How to host the perfect dinner party

Private dining maestro ChefGary knows a thing or two about hosting the perfect dinner party. Drawing on his experience catering for countless diners in the comfort of their own homes, Gary shares his tips for holding a dinner party your guests will never forget.   

 ChefGary knows exactly what makes the perfect dinner party

ChefGary knows exactly what makes the perfect dinner party


Entertaining at home should be an enjoyable experience. After all, what can be better than sharing and appreciating fabulous food with great family and friends? To get the most out of your dinner party with the least stress, the key is to balance your time between cooking and socialising with your guests. I have a great passion for food and I enjoy the extra effort involved serving up impressive, tasty and splendid dishes. Plus I am lucky enough to be efficient in the kitchen.

You must decide the right balance. Do you live dangerously trying to over-acheive but risk ending up a slave to the kitchen? My advice is to play to your individual strengths when it comes to choosing the menu and how ambitious to be. In this blog, I'm sharing the best of tips to put you in the right direction, focusing on juggling food preparation time and finishing off without sacrificing your conversation and mingling time.

BACK TO BASICS
A successful dinner party is made up of good food combined with a great atmosphere. Your guests will always help contribute to the flow of the evening, and personally, I feel that good conversation and perhaps a little background music is adequate enough entertainment for most parties. However, depending on the occasion and of course your own personal preferences, there are no set rule here, so feel free to ad-lib. On previous experiences, I have come across close up magicians, comics, musicians, card games, fireworks, murder mystery events and many more so it really is wide open. If you are "lucky" enough to watch a bad episode of Come Dine With Me then you will surely see some horrific and slipshod efforts to stay clear of :) Whatever you decide to do, suit it the occasion of your event and your guests.

 Beautiful dessert options from ChefGary

Beautiful dessert options from ChefGary

MENU PLANNING
I always go out of my way and am very accommodating of genuine dietary requirements, including food intolerances and allergies and also of personal life choices. However, trying to please the crowd when it comes to the "fussy eaters" can be more of a difficult situation. My general rule is that if you try to please everyone, you'll end up pleasing no-one. Above all, if someone is invited to your house to dinner, it's down to good manners and politeness to appreciate all the time and effort that has gone into creating a fabulous meal and hosting!

When it comes to deciding what to cook, the main thing to remember is don't bite off more than you can chew! Choose dishes that the majority of preparation can be done the day before, or on the actual day, though before your guests arrive. There is nothing wrong with producing a good homemade one-pot tasty dish for the centre of the table, perhaps with some more extravagant cold side dishes if you have larger numbers to cater for. How complex you make the menu will be comparative to your own skills in the kitchen, but always be aware that plating up time will take you away from your diners. Little bites of food that can be served "floating" before seating will always go down well and take some of the pressure off here. Again, keep it simple, using minimal ingredients for each canape.

Some of my most popular canapes are good quality sausages glazed with Dijon and honey; king prawns with chorizo, chilli and balsamic; Stilton and cranberry jam on mini crackers and little cauliflower, carrot and parsnip pakoras. All simple to make and crowd pleasers too! If serving a starter, think about the number you are catering for. Individually plated or hot starters that take last-minute cooking can be impressive, though equally tricky and again can take you away from your guests. Something that can be served cold or held at temperature without spoiling is always a safe option, or a sharing platter is a great way to ease the pressure a little bit. I quite like this option as it encourages your friends to converse more as the food is shared out and suits a variety of tastes. Remember, it is better to do something simple that tastes great than over complicate things and stretch yourself too far. Keep within your comfort zone! ;)  Balancing your complete meal should also be considered. For example, if you are having a red meat main course, keep your starter as a vegetarian or fish option. Likewise, if having a heavy starter, a white meat or fish/seafood option for mains works well too. 

DRINKS
I like to have an "arrival drink" prepared for everyone. This can either be a pre-made cocktail or some bubbles and perhaps a bottled beer as a second option. This enables the first part of the evening to move efficiently while everyone settles in. The drinks menu can then widen up to your own preferences, though red or white wine is always a good base and gin is certainly getting trendy to drink so it's good to always have a few options in stock. Always remember to cater for friends not drinking alcohol, providing fruit juice or a fizzy option. Table water should always be readily available too: jugs of tap water with a slice of lemon is more than adequate.

 Canapes are a great way to 'wow' guests - and help with your timings

Canapes are a great way to 'wow' guests - and help with your timings

 Remember to have FUN at your dinner party

Remember to have FUN at your dinner party

TIMINGS
Once all guests have settled with a drink, it's a good time to lay out your pre-prepared canapes. This should have been done while awaiting guest's arrival and either kept on the side under cover or in a warming drawer in your oven. About six pieces per person is a fair number to go on and seating half hour from here is a good time scale to adhere to. Don't try and rush everything from there onwards! A relaxed gap between each course should leave your guests ready for the next one, ideally about fifteen minutes. Etiquette says wait until all guests have finished their plate and pushed their knife and fork together before clearing. As the host and also cooking, you can, of course, get up a little before all have finished to start the next course if necessary. An open plan kitchen is ideal for this as you can get on with the cooking and continue to be a part of the evening! When you've had enough for the evening, a subtle approach is needed to close off proceedings. Usually the offer of coffee will slow the evening down and send the message to your guests that it is nearly home time :)

SUMMARY
- Invite your guests with a clear starting time. For example, have 7:00pm arrival for drinks and canapes, seating for 7:45pm. Most guests will arrive 10-15 minutes later than your initial time.

-Keep the food simple, cook what you're good at and make sure all dishes have been tried and tested.

-Remember to relax and above all, HAVE FUN!

-Of course, if you have read all my tips but still find the thought of catering far too daunting and just want to enjoy the evening completely stress-free, then I can certainly recommend the perfect Dinner Party Chef!! 

Learn more about ChefGary and his private fine-dining services: chefgaryprivatedining.com