The perfect dinner party doesn’t just happen. Whether it’s a meal for two people or 20, there’s an art, and a science, to being a great host.
Alex Adams, aka celebrity food blogger Ms Darlinghurst, has learnt all there is to know about creating a successful dinner party. Through her Secret Foodies events, which took off in 2010, Alex introduced Sydney to guerrilla dining.
Popping up in random locations such as rooftops, warehouses, laneways and even a barn, Alex has catered more than 200 events as part of Secret Foodies. We asked her for her best insider tips on how to create the greatest dinner party you’ve ever attended – let alone hosted. Ms Darlinghurst (centre) at the Fuze Tea product launch.
Ms Darlinghurst (centre) at the Fuze Tea product launch.
Whenever Alex is planning a Secret Foodies event, she generally gives herself four weeks to get organised. After deciding on a guest list – about 10 friends is a good number – she sends out invitations, either online or handwritten.
“People don’t get enough in the mail these days, so that’s always a nice touch,” she says.
At the invitation stage, it’s good to figure out whether any of your guests are vegetarian, vegan, coeliac, lactose intolerant, allergic – or just simply don’t like celery.
“We normally take dietary requirements into consideration about seven days beforehand, but you can include that in your RSVP so you can cater for it,” Alex advises.
Begin your menu planning about three weeks out: look through recipe books and decide on a dinner that really hangs together.
The week before, start sourcing your ingredients: start with drinks, dry goods and anything that can be refrigerated, then move on to fresh produce the day before.
It’s important to consider your budget – best not to plan a fancy dinner party when the wallet’s feeling a little light! “I would allow $100 per head, but I like to throw quite elaborate parties,” Alex says.
“This may seem a lot, but once you purchase quality drinks and produce as well as decorations, you can easily spend up to $100 [per person]. But around $50-$100 per head would be suitable.” Quality drinks and fresh produce can take your dinner party from zero to hero.
Quality drinks and fresh produce can take your dinner party from zero to hero.
Choose a theme
One way to make the evening more memorable is to plan your dishes and decorations around a central theme. It doesn’t have to be too complicated: think, a national cuisine or a particular era.
“You could do a daggy 70s dinner party with cocktail food revamped and dress up,” Alex suggests.
Apart from giving your menu a central focus, it can also allow you to get creative with your decorations. “If it’s Italian, have a red-and-white chequered tablecloth, Italian music in the background, and maybe if you’ve got a TV in the living room you could play old black-and-white movies,” says Alex.
Don’t get too ambitious with your theme, however: “Pick something you’re passionate about and something you’re comfortable cooking,” Alex says.
Prep like a chef
There are three short words that divide chefs from the rest of us mere mortals: mise en place. It’s at the heart of any restaurant kitchen, allowing cooks to churn out hundreds of meals in the space of a few hours.
Pronounced “meez on plus” it’s French for “putting in place” – getting everything set up. It means chopping, dicing, par-boiling, spooning into little containers, labelling and arranging every element of a dish that can be prepared beforehand. So when it comes time for plating up, everything is ready for you simply to finalise the dish and get it on the table.
“You want to do as much as possible the night before so that when your guests arrive, everything’s laid out with only a few things to do so you’re not away from your guests too long,” Alex suggests.
“Work out what you can make in advance, and what needs to be made on the night. Things like starters, dips or cold dishes, you can prepare the night before and keep in the fridge so it’s ready to go.” Whether your dessert is best served hot or cold, prepare it the night before to save time.
Whether your dessert is best served hot or cold, prepare it the night before to save time.
For instance, you can put a cold dessert together the day before and keep it in the fridge. A hot dessert made the night before can be reheated in the oven.
That said, some things really have to be cooked fresh. “Anything to do with meat is best done on the night, unless you’re creating a slow-cooked dish,” says Alex. “If you’re doing fresh meat on the barbecue, though, you want to do it then and there.”
“Here’s a pro-tip,” confides Alex. “Leave yourself enough time to have a shower and chuck on some lippy or straighten your tie.”
It’s so easy to get caught up in the cooking, making sure every hors d’oeuvres has its micro-cress applied with surgical accuracy, that you forget to make yourself presentable.
Schedule enough time to have a shower and make yourself look and feel good before your guests arrive.
“There’s nothing worse than rocking up to someone’s house to find them sweating, and they’ve dropped the salad and they’re freaking out,” Alex advises. “You’re not going to be able to enjoy yourself.” “What’s the point of having a dinner party if you can’t enjoy the experience with your friends?”
“What’s the point of having a dinner party if you can’t enjoy the experience with your friends?”
Let’s face it: spending a whole evening slaving over the stove, burning the meringue or getting elbow-deep in dishes doesn’t constitute a party.
It’s important to remember the very reason you threw a dinner party – to hang out with your friends. “It’s a no-no to be in the kitchen all night,” Alex says. “What’s the point of having a dinner party if you can’t enjoy the experience with your friends?”
To Alex’s mind, the underlying factor of a good dinner party is that guests are only ever as relaxed and have as much fun as the host.
If you’re hosting a dinner party, set yourself up so you can enjoy the experience. This comes down to preparation, so you’re not scrambling at the last minute and putting unnecessary stress on yourself.
Ms Darlinghurst proudly supports the new Fuze Tea range.