Party Prepping

Area Chefs Share Their Top Tips for Feeding a Crowd

In the South, we love a good party, be it a birthday celebration, holiday-centric affair, or “just because” kind of gathering. And if you’re the host, you are single-handedly responsible for party prep, decorating, food, and cleanup – no pressure! However, as you’ll soon learn, feeding your guests doesn’t have to be stressful or time-consuming. Keep reading for some expert party prepping advice from local chefs and restauranteurs!

“When hosting a large party, preparation is key. A finalized menu should take into account the guest and any allergies or dietary restrictions. We have found that a buffet-style setting is the easiest way to serve a variety of menu items. The use of different types of serving and/or chafing dishes will allow you to create a display of foods that appeal to a wide audience. White dishes highlight food extremely well. Tiered serving platters, chrome chafing dishes, and glass drink decanters are a good base for your display. Table accents can be used to incorporate a theme or holiday season. Readily available accents can be as simple as flowers, branches, magnolias, tablecloths, candles, or crystals. People eat with their eyes first. Food that is visually pleasing as well as great-tasting makes it a fun time for all.”

Cynthia Wood & Antonia Poland, Owners,
Davis Wayne’s / Dipped Fresh

Cynthia Wood & Antonia Poland, Owners, Davis Wayne’s & Dipped Fresh

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“Cheese is always a great addition to a party! One thing to keep in mind when getting a spread together for a large party is to not overdo it. We always recommend you keep your selection to no more than four cheeses and a couple of meats for your guests. This keeps things easier in terms of setup, but its main function is to not overwhelm the palate. Put your harder cheeses out in bite-size pieces and stick a spreader in your soft cheese, put out your sliced meats and accoutrement (nuts, fruit, bread, jam), and you are ready for a good time.”

Jesse Watlington, ACS CCP,
Owner, Bleu Fox Cheese Shop

Jesse Watlington, ACS CCP, Owner

 

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“When it comes to the holiday season and serving large parties, braising is best! I like using beef (short rib, chuck roast) because of the minimal cleaning required. Toss in a bottle of red wine, tomatoes, celery, carrot, onion, and garlic, and you’re ready. Cook low for around six hours while you watch a movie or play games with the family. You can easily make a sauce out of the braising liquid by reducing it down in a skillet, and now you look like a professional chef! And as a bonus, cleanup is nice and easy with just one real pot to deal with.”

Oscar Ixcot, Chef, Giardino

Oscar Ixcot, Chef, Giardino

 

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“When planning for a gathering, start with a simple menu including cold cuts, a cheese display, and fruits. You might also consider serving a main dish that can be prepared the day before then reheated, such as a carving roast with roasted vegetables. Don’t forget the sweets – an assortment of jams with brioche bread is always a crowd-pleaser. Simplify cleanup with a visit to the party store, where you can select some elegant (and disposable) china, stemware, and silverware. You might want to include an extra-large trash can and encourage guests to throw their trash away, saving you from time-consuming tidying.”

Philippe Gehin, Chef,
La Cabriole French Restaurant

Philippe Gehin, Chef

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“When I have a big party to prepare for, no matter the occasion or dish, I start with organization. Starting with everything in order and in place makes my ability to make a lot of food so much easier and more fun. This is something I learned early in my career running our food truck – if everything is in its place and prepped with the end product in mind, I always have more fun and find enjoyment in the process. Knowing what my workload looks like always puts me in a better state of mind and makes the recipes and techniques better in the long run.
Having the ability to work without stressing about what comes next is a freeing feeling and one I love to work with. Being organized is key to a successful event, especially when cooking or baking for loved ones is involved.”

