You’ve overcommitted and succumbed to whatever pressure that resulted to be cooking at your dinner party. Deals of fine dining brokered and battle plans drawn for the night. Here’s my guide to pulling off the cooking portion! I’ll leave the drinks, dinner decoration and party favours to you!
Step 1: Requirements Gathering
Knowing your requirements down to a fine detail is essential. Some are the most important questions are:
Size of the party? Dietary or religious requirements? Type of meal is it (buffet, sit down formal)? Special event like Valentine’s Day?
Nothing worse than realising when you’ve slaved hours braising pork belly and your guests are Muslim or worse, octo-lactose-ova-blah-blah vegetarian. The more you know, the easier to plan.
Write it down on an excel sheet linked to your smartphone! Google Sheets Anyone?
Step 2: Culinary Limits
If you have a small kitchen, it is unlikely you can pull off 25 dishes without completely losing your sanity. You need to know (with your past experiences) how much food is feasible.
How many stoves, oven, blenders, mixers, microwaves (list goes on) have you got? Storage spaces? How many plates, bowls, pots, pans, whisks? Do a good stocktake and write it down. The more you know, the better you can be prepared for.
Another limitation that is probably far more important to realise is – your culinary talents. Does it extend to 2-minute instant noodles? or maybe duck l’orange with some mash and buttered beans, cheese souffle and an assiette of pork belly doesn’t faze you?
Defining your hard-culinary limits significant helps with menu planning, so you don’t overdo it and end up succumbing to tears of failure.
Add the kitchen stocktake to a tab on your excel file.
Step 3: I Dream of Food
By now, you should know how much food to put on the table, what ingredients you can’t use, and completed the stocktake of your kitchen. You are armed with the knowledge of your culinary limitations and you’re ready for planning.
It’s time to fill in a menu. This is the time for google, https://dopenkitchen.com/recipes (blatant self-promotion, sorry!) or recipe books to be scoured for the right dishes!
Dream of dishes (that you can cook) that satisfies this: Does the dish comply to requirements? Do I have the tools to cook this? Do I have the right plate to serve on?
Over-plan the number of dishes. If you’re cooking 6 for the night – dream up another 2 or 4 for backup. This will help you for the next stage.
Put your dishes down on excel w/ accompanying recipes, methods & equipment you need.
Balance your menu, make sure you have the right balance of carbohydrates, proteins and veggies – unless of course your party is going to filled with carnivores only.
Step 4: The Art of Balancing (The Menu)
A balanced menu is hard to pull off – even for chefs. The easiest way to categorise them is in 4 categories.
1. Difficulty: Easy, Medium, Hard.
2. Essential: Yes, or Optional.
3. Course: Entree, Main or dessert.
4. Ability to prepare ahead of time: Yes/No.
For the most optimised menu, choose the easiest difficulty, essential dishes that can be prepared head of time adhering to the ratio of 1 entree, 2 mains and 1 dessert!
The ability to prepare the dish ahead of time is a big bonus for smaller kitchens or a cook with no help. This will save you a lot of time.
If you must do a hard difficulty dish, make sure the rest are super easy. This will give you ample time to concentrate on the hard one.
Step 5: Pre-Shopping
Pre-shopping is an essential. In this stage, you can stock up on any dry (or hard to get) ingredients, additional pot/pans, or other equipment ready for night. This will take a load off the perishable shopping. This should be done well in advance so to give yourself ample time to scout out for the best deals and hunt around for harder to find ingredients. Keep a lookout for you fresh ingredients along the way.
Also, this gives you some time to tweak your recipes if some ingredients are far too expensive or unavailable!
Your excel sheet comes in handy to create a couple of shopping lists: fresh ingredients, dry ingredients, equipment. Tick them off as you go!
Far too many people miss this stage – it is essential to give yourself time to shop and research. Don’t do it haphazardly and rush – you might end up missing a few items on your list.
Step 6: The Perishable Shop
Using the information from your pre-shopping stage, you should able to zoom in on your ingredients. Go out and buy all your fresh vegetables, meat, and other perishables. Store them appropriately! How many times have I seen potatoes in the fridge? Too many.
Use the wet markets as much as you can, their goods are often cheaper and fresher. However, supermarkets have that ‘all-in-one’ convenience without the wet floors – your call.
Step 7: Pre-cook and Prep
Do all your preparation a day before the cooking night. Chefs call this mise en place (or everything in place). You can chop up the vegetables, marinade meats, create stocks or even cook off some components of the dishes just to reheat them the day later. Do this for all the components that can survive a night (or more) in the fridge.
Remember the more you do on this day, the less you must do tomorrow!
Pre-cook and prep will reduce your cooking time the next day significantly if planned and done right.
Use containers (or clear food-safe plastic bags – IKEA ziplocks are a great cheat) to keep your prepared foods. Bunch them together per dish into your fridge for easy organisation.
Step 8: Judgement Day: The Cook Off
If you’re come this far, all you have left to do is execute the remainder of your plan as quickly as humanly possible. Get out of the kitchen, have a glass of wine (or beer) and enjoy your night!
And if all else fails, call in the calvary! – Look up the pros for private chefs! Good luck – Chef Gary.
Serve up entrees and main together, so you get to enjoy your night!