How to Plan a Dinner Party.

by lifeundeveloped on May 8, 2015

One question I get asked a lot is how do I make sure everything is done at the same time.  Quite often, I cater dinner parties.  Whether it is a birthday or a special dinner for a group of friends, it’s all the same to me.  I go through the same routine for every event.  I thought it’d be fun to take you through what my process is and how by careful planning and organization, throwing dinner parties can be a stress free success.

zuccrolls

First.

The Menu.

You need to sit down and create the menu.  Do you have a theme? Perhaps you are throwing a party for someone special.  Do they have a favorite dish?  I find it best to keep things simple.  Sometimes the more items you have or the more complicated you make those items, the bigger risk you are taking.

When I sit down with a potential client. I always try to pick their brain first.  I give them the floor hoping for them to give me an idea of what they’re looking for even if they’re not sure themselves.  If we have a jumping off point, it’s easier for me to guide them the rest of the way.

I like to mix the difficulty level of things when creating a menu too.  Have a nice variety of things that can be made ahead of time and things that need attention to detail.  Let’s take the menu below as an example:

menu

This was a dinner party I did for about 10 people.  It was so simple that it was really enjoyable and fun for me.   Which should be how all dinner parties should be.  Agreed?

The dessert was tiramisu.  That is something I could do ahead of time.  So I did those the day before.  That way all I had to do day of was garnish them.   For the salad, all components were done the day before,  i.e: beets, vinaigrette, toasted pistachios.  Day of all that was needed was assembling it all together.  Those were the really easy things.

Let’s look at the appetizer.  The blackberry sauce was made the day ahead, just needed to be heated day of.  Corn salsa was made the day ahead, giving it a chance for the flavors to meld together.  I did taste it day of and adjusted the seasonings as needed.  Scallops were seared day of, everything else was ready and just needed to be plated.

For the pork loin, I brined it two days ahead of time and cooked it day of.  The vegetables accompanying the pork, were prepped [peeled, cut, blanched] the day before and cooked the day of.  The reduction was made the day before.  The polenta was made day of.

Do you see where I’m coming from when I say a variety of things that can be done ahead of time and things that need attention?

Good.  Let’s move on…

Second. 

Cost it out.

Okay. So you’ve got the menu. Phew.

Now this is the part I personally hate, but it’s a necessary evil.

I’ve never been a good number person.  I’m a visual girl.  I’m good with being creative and making a nice looking plate.  I leave the number crunching to my accountant friends.  Here’s lookin’ at you, Fervent Foodie. :-)

You need to know how much the menu is going to cost you to execute.  What your cost of goods are.  If you are doing this professionally and have a staff, labor needs to be taken into account as well.

menu2

Third.

Shopping and Prep list.

This is one my favorites.  I love to go and pick out and buy the ingredients I need to prepare the menu at hand.  I also am a huge nerd, and am a list fiend.  When I go shopping I want everything on my list to be organized.  I usually separate my lists by a few categories:

Produce, cooler, dry, bread, meat, misc.

This way it prevents me from having to run around the store like a mad person.

[Call me OCD if you must].

zucchini

I also love to make prep lists.  I literally go down the menu, start to finish, menu item by menu item.  I list every ingredient and step that goes into that menu item.  This way nothing gets missed.  Everyone’s on the same page.  Idiot proof if you will.

Plus I really love to highlight tasks off of the list once complete.  It gives me personal satisfaction.  I’m weird, we know this.

There are things that can be done in advance.  Trust me I don’t do all of this preparation in one day.  That would be crazy.

You start with things that will hold for the longest period of time first.  Usually this includes things like making condiments, toasting nuts, etc.  More delicate things like prepping vegetables and greens for salads you don’t mess with until the day before or day of even.

Fourth.

Execution.

Of course this is my favorite part of this whole party planning process.  Cooking.  I mean I hope it’s my favorite, that’s why I got into this industry to begin with right??

If things are organized, you have your lists, you have hands to help, this part of the process usually goes smoothly.

piping

Let’s talk about the picture above.

In the picture above I am filling cucumber boats with a flavored cream cheese filling.

