Bring Colin Fassnidge-like flair to your next dinner party with these expert tips from some of Australia’s top names in food.
You may have a friend who, when hosting a dinner party, seems to breeze through the event with effortless grace.
Someone who serves a new and delicious meal every time, yet sits back sipping and socialising, spending hardly any time in the kitchen.
If, by contrast, you end up a flustered mess, it may be time for expert intervention.
We’ve gone straight to the source, uncovering hot tips on mains, sides and everything in between, from some of those enviable people who never host a dud dinner. Bon appetite.
A cheese board is a comforting place to gather if guests arrive feeling famished, or socially awkward. Cheesemaking siblings, and connoisseurs of all things fromage, Ellie and Sam Studd suggest keeping it simple. “You’re better off doing one rock star cheese than five mediocre ones,” says Ellie. “It’s a cheeseboard, not a mandala.”
Three is the winning number, according to Ellie, split between a dreamy creamy option such as Brillat Savarin, a delicate, floral washed rind cheese, like Le Dauphin Soumaintrain and something more intense, perhaps a Riverine Blue or a spicy Roquefort. “Arrange them from mild to wild, next to their pairing, so guests know what goes with what,” says Ellie.
For example, cornichons will cut through a meaty washed rind, walnuts and figs will add crunch and color to a creamy option, and a drizzle of honey, or some fresh strawberries, is all it takes to make blue cheese sing.
Aim for around 50-80g of cheese a person if you’re serving your cheese board as an appetizer, or bulk up the quantity and base your entire meal on cheese. “You could get a grill and some Le Duc from your local cheese shop and have a raclette party,” says Sam. “Boil up potatoes, set out some pickles and charcuterie and dip in hunks of bread.”
Having watched MasterChef contestants sweat at countdown time, chef Colin Fassnidge is all for cuts that can be prepared in advance. “Something like beef brisket, beef cheek or lamb shoulder can be cooked the day before and slowly reheated – much better than trying to cook a fillet steak when everyone’s there,” he says.
A pork neck is another option, either seared in a pan and sliced into steaks while pink, or braised for hours until it falls apart. “Serve it to me in a tomato stew with chickpeas, chilli capers and sage, and I’m a happy man,” Fassnidge says.
Ox tail also works well as comforting winter fare. “Sear it so it’s a beautiful colour, deglaze with old red wine, season with a bit of soy sauce for umami saltiness, add water, carrots, onion, garlic, fresh herbs and simmer for a few hours,” he suggests. “Toss it through pasta with fresh horseradish, or serve with Israeli couscous for the texture.”
Venturing beyond prime cuts brings another perk: more money saved for good cheese and wine.
Vegetables don’t have to be the backup singers, says chef Darren Robertson. “Try pumpkin, halved and baked with a little harissa, served with labneh; or roasted carrots, finished with honeycomb and grated ricotta”. A tray of roasted beetroot and pear, with goat’s cheese, will bring a punch of color and flavour, and set it all off with a dip of roasted zucchini, chopped and mixed through yogurt with garlic, lemon mint and olive oil to taste.
Even the humble spud can steal the show. Robertson suggests serving kipfler potatoes boiled in chicken stock, then roasted with garlic thyme and tallow (beef fat).
Set the scene with a simple theme, suggests delicious. food stylist and recipe writer Kirsten Jenkins. “You might go natural and earthy with tonal linens and platters in creams, caramels and stone,” she says. “If you have a lot of bold pieces, you could mix and match, sticking to two or three main colours.”
Set out the platers beforehand, to ensure there’s a place for everything, and opt for native or dried flowers down the centre, rather than vases of more perishable blooms.
“Don’t get caught up in props that sit between food,” Jenkins says. “You can underestimate what your table will look like once it’s full of people.”
Ultimately, good wine will neatly erase memories of a burnt main or sloppy salad. Comedian Merrick Watts is better known for frivolity than food, but as head clown at wine and comedy festival series, Grapes of Mirth, he has picked up a few dinner party wine hacks.
If in doubt, go with rose, he says. Otherwise, an unfamiliar variety works a treat.
“It means they can’t correctly judge you,” he says. “Say Assyrtiko for white and Saperavi for red. They’ll be too scared to say anything other than ‘it’s good’.”
For extra social lubrication, ask your local wine merchant for something with an interesting story.
“It will give you something to talk about, especially good with substandard company”. Finally, keep it flowing. “Running out of wine kills the vibe,” Watts says. “Drink until someone looks at you like you need an Uber. Then get one.”
For more tips and inspiration, check out Make it delicious, a new video series that steps into the kitchens of some of Australia’s favorite food personalities.
Watch Make it delicious, proudly supported by Massel weekly at delicious.com.au/makeitdelicious
Originally published as Top foodies share dinner party tips to impress your guests