everything together. Have them ready and in the fridge. When people come over, you should just be finishing: tossing your vegetables for roasting, grilling your steak, roasting your bird…
Choose some nice centrepieces, get the candles going, set the wines out on the side. It’s fun to get the whole house humming for people to come over.
For us, it’s important to not decorate the table too much, because we leave the space for the food and often there’s a lot to share, a lot of big dishes, a lot of garnishes and condiments. The decoration is bread—lots of different types of bread all over the place.
Doesn’t matter if it’s a restaurant or your home: you get ready to receive guests. Your guests are about to arrive and you walk around to make sure everything is just right. The wood is on the fire, the wine is cold, the bottles are lined up, the glasses are ready, everything is polished…
I like to have ready something to eat and drink when people arrive because it relaxes everybody. So we’ll open a bottle of champagne or make some cocktails—I love an Americano with red vermouth, Campari and soda—and I’ll serve oysters with a nice mignonette or some charcuterie.
There are lots of different hors d’oeuvres you can make ahead, like little mini tartes flambées, which are just little mini Alsatian pizzas. You can have people make them with you and cook them off . And for me, it’s more fun getting friends involved.
Go to your wine store and talk to people and say, “I want to drink low-alcohol white wine.” Stay away from 15% wines, 14% wines, even 13% is a lot now. I want to drink more wine. I want to drink less alcohol. I want to drink wine that’s athletic. I want to drink wine that’s high in acid. High acid will keep you in shape. It will keep you eating and thinking. It will make you digest better.
Normally from where I’m from we say you can’t start a meal without drinking a vermouth. Vermouth was born to prepare your stomach for a meal. So it’s almost obligatory.
at table, or thereabouts, with wine
Drunk people suck. So it’s important to have a lot of water on ice lying around. Spend a little money on bottled water. Drink a lot of it—you’re going for the long haul. Keep your guests hydrated.
I always throw a “soup or stew” Christmas party for friends and family. It’s kind of a standing cocktail reception because I never have enough seats for everyone. I just set up a bunch of crock pots in a row with hot chocolate, mulled apple cider, different soups and a stew. The fire’s going and there’s snow outside and it’s really comforting. I love that party.
For Chinese New Year my parents would invite all their friends over and do a hot pot party. Hot pot is a big bowl of boiling soup and all this raw seafood, finely shredded meats and vegetables, and these little baskets where you cook all your own stuff.
If I’m having some of my chef friends over I make one dish and I ask the others to make one dish and bring it with a bottle of wine, too. Because Indian food is so labour-intensive, I don’t want to spend all day cooking. So they all bring their own dishes. We fuss a lot over presentation. Then we rip each other’s food apart!
At home, I cook pretty fast like I do at the restaurant, so I put a timer on and have a huge amount of shit to get done. I’m super-organized and have it all ready to roll. And I like doing that. I mean, ideally these are people you care a great deal about so you do it for the love of getting together or the time of year. And you should push yourself.
Instead of dessert, bring out grapes or nuts, so cheeses like goat cheese. Weird Camemberts, weird Bries, Époisses…
Get a basic home ice cream maker— doesn’t have to be professional—and make a basic ice cream or yogourt and do like Menchie’s and have all kinds of stuff to put on top like jujubes, M&Ms, whipped cream—it‘s fun.
These days, especially with gluten-free and stuff , people don’t want to get a big slab of cake in front of them. At the restaurant, we stopped doing an à la carte dessert menu and just do a platter of cookies, squares, chocolates and things. It goes over like a house on fire. If people want one item or 10 they can fill their boots and go crazy.
Always offer a nice digestif: a liqueur, grappa or, for me because it comes from my region, the liqueur Nocino made with green walnuts. Oh, I love it. I can drink a whole litre.
Serve a good shot of Fernet on ice to your friend who’s eaten too much food. He’ll say: “Ah, I don’t like this, it’s black and tastes like shit.” Shut up and drink it, man. You’re gonna feel great in 20 minutes.