The filling was made probably a couple days before the day of the event.  It’s a ‘condiment’, it will hold.  I scooped the cucumber boats out the day before.  Everything was wrapped, labeled, dated and ready to go!  On the the of event, all I had to do for this was let the filling sit out at room temperature for a half hour or so, pipe it into the cucumbers and garnished them.  Boom.  Done.

plate

Does this all make sense?

When doing a party or event, the idea is to skillfully plan out every aspect of it.  You have to get all the components for each menu item ready that way day of, all you have to do is assemble or cook things.

At the end of the day it’s all common sense if you think about it.

I hope this gave you all a little insight into the behind the scenes of my job.  I also hope this was a concept easy enough for you all to grasp and apply in your own lives.  If anyone needs anything to be explained in further detail or has a question about planning that I did not already answer, feel free to leave a comment or email me!!

Vanessa

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A Chef’s Inspiration…

by lifeundeveloped on April 16, 2015

As a chef, there are many questions that I get asked frequently.

“What’s your specialty?”, “What’s your favorite food?”, “How do you work such long days?”

I personally abhor when someone asks me what my favorite food is.  Food is my life, my passion.  It is just not humanely possible for me to choose just ONE thing that I love.  Sorry I cannot answer that question.  Don’t take it personally.

A question I do appreciate is, “Where do you get your inspiration”  or “What inspires you as a chef?”

knives

A chef appreciates people taking the time to understand where they’re coming from.  When you see that crazy special on the menu, instead of jumping to conclusions or assuming that the chef just threw together whatever they had laying around, ask them how they came up with it.  I promise you there’s almost always a reasoning or story behind it.

Keep in mind I’m discussing what inspires ME as a chef.  I’m sure there are many similarities between what I am inspired by and by what other chef’s are inspired by, but please don’t stereotype it.  Every chef is their own individual, with their own inspired ideas.

So where do I get my inspiration from…

coffee

Coffee.

Kidding… Although really, I’m quite incapable of accomplishing anything without a steamy cup of joe in the morning.

Seriously now, here’s what inspires me…

1) Seasonality

berries

I know the whole “seasonality” thing has been beaten to death, but seriously, it’s one of the most important things!  There’s a reason that there’s a specific type of year that tomatoes are at it’s best.  So when it’s that time of year, why not use them in any way possible?

That tomato will never taste as sweet and juicy than that late summer day. I actually find it challenging and fun to try to use an ingredient in as many ways as possible!

tomato

Sticking with the tomato example, you could make tomato pie, salads, salsas, sauces, soups, oven dry them, make killer sandwiches, vinaigrettes, smoke them….. See what I’m saying??  Things lead to things and before you know it you have a Summer’s worth of meals!

2) Trends

Just like fashion, the culinary world goes through changes just as fast.  Back in the day there was nothing better than eggs and caviar together or that molten chocolate cake [Chef movie reference anyone??].

chocolate

Both of which I’ve been guilty of paying homage to.

Nowadays, people’s opinions have changed, and the things that once were new and up and coming are now blase.  That’s just how the world rolls.  I kind of like it that way though.  When things are always changing, it keeps us on our toes and always gets us thinking.

mags

I feel like you constantly have to be on the hunt for the next big thing.  I, personally am always perusing the latest issues of all the foodie magazines.  I follow an insane amount of food blogs.  I read my favorite restaurant’s menus.  Pinterest is the best for just searching a wide variety of food ideas. I call it a “time suck” because I can be on that site for hours.  The best part is I can “pin” things that I find interesting.  Then when I am having one of those days and can’t think of anything new to make, I go to those “pins” and get inspired.

3) Traveling 

When traveling to different places, I probably spend most of my proposed budget on food.  I completely immerse myself in whatever area that I’m in.  All I want to do is eat my way through that city.  I want to eat and drink as the locals do.  You end up finding some really cool and unforgettable things by doing that.  I somewhat recently took a trip with my best friend to Seattle, WA.

seattle

When I came back, I was totally inspired by the cuisine of the Pacific Northwest.  Given, I couldn’t cook with their incredible seafood or giant lobster mushrooms, but I could take some of their influences and incorporate them into the ingredients that I have in my region.

fish

4) Location 

When I say that location influences me I’m saying that where I reside and the style of cooking and ingredients indigenous to that area are a big inspiration.  For example, if you didn’t know this already, I live in North Carolina.  Since, living down here, I’ve learned the importance of a good biscuit, grits aren’t just for breakfast and canning is a way of life.

grits

Why should that not influence or inspire me? This almost goes hand in hand with travel and wanting to eat and drink as the locals do.  You can learn a lot by just planting some roots in a certain place for a while.  Learn from living there. These things will continue to influence you throughout your life.

