A few weeks ago, late in the morning, my cell phone rings. It’s a good friend, so frantic he skips all pleasantries and launches into his many questions about the breast of veal I made last summer: Did I sauté shiitake mushrooms or porcini? Broccoli rabe or regular broccoli? Did I roll the flattened veal narrower side to wider, or wider to narrow … and can he get away with looping string around it since he doesn’t know how to tie it?
What I wanted to know was why he wasn’t at work at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday. Because, he tells me, he’s having three guests over for a dinner party, and as he puts it, “You know how people are.”
Well, actually, no, that isn’t how they are. It’s how we fear they are.
Thanks to popular television shows like Top Chef, The Great British Bake Off and Beat Bobby Flay that turn stoves into battle stations, too many home cooks of every age suddenly imagine the friends seated 'round their dining table morphing into the scorekeeper chefs on Food Network. Entertaining at home is a lot less fun if you see it as ending in a trial by hungry jury, whether that jury includes your new son-in-law or old friends who are visiting on their cross-country tour.
So please, turn off the TV, put down the remote and take a few tips from someone who has been a caterer, New York food critic and hospitality consultant for over 30 years — someone who never wants to be on the receiving end of a phone conversation like the one above again. These suggestions will make your life easier and more fun, whether you’ve cooked for company your entire adult life or are just getting started in the kitchen.
1. Ground yourself
Before we get to meal planning, know that no one comes to your home because they need a Michelin-star meal. That’s why God made chefs like Eric Ripert, Bobby Flay and Lidia Bastianich. Your guests come to your house to be with you and enjoy your company. So trust me when I give you these ground rules: