Serving that Huge Group of Guests

You don’t have to be a master chef to successfully prepare and serve dinner for a medium-to-large group of people when entertaining, but it certainly helps to get a few tidbits of advice from one! As the executive chef for Golden Oaks, a large elderly-living facility in California, Justin Chinchen would unquestionably have some advice on preparing meals for a crowd.

When planning a dinner party at your home, Justin firmly believes that the first step should be setting and sticking to a budget that will cover the cost of the food.

The second step should be to decide on a theme for decoration and menu, that’s determined by the current season and functionality. Justin feels that the meal is “beyond the food–it is also about the decoration and set up. The host or hostess has to be a little bit artistic.” If your dinner party is in December, for example, it makes sense to focus on a Christmas theme.

Decor also extends to the table seating. If you’re having a party where the majority of the guests are couples, then seat them beside each other; but it this is a singles crowd, then merely stagger the men and women.

When it comes to deciding on your menu, Justin has some more advice. First off, think about how the dish will hold up for the size of your party. While you may be able to get away with cooking up a succulent and scrumptious dinner of halibut for your family of four, that same dish will dry out before you are finished serving it to all of your guests. And a plate of sauteed shrimp will most likely lose its heat by the time people start forking it in.

What’s on the menu also depends on the reason for the function. “Is it for a birthday party? Then plan your menu around the ‘pickiness’ of the birthday person–your guest of honor.” Or if you simply want to entertain people in your home “just because,” pick a few of your favorite dishes to prepare–but skip the new recipes; cook what you do best so that you are sure to impress.

Finally, decide on how you will serve the delicious meal to your guests. Will it be family style? Individually plated up? Buffet? Try to keep in mind the amount of guests, how long it will take to serve with each different style, and what would be easy on you as the host or hostess–since you will be cook, server, and entertainer all at once.

And as for not becoming “stresserated” (Justin’s five-year-old daughter’s word for stress and frustrated)?–that comes with experience and plenty of preparation. Learn to always be thinking about the next step in your meal preparation. Timing is everything. “If your pork roast needs to be in the oven for two hours…put it in! Don’t be chopping up your lettuce for your layered salad instead of popping your meat in the oven!”

Scheduling, as well as planning your budget, menu, and theme, are all crucial; down to the last dish going on the table.

~Kristin Walder, 4/26/2008

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