So the other day I’m at my boss’ house, cuz we’re all gonna watch the series finale of LOST together. She’s chopping things for a salad, telling me about her day, putting sandwiches on plates. And she’s apologizing for her food. Because she thinks I’m a gourmet chef who only eats really good food.
Now look. I know I cook more than the average person probably does. I eat out at nice restaurants. I read Bon Appetit. But that doesn’t mean that I think everyone else does the same, or should even do the same. So I told her to stop apologizing. Don’t apologize for your food. And this got me thinking about my rules for food entertaining.
- Chef, know thyself. By which I mean, know what you can do. Know your cooking strengths. Know your weaknesses. Know what you love to cook. Know what you are capable of. Know how much time you have to cook. If you’ve never baked desserts before, attempting to cook a souffle an hour before your guests arrive is probably not going to end well.
- Cook what you want to eat. Cooking, like most things, is better when you make something you love. If the thought of eating liver repulses you, don’t cook it. You won’t cook it as well as something you love to eat, because you won’t want to taste it, or you’ll think it tastes awful because you hate the taste. So just don’t cook it. Focus on what you love, and it will be delicious.
- Read the recipes beforehand. There is a famous dinner club story, from when we first made chicken and dumplings. We’d made it before, but somehow forgot how long it takes. It’s a long recipe, taking a couple days. John and I somehow forgot the part where the chicken cooks for an hour. We got to that step about 30 minutes after our guests arrived. Crap. Not wanting to make them longer for food, we served dessert first and watched Top Chef. When dinner was ready, we served it.Everything turned out fine. Our guests were happy to eat dessert first. But John and I could have avoided this gaffe if we’d just read the recipe and planned the time out accordingly.
- Use what you have. Sure, you’ve got plates and spoons and ladles and shit. But you can also use jelly jars, wicker baskets, empty flower pots, wine glasses, all sorts of things to serve food in, put utensils in, decorate your table, etc. There’s no real need to run out and buy matching sets of serving ware if you’re comfortable (and cool enough) to use what’s around you.
- If something goes wrong, don’t say anything. Look, things go wrong. A lot. Maybe you drop the whole chicken on the floor. Maybe your milk went bad. Maybe the food processor broke mid-chop. Move on. Make do. Regroup. Figure out plan B, and do it. But don’t tell your guests about it! As a guest, it doesn’t matter what you meant to make, only what you actually made. We don’t care that your first dessert was amazing. That just makes us feel bad that we’re eating your last-minute attempt at a dessert. So don’t tell us what went wrong. Tell us what went right, by letting your food do the talking.
- STOP APOLOGIZING. Sorry to yell, but seriously, STOP IT. Stop apologizing for your food, house, table, servingware. Be proud of yourself, your home, and your cooking. Even if you ordered pizza delivered to your house, you to think about it, make the call, answer the door. You had to do something. You had to put in some amount of effort, unless you have magical elves you don’t pay who make the food for you (if you do, please email me. I need some elves).
Basically, these rules boil (rimshot) down to this – be proud of your food. Take it easy. Don’t make things you wouldn’t eat, and have fun with it. Your guests are here to eat your food, yes, but they’re here because of you. Don’t get so caught up in the cooking you forget to enjoy their company. Give them a chance to enjoy yours.
Cooking is fun, guys! So have fun with it! Bon appetit!