Justin Bennett, Owner,
Pizzeria Cortile

Justin Bennett, Owner of Pizzeria Cortile

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“When party prepping for a large group at home, I always think about maximizing the balance of being both creative and pragmatic. I start by writing out a menu, creating an ingredient/shopping list, and making a timeline of what items are made ahead and others that need to be finished just before serving. I choose what dishes each item is plated on and even go as far as setting out the plating dishes without food on the table or counter. This helps me see how much space is needed, giving me a chance to design the plating presentation creatively and with intention. Organization is the best way to have finesse and make any party memorable while still being relaxed and confident to remove details if something doesn’t go as planned. It is important to enjoy creating the event just as much as enjoying the actual event when it happens!”
“When party prepping for a large group at home, I always think about maximizing the balance of being both creative and pragmatic. I start by writing out a menu, creating an ingredient/shopping list, and making a timeline of what items are made ahead and others that need to be finished just before serving. I choose what dishes each item is plated on and even go as far as setting out the plating dishes without food on the table or counter. This helps me see how much space is needed, giving me a chance to design the plating presentation creatively and with intention. Organization is the best way to have finesse and make any party memorable while still being relaxed and confident to remove details if something doesn’t go as planned. It is important to enjoy creating the event just as much as enjoying the actual event when it happens!” Kenny Burnap, Chef & Owner, Kenny’s Southside Sandwiches

Kenny Burnap, Chef & Owner,
Kenny’s Southside Sandwiches

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“When hosting a dinner party, we prefer a simple menu that can be prepped and cleaned up ahead of time so we can truly enjoy time with our guests. We want to be relaxed and stress-free so that our guests feel the genuine welcome, joy, and peace in our home. Pairing taco soup or chili with chips, cheese, and sour cream is always a delicious, filling way to feed a crowd. We use disposable bowls and cutlery to make cleanup a breeze, and we always serve one of Kori’s homemade desserts!
Another quick, easy, and crowd-pleasing option is to prepare a simple dish like chicken fajitas. Again, all the prep work is done ahead of time, and when the guests arrive, we cook the chicken, peppers, and onions, warm the tortillas, and allow guests to assemble their meal. Of course, you could eliminate prep and cleanup altogether by having your event catered … perhaps by your favorite hoagy shop?”

Michael & Kori Ellis, Owners,
Lil Mama’s Chicago Style Hoagy 

Michael & Kori Ellis

 

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“When I get ready to cook my fish for family gatherings, my main focus is on everything in order, from my seasonings to my breading. I never dip my fish in batter – just good old-fashioned meal and my seasonings, which are a secret. To complement the fish, I usually create a spread of baked beans, coleslaw, and hush puppies and serve it up buffet-style. I really enjoy cooking, and my family enjoys the freshly prepared food.”

Larry Torrence,
Founder & Owner, Uncle Larry’s Restaurant

Larry Torrence, Founder & Owner, Uncle Larry’s Restaurant

 

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“I think the best advice I ever received on food preparation was from my grandmother: Fresh is best. I always try to adhere to that when cooking for a crowd. She was a great believer in fresh chicken stock and seasoning for cooking vegetables, and I continue that today. One dish that I have found is simple and delicious to prepare for guests is chicken salad using fresh chicken breasts cooked in broth. Guests love it, and you can pair it with everything from croissants and crackers to fruits and veggies!”

Susan Danner, Owner, Longhorn Restaurant

Susan Danner, Owner, Longhorn Restaurant

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“Some of my absolute favorite desserts are simple classics elevated by using quality ingredients. When cooking for a crowd, I like to appeal to the sense of comfort. Cookies are a very easy make-ahead option! When you have spare time, make a dough or two. After a few weeks, you could have a variety of options built up in your freezer! The morning of the event, bake off the variety. I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t love a warm cookie. If you’re looking for more of a plated dessert, custard-based desserts are a great option that hold multiple days in the refrigerator (think crème brûlée or pot de crème). These may seem technical, but they’re simple to make! And of course, if dessert is the last thing on your mind after planning a party, your favorite local ice cream company is here to help!”

Ashley Bottoms, Senior Manager,
Clumpies Ice Cream Co

Ashley Bottoms, Senior Manager, Clumpies Ice Cream Co

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