Recipe for a Stress-Free Dinner Party: KISS the Cook(ing)

News-Record, April 18, 2019
Rose Bennett Gilbert

Giving a dinner party this Saturday night? Then you'd better get started now, this very evening, warns Ben Salmon, food and fiber artist, founder and former owner of Kitchen a La Mode, the award-winning kitchen supply shop in South Orange.

Out of the frying pan, into the classroom: Ben Salmon shares step-by-step how-to's for stress-free dinner parties.

Out of the frying pan, into the classroom: Ben Salmon shares step-by-step how-to's for stress-free dinner parties.

Successful dinner parties have one key ingredient in common -- preplanning, says Ben, who will be teaching a new class on "No-Stress Dinner Parties," April 24 at the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School.

His not-so-secret recipe for being an unharried host: "Plan it out in advance. No seat-of-the-pants, last-minute running around. Remember, you control this party. It doesn't control you. Choose recipes you're comfortable with, nothing you'd have to serve hot off the griddle. And save experimenting with new dishes for when you're having close friends over.

"Apply the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Several days before the party, allow time to sit with a glass of wine and block out the job ahead. Make a list of all the tasks you have to do to get ready.

"First, decide what you'll be serving and how: buffet-style, family style, or plated. Then copy or print out your recipes. Next, transcribe the ingredients to another list according to the departments in your grocery store: dairy, meats, vegetables, like that."

For a Saturday night dinner party, for example, Ben lays out four "boxes" of time and allots specific chores to each, starting with Friday night. Maybe that's when you clean the house, and/ or do the shopping, he suggests.

"You might also want to chop some vegetables on Friday night...marinate the meat, maybe set the table early. I like to pull out the platters I'll be using, and lay out the utensils I'll need, the peeler, the grater, whatever."

Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon offer two more boxes of time in which to handle specific chores. The fourth time slot goes to last-minute details. With which you can ask for help, Ben reminds. "Having your tasks written down makes its easier to enlist a spouse or a friend who comes early. Just hand over the list and point to what you need done."

Finally, relax with your guests. "You want to give a great dinner party, but you also want to enjoy it yourself." And never mind if some things are not as perfect as you'd planned, Ben says. "I'm a big believer that perfection is the enemy of good. I once ran out of food when more people showed up than we'd expected. I'd made pulled pork, which took 15 hours to cook, and it was all gone."

His lesson learned: "Now I always have way too much. Now I cook like a Jewish mother!"


EDITOR's NOTE: Ben's artwork is included in "New Directions in Fiber Art," a juried show at the Montclair Museum of Art through June 16.