It is so much fun to entertain.  You pick the date and the time, pick the guests, choose the menu, get out the fine china and crystal, polish the sterling silver, and iron the good linens.  Well, … at least you pick the date, invite the guests and choose the menu, often anxious to try out your new creations on your guests.

Alas, gone are the days of getting out your finest things it seems.  Often times I hear folks say “My parents used to entertain all the time and they always used their good stuff.”  I too have said that and have many memories of Mom and Dad carefully hand-washing and drying their wedding china and putting it back into the special soft-sided containers that protected it.  The heyday of having company over for an extra special dinner with all the accoutrements seems to be over.  People just don’t pull out the fine things anymore, probably because they can’t go in the dishwasher.  But entertaining can still be special and enjoyable.

Usually what happens next is that it is time to start thinking about cleaning the house, which is probably the real reason you are having company anyway.  Having company is always a good excuse to pick things up, and maybe even finish a bigger project, like painting the living room, replacing the carpet or getting new furniture.

After getting the logistics set, it’s time to focus on the food.  As a chef, I have these two important rules for having company over:

  1. Never make important guests guinea pigs. If you are entertaining to impress, stay in your cooking comfort zone.  Know what you are going to do.  Practice new techniques and recipes on your best friends or family–not guests you want to impress–because they will understand if they need to stop and get a bite on the way home.  Or when you want to experiment, have a “try this out” night with everyone getting into the mood, and include a fancy innovative cocktail or two.  You can have so much more fun that way.

I am amazed at how often I hear people say, “I hope this is good; I’ve never made it before.”  I rarely if ever tell people I that it is the first time I have made something.  As a professional chef, I know it will be edible and most likely quite good, but for the home-cook, I say, “Make your specialty, or something close to it.”

  1. Never tell anyone exactly what you are having until you serve it. A variety of factors can affect the outcome of a dish or even a whole meal.  You may forget something at the grocery store and not want to make another trip.  You may overcook the zucchini to near mush, but save it by adding tomatoes, shallots, parmesan cheese and butter and call it Succotash.  You might add the wrong spice to a dish by mistake, and save it by calling it Chicken Dill Soup (instead of Chicken Basil).  I might even forget to serve something entirely, not seeing it until I am cleaning up after the dinner.  (This seems to especially happen with items like shaved truffles and fine caviar.)  Sometimes a sauce may go rogue and curdle.  Move over Beurre Blanc, Lemon Butter is here.  You can always (well, almost always) save a dish if the ingredients are good and it’s not burnt or has too much salt (those can be total deal-breakers).

So there is one handy tip I recommend using when the food you end up serving isn’t the food you started out cooking.  Simply rename it.

Chef Joel