Eat, Drink & Be Merry: Holiday Party Tips
By Chef Peter Sclafani
One of the most gratifying parts of my job is cooking on site for private cocktail parties. I love creating the perfect menu for the host, and then showing up in my chef’s coat to prepare and serve the dishes in person. Guests enjoy watching a sumptuous bite come together -- almost as much as they love savoring it.
Whether you have a chef prepare your party fare this holiday season or you tackle it alone, there’s a trick to planning a menu that impresses guests, but doesn’t create stress. It’s all about balancing complex dishes with simpler ones, and taking a few steps to make sure things flow effortlessly.
Choose a blend of hot and cold
A great rule of thumb is to serve two hot hors d’oeuvres with four cold hors d’oeuvres. The hot bites might require more management, but the cold ones can be made ahead of time. One of my favorite hot pick-ups is our signature oyster patty – rich oyster dressing in puff pastry. As for cold items, I love caprese skewers or crabmeat ravigote, a creamy, savory crab salad I serve on crostini or in Asian spoons.
Engage your guests
When I cook in front of clients, it adds energy to the room. You can do the same by partially preparing one of your dishes in full view. Ask your guests to help by adding a microgreen garnish or a drizzle of dressing. It’s a great way to keep things light and fun.
Offer something hearty and easy to serve
During the holidays, it’s not unusual for someone to arrive at a cocktail party straight from another engagement. Keep something substantial, like a chafing dish of braised short ribs or a tureen of gumbo, in easy reach. Hungry guests can serve themselves, and won’t have to wait for traveling hors d’oeuvres.
Balance heavier proteins with seafood and vegetable items
Serving seafood-centric bites is essential in Louisiana. Cold shrimp, mini-crab cakes and hot crawfish dish are all winners. Vegetables are a must, too. They help cleanse the palate and ensure you have something that pleases light appetites.
Prevent a bar bottleneck with a cocktail station
Keep your guests from having to wait for a drink at the bar welcoming them with a cocktail station near the party entrance. Serve one cocktail that you prepare ahead of time. Make it seasonal, widely appealing and not too sweet or strong. Guests will feel your hospitality the minute they walk into the room.