How can 15 people cook together in San Francisco?
October 24, 2012 2:38 PM   Subscribe

How can I cook Thanksgiving dinner with 15 other people when none of us have a big enough apartment?

Hi all,

About 15 family-less transplants to San Francisco are trying to figure out how we can all get together and cook and make merry. Is AirBnB going to be my best option, or should we try to rent an extended stay hotel room? We don't need to stay the night, exactly, but I imagine there will be plenty of booze and if people CAN crash, that's probably best. Has anyone else been in this situation? What did you do? All of us driving out of the city is an option, but not a terribly good one, since few of us have cars.

Thank you!
posted by OrangeDrink to Grab Bag (15 answers total)
How not-big-enough are these places? Are there not enough places for everyone to sit? Not enough room in the kitchen? We often host Tday, and sometimes have a lot of people (20 one year, I think); we have a bring-your-own-chair policy, and sometimes that gets extended to cocktail glasses, serving platters/bowls, etc. The hardest thing is having just one oven, because the turkey takes so much time and space, and I can't think that an extended stay hotel or a regular AirBnB thing will take care of that problem.

Many things can be par-cooked ahead of time (like, the night before) and then warmed up/finished while the turkey is resting.

I have been to parties at a friend's old studio apartment with a tiny kitchen, and the attendees were foodies who had to have everything *just* so, and we always managed.
posted by rtha at 2:53 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Has anyone else been in this situation?

Yes, in tiny apartments in NYC, for the last few years running!

What did you do?

Got all up in each others' grills! Sat on the floor! Drank plenty! Sprawled upon each other! Used an overturned cardboard box as a table! Got real cozy with it! Happy Thanksgiving!
posted by Greg Nog at 2:53 PM on October 24, 2012 [15 favorites]

Yeah, how small is small? Because one thing I will say is this -- in my experience, cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen without all of your usual tools and supplies is way more stressful than being in a crowded tiny apartment when it comes to entertaining. Assuming at least some of you are cooks with fully-functioning kitchens, Greg Nog may be right -- cram everyone in, even if it means pushing all the furniture around and sitting on the floor picnic-style, and enjoy your non-standard Thanksgiving experience!

(I once had a large party with 25+ guests in my teeny tiny 400 square foot, one bedroom apartment. I had people sitting on my kitchen counter and my desk, but it was a LOT of fun.)
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:59 PM on October 24, 2012

My friends and I do this in NYC. We use the biggest small apartment and rent tables and chairs from party companies, which takes care of the main hurdle. You could also rent those buffet tray things to keep your food hot. In a SERIOUS pinch you could even move the furniture around in a bedroom and put more tables in there. The person making the turkey comes over early so they can use the oven; other dishes are brought over hot, or warmed up on the stove or in the oven.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:04 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Greg Nog's answer is the real answer here, but one thing that would help is if you potlucked out some of the side dishes and desserts and such, so that the chaos in the main kitchen was more manageable.

But yeah I think if you have a tiny apartment and even want to serve let alone cook a dinner for fifteen, the time-honored way to do it is just to open the windows, rearrange the furniture to make as much space as possible (maybe stack some things on top of other things) buy a couple extra bottles of wine, and make it happen.

It's all friends, right? Thanksgiving is much better in an actual lived-in house than in some Air BnB or hotel room or something. You are overthinking this. Just task some people with bringing some of the side dishes, set up as much in advance as you can, see if someone has an extra folding table or folding chairs or whatever, and then do your best. It will be fine.
posted by Scientist at 3:06 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes. I don't know that you will all be able to cook at the same time anywhere, but my ex and I used to host a sit down Thanksgiving for 15-20 people in our sub-600 sq foot apartment with a galley kitchen. We moved the couch onto the patio, and it was BYOChair, but we had an extendable dining table and a gate-leg table that we pushed up together. We'd use our coffee table as a bench. Get creative! Cozy is fun, and totally acceptable for holidays.
posted by jaksemas at 3:06 PM on October 24, 2012

cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen

Oh, yeah, that! That is a heinous and stressful thing. If your guests bring their mostly-almost-ready dishes over, things that just need a quick saute or toss or 15 minutes in the oven before serving, then you're good. Cooking everything from scratch all at the same time would be a pain in the ass even if you had a big place (excepting a professional kitchen). We're lucky because our downstairs neighbors are part of our Tday troupe and we use their oven as well as ours, but even so, it's all doable if things are prepped beforehand. It's crowded and fun and loud, and gets hot so we open the windows. Cram everyone in!
posted by rtha at 3:11 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

