This Thanksgiving we partnered with Haven’s Kitchen, a cooking school, event space and café in New York City, to host a Thanksgiving feast with friends. Read on for Haven’s Kitchen founder Alison Cayne’s top Thanksgiving tips.
“I was nine years old when I cooked my first Thanksgiving,” says Alison Cayne, owner and founder of Haven’s Kitchen cooking school, café and event space in New York City.
Cayne, a native New Yorker, grew up with a father who was a world-champion bridge player. His biggest bridge tournament was always around Thanksgiving, which meant the feast itself took a back seat. So, the nine-year-old chef set about creating the dinner of her dreams on her own—the kind she had seen on TV and in commercials.
“My mother was kind enough to get me a frozen turkey,” Cayne explains. “On Thanksgiving morning I took it straight out of the freezer at 8am and put it in the oven.” Eleven hours later, a hungry group was still poking at a partially cooked turkey, she recalls, laughing. “I think the can of cranberry sauce was the highlight of that meal.”
Despite the early flop, Cayne has been cooking and hosting Thanksgiving ever since. “I cooked Thanksgiving for my family when I was a kid, for my friends in college, I even hosted it myself when all five of my kids were still young – that’s how much I love cooking and being the host.”
Here, she shares the five rules of staying calm and grounded as you pull off the best Thanksgiving of your life—without breaking a sweat.
1) Let Others Take Action
Whether you’re hosting a Friendsgiving, where people may be meeting for the first time, or a Thanksgiving, where family strains can show, the antidote to tension is action. “Know what will put your guest at ease, and it may be different for each person,” Cayne advises. “One person may relax best if you give them a job, like slicing the bread or arranging some flowers, while someone else needs a drink in their hand and an introduction to a friendly face.”
2) Put Every Guest in Their Place
Though it may seem contradictory to Cayne’s laid-back approach to hosting, she recommends setting a place for each guest at the table, complete with a name card. “When you tell people to ‘just sit anywhere’ it creates a lot of pressure for them – no one wants to be the first one to sit down.” So, thoughtfully setting your table with each individual guest in mind can help everyone feel more relaxed.
3) Don’t Apologize
No matter how your food comes out, don’t make any apologies for it. “Once everyone is gathered around the table and having a good time, I promise that no one will care if the carrots are burnt.”
4) Stay True to (Some) Tradition
“I still make people go around and say what they are thankful for,” says Cayne. “Now that I have teenage kids it’s a tough tradition to stick to, but it’s so important!” To break the ice, the host should go first and start by sharing something they are thankful for. For Cayne, that’s the growth and success of Haven’s Kitchen. “I am really, really thankful that this little school that I made so I could teach people how to cook has turned into a real business that’s providing livelihood and building a community.”
5) Remember the Only Rule That Really Matters
“There is really just one rule of being a good host,” says Cayne. “Be sure people know that you are happy they are there. That’s it. It’s simple. Everything else follows from that.”
Catch more of our behind-the-scenes shoot with Haven’s Kitchen in the video below.