For Alison Cayne, the best meals start with a simple approach and what’s in season. That’s the idea behind Haven’s Kitchen, the cooking-school-meets-café and event space that she founded in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood in 2012.
It’s also the mind-set that this busy mom of five embraces when entertaining friends. “I used to make a million dishes,” says Alison. “Now I know people want choices without being overwhelmed.”
Today’s menu is a no-brainer: a small, buffet-style brunch adapted from Alison’s first book, The Haven’s Kitchen Cooking School, her modern manual for aspiring home cooks that mixes recipes with how-to tips. Baked eggs make a perfect main since you can cook a bunch in the oven at once, and root vegetables are fall farmers’-market staples that don’t need much dressing up beyond browned butter. "Cooking for a group isn’t like cracking a secret code. You just need some basic skills—and fresh ingredients—to feel confident in the kitchen," says Alison.
The tabletop decor is just as laid-back. Instead of flower arrangements, Alison favors a long, low-lying leafy garland adorned with fruit, so guests can chat easily—and grab a pear or an apple for the road.
No matter what’s being served, togetherness is at the heart of everything Alison does. “The day after the big feast should be easy and fun,” she says. “My friends and I are happy just to hang out, talk shop, and, of course, eat!”
Alison Cayne's Black Friday Brunch Menu:
Latkes with Smoked Salmon & Chimichurri
Try Alison Cayne’s Latkes with Smoked Salmon & Chimichurri
Eggs en Cocotte (Baked Eggs)
Try Alison Cayne’s Eggs en Cocotte (Baked Eggs)
Try Alison Cayne’s Romesco Sauce
Butter Lettuce Salad with Blue Cheese, Dried Cherries & Candied Walnuts
Try Alison Cayne’s Butter Lettuce Salad with Blue Cheese, Dried Cherries & Candied Walnuts
Roasted Root Vegetables & Freekeh with Brown Butter
Try Alison Cayne’s Roasted Root Vegetables & Freekah with Brown Butter
Try Alison Cayne’s Cherry Clafouti
Don’t go overboard with fancy-pants linens or china. Elevate your everyday white with high-contrast napkins in dark colors, so guests won’t worry about stains.
Rule No. 1: Always welcome partygoers with a bite, a drink, and a smile. Today Alison Cayne (above, middle) serves latkes, a favorite holiday dish that she sets out with an array of toppings, from smoked salmon to crème fraîche. Homa Dashtaki (above, left), of artisanal-food maker the White Moustache, helps with cocktails by bringing her ice pops, which Haven’s Kitchen director of operations Matt Finkle (above, right) and Alison enjoy in mixed drinks.
A garland is a one-and-done centerpiece that can be reused on a mantel or a staircase after the party. Make it—or have a florist do it—by connecting bunches of stems to a length of twine with floral wire. Alison likes eucalyptus because its light fragrance doesn’t overpower the food. Add extra branches, fruit, or artichokes to dress yours up a bit.
“Plating looks so formal,” says Alison. “I want people to feel at home and eat what they want.” Her help-yourself spread has something for everybody—roasted veggies, salad, eggs, and grilled bread with romesco sauce. Guests getting in on the food and fun include Umber Ahmad (near right), of Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery, and photographer Melanie Dunea (far right).
Host with the Most
The key to a good party: anticipating your guests’ needs, like making sure their glasses are never empty. Alison tops off Marissa Lippert (above, left), of the Nourish Kitchen + Table café. For dessert, Alison dusts cherry clafoutis, baked during the meal, with confectioners’ sugar.