Text by Alicia Kennedy, AD Clever
There are tricks that professional chefs use that remain, for some reason, a bit of a secret, no matter how well-seasoned a home cook you may be. But, as ex fine-dining chef and current caterer Sung Kim of Food by Sung tells me, everything done in a restaurant kitchen can be applied to a dinner party or seasonal soiree. “At the end of the day, it’s the same idea of organization and discipline, no matter how many people you’re cooking for," Sung says. "When people are asking how to be better at throwing parties, it’s about organizational skill, and you have to really love cooking and entertaining.” The final result can look and feel like a pro job—just follow these six tips.
Lists are the number one way to keep yourself organized
Sung suggests writing out your menu first—”a meticulous menu, broken down by components”—then pulling from that for a grocery shopping list that will keep you focused on the task at hand when you go off to the store.
Prep your mise en place
One of the easiest ways to keep your kitchen organized while making a large meal is to use those plastic pint and quart containers (the kind takeout soup usually comes in) to portion out all the ingredients in advance. They’re stackable, interchangeable, and easily labelled with painters or masking tape and a Sharpie. Prepare your mise en place—that ingredient setup—using these, and there’s no chance you’ll run out of serving bowls or silverware.
Clean as you go
“Keep the sink empty at all times,” Sung says. Include cleaning in your mental checklist of finishing any task. Basically, that salad dressing isn’t done until the bowl and the whisk are cleaned and put away.
Keep drinks simple
Spirits writer Kara Newman wrote the book on equal parts cocktails, Shake. Stir. Sip.: More Than 50 Effortless Cocktails Made in Equal Parts, all of which are easy to make in big batches. For something wintry, she recommends the Cran-Brandy Cobbler, with equal parts brandy, unsweetened cranberry juice, orange liqueur, lime juice, and a mint sprig for optional garnish. For a pitcher drink that serves 10 to 12, combine equal parts of each ingredient to make about 6 ½ cups and stir to combine. Add the ice at the last minute, or just add to drinks individually.
When it comes to wine, Wine Enthusiast senior editor Layla Schlack suggests sticking to bubbles. “They pair beautifully with just about any food,” she says. “They feel festive and everyone loves them. Don't go crazy spending lots of money on Champagne—there are lots of great options under $15.” Look for Méthode Champenoise (a.k.a. Champagne Method), Méthode Cap Classique, and Metodo Classico sparking wines.
Print a menu
Not only does this keep guests aware of what'll be landing on their plates, it also lets you avoid having to explain whether dishes contain allergens or are suitable for certain dietary restrictions. If serving a spread rather than a plated meal, print out signage with pertinent information. In addition to helping quell questions, it also just helps the evening feel more special.
“People have to remember that guests will have a great time anyway,” says Sung. “What are they going to do: show up to a party and complain? The host’s attitude comes through in a party. Maintain sanity and enjoy yourself.” Which includes, of course, having a glass of wine for yourself as you prep.
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