FEATURE – New Year’s is just days away. If you’re planning a party, the right food can make it memorable. Chef Greg Reith answers some common questions, and gives some advice, on holiday cooking and catering.
When you think of the holidays, which foods come to mind?
Saurbraten, spaetzle, gingersnap gravy, stuffed peppers and spritz cookies. What else does a German think about at holiday times?
In my experience, once the holiday season arrives, we default to traditional and contemporary dishes as opposed to exploring new, unfamiliar fare. This season, try celebrating with a global perspective.
What are your recommendations and favorites?
Epitomize the experience of a Mexican celebration and savor carne asada, posole, jicama salad, hand-cut, home-fried tortilla chips and salsa, salsa, salsa. This is one of my favorite meals.
Give your guests another memorable dining experience by preparing your favorite Indian cuisine in personalized little bowls and sitting on the floor in the traditional dining style of the Orient. Often, what makes a party successful is doing something completely unexpected.
The most important thing is to use your time wisely. Calendar everything from grocery lists and prep assignments to cleaning, organizing and decorating. Great caterers are great time managers.
The next step is to set the stage; clear countertops, bookshelves, entertainment centers and use these areas to cleverly display food and beverages. I have served premier food items out of old record players, hutches, buffets and even a retro refrigerator.
Another thing to remember is that professional party planners never try to do it all on their own. They have staff and contract out the catering, décor, music, etc. If your goal is to really enjoy your own party and be present with your guests, hiring someone like me to cater your event takes the majority of the time-crunch pressure points out of the equation.
My final piece of advice is to entertain yourself first and through osmosis, you will entertain others.
What do you think is the most important factor in making a meal special?
My most memorable meal was provided by my future wife, Staci (and yes, I married her because of it). She was the first person I had dated who was brave enough to cook for me. She prepared her very own, now famous, potstickers. To say the least, I will never forget it. That’s what I call the feeling behind a meal.
Another important factor is the consideration, taking the thought to personalize the service ware, the dish, the plate, the bowl, the spoon, the goblet and so on specifically for that guest. This may seem a bit overwhelming, but bear in mind I didn’t say “fine China.” Though I do frown on even the sturdiest disposable wares, I am not too proud to rock miscellaneous “hand-me-down” plates at dinner, especially during the holidays. I might serve one of my sisters a meal on a plate she may recognize from our childhood. If she doesn’t, someone else will, and that is all it takes to flood the room with competition over who remembers what most clearly.
By the end of the evening, our very loud, randomly selected trips down memory lane all seem to have begun with who had what ugly bowl, chipped glass, crooked spoon, etc. We are supposed to have fun, provide original experiences for our guests and set goals that challenge but don’t overwhelm us as hosts.
Written by Chef Greg Reith for St. George Health & Wellness magazine and St. George News.
Reith is the executive chef of St. George Health & Wellness magazine. He has a passion for healthy lifestyle choices, great food, the L.A. Dodgers, comic books and golf.
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