Now that the festive season is upon us, I feel that it is appropriate to discuss hosting. Hosting truly is an art. The ability to select and create a winning menu to keep your guests happy takes a lot of skill and experience. Everyone throws parties, but you will find that the ones that stay with you, are the ones the host or hostess went the extra mile to make you feel special.
From the food, to the drinks, the ambiance, company, conversation, decor, location etc, there was that something extra or different. With a lot of parties I have been to, I can almost guess what the host/hostess’s mindset was. Cook large portions of food, buy drinks, invite people and that’s a wrap. Of course people will come, eat the food, drink, gist, but your party will be filed under one of those numerous parties that is forgotten about the minute they get into the car.
There is a lot that goes into a truly successful party, but today, I am going to be focusing on food, as it is the most central element. There are some parties which you remember vividly, and it is not just because someone made a spectacle of themselves, or the DJ brought the house down. Many times, your memory will be linked to the food that was served. Days or even weeks after, you still relish that memory with glee. Have you wondered why? There are lots of answers to this question but it all boils down to the host/hostess went the extra mile to achieve that.
Hosting Pitfalls – One common thing I have observed at parties is a flustered and mostly absent host/hostess. Throwing a party should not only be about your guests, but you as the host/hostess should enjoy every minute of it. Spending the entire time in the kitchen or being sucked into one logistical nightmare or the other, while your guests have all the fun is not the way to host a party. You invited them because they are special to you. You should be able to spend time with them, and not leave them to their own devises.
I love a party where I can not only mingle with other guests, but the host/hostess too. To be a great hostess is not just about serving good food, but being there with your guests to chit chat, have a laugh, catch up on the latest gossip, and overall enjoying their company. One of the key factors behind a flustered host, is taking on too much, all in a bid to impress or throw a grand party.
Food – This is usually the number one culprit. Many host/hostesses have grandiose ideas of serving mountains of varieties of food and drinks. When the d-day arrives they have a million things to do, and the party they planned so hard, spent all that money passes by in a blur. At the end of the evening they are exhausted to the bone, and asleep on their feet. As a host/hostess, you have to ask yourself what you are trying to achieve? Do you want a ‘intimate/family party’ or an ‘event’? It may come across as semantics, but in the logistics of it all, there is a difference. If the venue and the number of people invited is going to involve you or friends/family doing all the cooking, serving, clearing up, decorating and most likely at home (yours or someone else’s), you are having a family party. Once you have caterers involved, waiters, decorators, security, invitation cards, you’ve sailed into the event atmosphere.
It is important to make a clear distinction, so you can plan accordingly. Trying to adopt the event experience into a party where you are doing all the work, is taking on too much. You don’t need 8 different starters, 4 main courses, 10 desserts, 6 appetisers or hors d’oeuvre, 5 cocktails etc. Your guests will probably not notice all the hard work, especially if the quality is not so great, or if it’s a platter of food/drinks they’ve eaten hundreds of times at parties.
Lack of Planning – the details of a successful party is in the planning. Unless you are having a really casual affair like 3 or 4 people, then you can throw something together last minute, but for this festive period, chances are that will not be the case, therefore, plan, plan, plan. Lack of planning can make a mess of your best intentions. If you want to put your best foot forward, you will be better off planning for that to happen. Plan your menu, read it over and over again to be sure you can handle it. Make adjustments if necessary and plan how you will cook what. If there are new items on that menu, practice, practice. Then make your shopping list, close to the time, but not too close. Some food items are very likely to fly off the shelves fast, get ahead of the pack, shop early and be confident that you won’t be that frazzled crazy person(s) looking for a can of something something 2 days to Christmas. If you will require help from friends/family, pen down who will be doing what or bringing what, and agree with them all. Never forget Plan B, people
Menu Choices – We can chant the kinds of foods we’ve eaten at parties. With every party you go to, it’s the same of the same. Despite your best intentions to wow your guests, chances are that you serve repetitive food. The parties that stay with me, are those where I get to eat something I probably haven’t eaten at other parties or something I don’t traditionally make at home myself. Those are the parties that will keep your guests talking for weeks, and your friends coming to you for tips and recipes. A great hostess should serve select/signature dishes. If you simply tune your mind to think out of the box, you’ll find that there are hundreds of dishes to choose from. Party staples are fried rice, jollof rice, something with meats, a native or traditional soup served with a starchy solid, fried dough like puff puff, samosas, spring rolls, salads etc. These are party staples and they work, but I’ll like you to stray away a little bit, still staying with the basics but serving something different and special. One way you can achieve this is to utilise the concept of Food Themes and/or serving your food as Courses. Don’t roll your eyes, it is possible with strictly Nigerian food or a global fusion of food and cultures.
The concept of Food Themes and Courses – Have you considered serving your meals as courses? This way you divide your time between cooking and hosting perfectly. Meaning you don’t have to spend forever in the kitchen, while your guests have all the fun. You don’t need a sit down dinner or all your guests in attendance to serve courses. If some guests come in late, they’ll eat what is being served at the time.
Another option for a winning menu plan is to use an ingredient that will serve as a theme to either the foods served as one course or the entire menu. That way cooking is simpler, as you are likely to apply a few cooking styles or methods, and you can prepare certain components in bulk which can be used in more than one dish. Using seafood for example, you can merge the concept of Themes and Courses across 3 different dishes. Seafood is a good example because it is not a common component seen in parties, or something people cook with often. Seafood also cooks very fast, so you can have ample time to be with your guests. Due to its cost, your guests will see the hard work and expense you put into making them feel special, and with the dishes I’ll be serving, they’ll definitely remember your party and come back for tips. I know seafood is expensive, there are other choices.
In the next post, I will explain be explaining this concept, listing the different types of dishes you can prepare and how best to combine them. If you are already worrying about what to serve for your Christmas party, you will find many useful hints and tips. Until then, Happy Cooking.
Dunni Obata is an IT Project Manager by day and a cook the rest of the time. She loves entertainment and one of her bad habits is feeding people. When she’s not cooking, she’s watching the Food Network. Dunni is very passionate about Nigerian food and believes it has a lot to offer globally. Visit her blog – www.dooneyskitchen.com