We're lucky because our downstairs neighbors are part of our Tday troupe

Building off of that, are any of your neighbors going out of town for the holiday? Perhaps you could offer dog walking/plant watering/cat feeding in exchange for oven use while they're gone.
posted by troika at 3:19 PM on October 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

Unless you're devoted to in-bird stuffing, you can cook the turkey on the grill outside if you have a yard/fire escape/balcony/roof. The current edition of Cook's Illustrated provides detailed instructions.
posted by carmicha at 3:34 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't suppose anyone in your group has access to an institutional kitchen that would not be in use that day (like a church or a community center)? If group cooking is intended to be part of the fun, that might be an option, although boozing it up while cooking (also part of the fun) might therefore not be.

As grad students we used to just go potluck on Thanksgiving, with whoever was hosting providing the turkey. Worked just fine. Get people to bring over some fold-up lawn chairs if you need extra seating. Fifteen people will fit comfortably in an efficiency--been there, done that.
posted by tully_monster at 3:42 PM on October 24, 2012

Hell, everyone in my family DOES have a big enough kitchen, but we all still take a modified potluck approach:

1. Host cooks turkey and maybe one or two other things.
2. Other diners each cook other dishes at their own houses - either to completion, or to "just needs to get popped into the oven to warm up a few minutes" state.
3. Other diners bring things to host's house. The dishes that need to get the final cooking stage or just warmed up get done when the turkey's out of the oven and in its final rest. The host gets final say over who gets the oven if there are any squabbles.
4. Everyone relaxes over whether every single thing is done at exactly the same time, or if it's okay that the peas need an extra five minutes when everything is already on the table.
5. Eat.

This works fine in terms of cooking; Greg Nog has it right with the eating. Happy Thanksgiving.

(my family, for selfish reasons, would probably like me to add one additional point -
6. Go Ocean Spray with the cranberries. We're one of their family farms.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:54 PM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Re: Oven space, my dad always cooks our turkey in a turkey roaster and it comes out great. He also uses it for the Christmas turkey, then puts the whole thing in the trunk and drives it an hour to my grandma's house. So as long as you have a spare outlet in whatever apartment you end up in, or as long as whoever cooks the turkey can get a friend to help them carry it all upstairs, you should be able to cook your sides in the oven.
posted by that's how you get ants at 5:50 PM on October 24, 2012

Does anyone in the group live in a building that has a meeting room or common room or a community room? Sometimes you can ask to use the room for a block of X hours for X dollars (usually very cheap.) Cater or pot luck and there you have it. The only thing is, you may have to clean the room up when you are done. I am not sure about the crashing if you drink, you might all need some sleeping bags and hammocks if the apartment is too small for all 15 of you!
posted by Yellow at 6:11 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with other posters that it would probably be kind of fun to just pick an apartment and pile everybody in. One suggestion nobody's made yet: If you don't have a table big enough, take an interior hollow-core door off the hinges, and lay it on two same-height objects, or on top of the existing not-big-enough table. Throw a tablecloth over it. Door prize for who sits at the doorknob (or take the doorknob off if you're handy enough to put it back on again)
posted by aimedwander at 6:29 AM on October 25, 2012

In college we did this in tiny little apartments with upwards of 20 people. We had somehow acquired a science table that we used to put out more food when we didn't have room on our counter, and we bought the heavy-duty paper plates (b/c nobody wants to do ALL those dishes - or make everyone bring their own cup and plate, and make an awesome embarrassing game for those who "forgot").

We did food potluck style, which meant people didn't necessarily show up and hang earlier in the day, but it did make cooking (and cleaning) easier, and if people did show up with something, we would warm it up after the bird came out (it's gotta rest anyway). It sometimes takes more coordination than doing it all yourself - don't want 10 people bringing dinner rolls - but it does make the hosts life easier when it's all said and done.

Food, drinks, friends are all a combo for good times no matter the space you're in. Smaller spaces mean those people who don't necessarily know each other all that well at the beginning end up getting closer (in proximity and friendship!), and those who are close, well, then they don't care!
posted by bleachandink at 9:07 AM on October 25, 2012

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