How do we get people interested in entertaining with style and not the current disposable way many do?
Force them to watch the party scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s on repeat! Not kidding. It’s the O.G. house party: cocktail dresses, big drinks (in real, pretty glassware), and easy hors d’oeuvres (educate them on an oldie-but-goodie fave of mine, the Jell-O-filled pineapple). Everyone looks totally glam, but no one seems uptight or stiff. In fact, just the opposite—it all seems effortless. And it can be, with a little planning and some easy tips. I’m a sucker for the old-fashioned ways of entertaining. Throw away the Solo Cups and the paper plates (for one, they’re an environmental nightmare!) and borrow your grandmother’s glasses and punch bowl. Back in her day, you set up a for party ahead of time with easy food moments (pupu platters and fondue pots!), and you, the host, got ready by pouring yourself a pregame cocktail so that by the time your guests arrived you were relaxed and ready to go! Think flair, not fuss, whether you’re wearing a cocktail dress or jeans and a T-shirt.
Your guests will appreciate a dish cooked with love over a dish cooked to show off.
Any advice on how to start a dinner club with friends?
I find cookbook clubs are a great way to guide your first dinner club. Thankfully, nowadays so many cookbooks include delicious personal essays for your guests to discuss around the table. (Rachael Ray 50: Memories and Meals from a Sweet and Savory Life and Tiny Hot Dogs: A Memoir in Small Bites by yours truly are a fabulous way to start, wink wink.) Pick your favorite new cookbook and invite your pals over for a night of storytelling and food sharing. A couple of things to remember: Keep it simple and keep it small. Limit your first dinner club to no more than 10 guests—I find this is a number that allows everyone to interact and stay connected throughout the night—and regarding food, while it’s fun to try cooking new things, stay in your comfort zone and pick dishes that you genuinely love to eat. I promise your guests will appreciate a dish cooked with love over a dish cooked to show off.
What are some staple food items to keep on hand if visitors surprise you?
—Patrice Simon Berenato
Easy! Your freezer should always have at least one box of frozen pigs in a blanket in stock. Always. And your bar? All the fixings to make martinis. (But maybe that’s just me!) I also like to keep cheese in the fridge—one hard, one soft, one stinky—and nuts and crackers in the pantry should an impromptu party break out. Also, I am a huge fan of desserts-and-drinks parties. Plenty of people don’t have time to clean the house, set the table, and cook the meal but still want to open their home to others. Easiest way? Serve desserts and drinks only. You’d be surprised how many store-bought cakes I’ve placed on a cake stand, topped with powdered sugar, and voilà—instant party. And I didn’t even turn my oven on! Also, remember to keep it fun. Your guests are there to see you, not to judge you on your croquembouche skills. The next day when they call or email to offer their thanks, please, I beg you, don’t waste time telling them you wished that the whipped cream had more airy peaks. Odds are they didn’t notice, so celebrate your last-minute entertaining skills and take a victory lap!
Is it rude to not send leftovers home with your guests?
I don’t think it’s rude to send guests home without leftovers if you truly do not have anything left, but you’re also asking someone who often “over cooks” with leftovers in mind. I love giving guests something for the next day or, if they’ve had a few too many cocktails, later that night. (C’mon, we’ve all been there!) When you cook for them, you’re taking care of them, nourishing them. And when you send them home with more, you’re taking care of them twice. I always keep extra jars, brown paper bags, and takeout containers on hand to help my guests go home with my leftover goodies in style.
This article originally appeared in our Summer 2020 issue. Get the magazine here.