5) History

There’s a couple of different ways to look at this one.

Family history for one.  By family history I mean recipes and processes passed down from generation to generation.  There’s more than likely a reason why that recipe for gravy [as the Italians would say] or killer pound cake has been around for years and years.  It’s a solid base to take off from.  I’ve found that the younger generation takes those recipes and puts their own spin on it.  Which, in my opinion, is pretty ingenious.

farmersmarket

The other way history plays a part in inspiring a chef is a culture’s or region’s history.  For example, Southern culture has so much history to it.  Back in the day, and even still today, Southerners really did it all.  They grew their own food, raised their own food, canned it, nurtured it.  I mean it really doesn’t get better than that.

By going back in time and looking at what made the South tick, you can discover some pretty fascinating things.  Through that you can preserve and carry on traditions that would otherwise be lost to future generations.  That my friend, is pretty darn inspiring.

me

And that folks, is a little bit about what makes me tick.  What keeps my mind going.  How I come up with the ever so crazy specials that I feature at the restaurant.  Hope you enjoyed this little glimpse.

Until next time….

Vanessa.

{ 4 comments }

Daily Special: Buffalo Cauliflower Taco

April 11, 2015

Hi friends! As part of giving you a “behind the scenes” look at the restaurant, I decided to create a post called “Daily Special”.  What this means is that I will take you through, step by step, on how I create some of our specials at the restaurant. Today’s Daily Special is: THE BUFFALO CAULIFLOWER […]

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The Next Chapter…

April 6, 2015

Hello blogesphere.  It’s been a while.  I hope you all are still out there. Where have I been you ask?  Well here’s the scoop… Since my last post, I left my job as sous chef at the Bobcats, Time arena downtown. I packed up my 600 sq. ft. apartment in the heart of Charlotte and […]

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Peppermint Walnut Snowball Cookies

December 12, 2012

During the holidays, I loathe racking my brain trying to figure out the perfect gift to buy each and every someone. I used to scour the aisles of  malls and stores with no hope in site. Then about only a few years ago, I started making my gifts. People love homemade stuff right?  I mean […]

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Where I’ve Been, What I’ve Been Doing…

November 4, 2012

Remember me, Vanessa?  The used-to-be consistent author of this food blog. Are you still here?  Are you still listening? So it would appear as if I took a impromptu break from the blogosphere. I didn’t plan it.  I didn’t want it.  Alas, real life happens, and responsibilities take precedence over hobbies. I’m sorry.   Will […]

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Blackberry Barbecue Sauce

August 28, 2012

Hey readers! So somehow, this last month of Summer flew by and September is upon us. Seriously how did that happen?! As much as I love Summer though, I must admit I am a bit giddy with excitement thinking about Fall! So with that being said, last week I decided to celebrate the last of […]

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Panzanella Salad

August 11, 2012

Happy weekend! Before we talk about food, can we just talk about how insane it is that it is already AUGUST?! Where did this Summer go? At any rate, I know I am going to try to make the most of it while it lasts! Fall is always magical though. Changing of the leaves, cool […]

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Dole Banana Party

July 31, 2012

Recently, Dole asked my friend Mary and I if each of us would like to host a banana party. I’m pretty sure as soon as we both got the email we talked to each other about it and unanimously decided it would be amazing if we hosted a joint party. That was the easy part! […]

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Zucchini, Carrot and Corn Fritters

July 22, 2012

Happy Sunday Funday!!!! Why do we call it Sunday Funday when Monday morning is right around the corner? I know, don’t remind you huh? Ok, let’s change the subject to… THAT. What is that, you ask? A new creation that has changed my life. Zucchini, carrot and corn fritters.  I had my doubts about these […]

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