This post comes to us courtesy of Chi Dixon, blogger at Chi’s Food.
I am fortunate enough to live in one of the most amazing cities in the world – New York. We have delicious food, cultural experiences, sights to see and then… there’s Broadway. I’m pretty sure the city never sleeps because there are just too many reasons not to!
One of the things I’ll never get used to in New York (along with wearing heels in the snow – I’m never going to get the hang of that) is that cooking and entertaining at home doesn’t seem to happen often. Apartments are tiny, kitchens are microscopic and there are amazing restaurants everywhere (plus, everyone delivers).
Also, I’m from San Francisco, where we’re up the freeway from the central valley. In New York, it feels like farmers markets only sell apples from November to March, and grocery stores sell iceberg lettuce for two dollars a wimpy head. It makes cooking at home a challenge.
But Fall is upon us – time to have a dinner party! Or more appropriately, a potluck. To my great delight, a number of factors came into play for my recent potluck that really raised the bar. The New York Food and Wine Festival was taking place, so a handful of friends from MasterChef Season 2 happened to be in town.
My good friend, photographer Amy Fletcher, offered to let us use her studio home for the potluck, which is 50 stories above Brooklyn with magnificent views of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty. At the last minute we were joined by celebrity wine personality Mark Oldman and my friend Andrew Gottlieb, who recently took home the second place judges award at the Food Experiments National Tour.
I wanted to share some photos, recipes and tips from our event that you can to incorporate into your next gathering!
The practical stuff
Washing dishes after a party is easily my least favorite part. Even if you have conscientious guests who help you clean up as you go along, there’s still a fair amount of detritus to be dealt with at the end of the evening (or the next morning).
At the risk of increasing my carbon footprint for the day, I recommend disposable service wear – dishes, cups, cutlery – the whole nine yards. I opted for rectangular white plastic dishes to showcase the food being served, and because plastic plates can be recycled. Silver-colored plastic utensils felt less “picnic” and more “dinner,” and small clear tumblers for wine and drinks kept the beverage station from looking like it might have a keg under it. Check your local party supply 99 cent stores to see what your options are, and remember simple dishes allow the food to be the star of the show.
Our décor consisted of a magnificent view, so there was little need to add anything. The space, while larger than my apartment, was still at a premium, so we cleared the coffee table and encouraged our guests to get friendly and pile on the sofa, the floor, and a couple of folding chairs. Our chefs were encouraged to cook foods that could be eaten while balancing a plate on their knees and a glass of wine.
Try to get an idea of the dishes that are going to be served in advance. Since we had several chefs attending, we had to make sure there were enough pots and pans for braising, stewing and simmering — and enough service ware to serve up the goods family-style.
- Beyond the practical tips, the biggest tip I can share is to remember to have fun! It’s too easy to stress when you’re organizing a party, but keep in mind that a little bit of preparation and a lot of going with the flow will help everyone enjoy themselves.
- Be prepared with plenty of garbage bags and paper napkins, and have some seltzer on hand for guests who don’t drink or who want to lighten up their wine by making spritzers.
- If children will be attending, make sure you have things to keep them entertained and a space for them to do their thing. Keep the little ones out of the kitchen and out of harm’s way.
- Set up a station to handle your refuse and recycling. We used cardboard boxes lined with garbage bags so the whole thing could be tossed at the end of the night.
- Clean as you go along. Once in a while you or a designated friend should make a quick sweep of the area to ensure you don’t find cups hidden behind photos of elderly relatives the next day.
- Take lots of pictures. Get in close and take photos of the food and other candid photos so you can look back and remember how much fun the night was!
Potluck was the way for us to go because of the people attending, but this kind of dinner also helps lower the cost of hosting a party. With the proliferation of food shows and the accessibility of complex tools, inviting your guests to bring dishes of their choice creates incredible menus.
Now, on to the food.
The food we had was nothing short of amazing – the talent in the kitchen could easily rival many professional kitchens in New York City. The ballet that ensued from eight chefs, four burners, one oven and a small kitchen space was magnificent. Cries of “hot pan!” and “behind you!” rang through the apartment over a soundtrack from someone’s iPhone.
Non-cooking guests gathered on the sofa at a safe distance, ensuring that bottles of wine stayed open and flowing. When the food came out of the kitchen, each dish was greeted with a gasp, then marked silence as everyone tucked into their plates.
I realize how spectacularly lucky I was with my guest list; our roster of chefs and the dishes they created included:
- John Addonna – Sweet Potato Gnocchi with a Spicy-Sweet Bacon Glaze and Pan-Seared Scallops
- Monica Chung – Ukranian Borscht
- David Mathie Bersch – Autumn Spiced Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Butternut Squash Puree and Apple Bacon Chutney
- Natalie Rodriguez – Spanish Rice and Cheese Balls
- Alvin Schwartz – Simple 45-Degree Salmon with Fennel-Apple Slaw & Salmon Chicharon
- Alterik Wilburn – Decadent Brownies Three Ways
- Andrew Gottlieb – Butter-Poached Shrimp on Corn Toasts with Corn Soufflé
- Me – Hand-Turned Orichette with Tomato Pork Ragu
A couple of my friends were generous enough to share their recipes with us (see below). Each of these was written by the chef who provided the instruction.
Suffice to say, after several hours of amazing food, great conversation, incredible company and many calls for repeat performances in the future, we had a successful potluck in incredible style. I hope you enjoy the dishes as much as I did!
This is the dish I served, but I’m going to save the orichette for another post as there is a bit more technique involved. Still, this pork ragu is always a crowd pleaser.
There are three separate parts to this recipe: the pork, the beet juice and the veggies. When these components are ready, they join forces and BAM! You will have borscht that tastes like you have a Ukrainian grandmother. And if you already have a Ukrainian grandma, this will put you in her will.
We affectionately call him “FrankenChef” due to his talent for molecular gastronomy techniques!
This recipe involves some multitasking which you, the reader, will be guided through. Use your discretion with time management to execute this dish.
(Lead photo, clockwise from bottom left: Alterik Wilburn, Alvin Schwartz, Monica Chung, Natalie Rodriguez, John Addona, David Mathie Bersch, Chi Dixon)
(Photo Credits: Amy Fletcher)
About the author: Chi didn’t realize she could cook until she was well into her 20′s – then she discovered that it was one of the things she liked doing the most! As a top 100 contestant on MasterChef season 2, Chi discovered her hobby was more of a passion and has been exploring this passion since. Her objective is to de-mystify cooking and make it approachable and fun for anyone with the desire to set foot in the kitchen.