I'm cooking! (With a catch.)
October 22, 2014 7:38 PM   Subscribe

Hi! I'm hosting a dinner party. One of the attendees is a professional chef. MeFi, what do I feed my guests?

I'm really decent at comfort food of the Southern persuasion, and I'm pretty good at throwing ingredients and spices together and getting an enjoyable result. However, I'm no trained cuisiniere extraordinaire, and I'm a little intimidated by the chefly credentials of this particular dinner party guest.

Ultimately, I know it's the hospitality and thought that really matter. Plus, my chef friend is fantastic in general, and definitely not the kind of person who would criticize or nitpick or comment on how hmm, innnnnteresting it is that I opted to stir the roux in a counterclockwise direction. Nevertheless, I really want to ditch my usual weeknight comfort food and pull out all the stops to impress my dinner companions with my culinary prowess and creativity in presentation and flavor.

So, friends, I come to you for cuisine suggestions for a group of 6-10. What are your dinner-party go-to's? Do you have any menus you've put together for past soirees, or deceptively simple recipes that look and taste phenomenal?

As a token of my gratitude for your generous input, please accept 1,000 bonus points and these adorable red pandas. As always, thanks for reading!
posted by schooley to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Braised short ribs are pretty hard to screw up and always look great on a plate (albeit somewhat expensive). Add a wild rice and veg, reduce the pan sauce, add butter and drizzle.
posted by ps_im_awesome at 7:45 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

There is absolutely everything wonderful about well-made Southern comfort food. Combining your "gotta impress the chef" nerves with general dinner party butterflies seems a recipe for not-fun.

But if you insist, as long as your broiler is predictable, you can't go wrong with really fresh fish broiled with a squeeze of lemon and some dill.

A tossed salad with three lettuces, some spinach, a last-minute sliced apple and a yogurt dressing would be nice. Cook some rice with chicken broth and minced onions. Buy a pie. Done.
posted by Jesse the K at 7:46 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Go with what you know. Comfort food is a great thing to serve a chef, especially if its something they would never usually cook themselves. I recommend shrimp and grits with a mushroom cream sauce.

My brother-in-law is a chef, and when he comes over for dinner, I don't experiment, I make the dishes I know best and then plate them a little fancy.
posted by 256 at 7:53 PM on October 22, 2014 [16 favorites]

Years ago, I visited an in-law who owns a vineyard in Australia. His son, who was in vintner's school at the time, was also in attendance. I was so nervous that when I was asked if I wanted a glass of wine, I blurted out that I knew absolutely nothing about wine and I was a complete wine idiot and I had no idea what I was talking about wine-wise so whatever they had would be fine. The son listened, smiled, and said kindly, "Red or white?" I had to laugh. And you should too! Because there's no reason to get nervous about cooking for a professional!

All the cooks and chefs I've known (and I've known many as my older brother cooks professionally and I once did too, a lifetime ago) love comfort food. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, a good burger, lasagna, chili, brownies and chocolate chip cookies, whatever. They love love love it. Remember that they grew up on that stuff, too, generally. Make something you're comfortable cooking and that you yourself enjoy eating and your chef buddy will be glad to have it--and probably glad not to be cooking for everyone else.

The last meal I made for others was wine-braised short ribs (as pm_im_awesome suggests), cous-cous, a simple salad, and grilled asparagus. For dessert, I made this insane no-bake concoction of Ritz crackers, condensed milk, heavy cream, lime juice, and lime zest. Oh, yes. Everyone went back for seconds of the lime Ritz thing.
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 7:57 PM on October 22, 2014 [8 favorites]

I'd go with something you are very comfortable making, but use the best ingredients you can afford/find - fresh farmer's market vegetables, really excellent quality meat, etc. Good ingredients makes simple recipes much, much better.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:00 PM on October 22, 2014 [8 favorites]

Comfort food is what southern cuisine does best, more so than most regional American styles. Stick to what you now but do it wonderfully, attention to detail and presentation, etc.

Honestly I'd try to arrange it so it was a buffet-style service, most of the dishes allready laid out and able to be served room temp or passed around in a container that would keep it warm - family style - that way you can concentrate on your guest and hospitality and not be getting up every second to check on courses. More types of food in small quantities. Usually people keep the "wow" presentation stuff for dessert which can be made (or bought) beforehand.
posted by The Whelk at 8:01 PM on October 22, 2014

Southern style comfort good sounds great and seasonally appropriate as we move into colder months. As for the chef, I'm betting they'd love a well-executed homestyle meal. They probably rarely cook for themselves and get a fair amount of high brow food when checking out the work of their peers. What they don't get much of is a fine, home cooked meal made up of not super fancy, yet super delicious food.
posted by quince at 8:04 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Go for great presentation for something you love cooking. Some garnish, fresh flowers, matching plates, candles, all help. People eat with all of their senses - not just based on taste.

Also, if you are serving alcohol, I was once told a great piece of advice: serve the best booze at the start of the meal, not at the end.
posted by troytroy at 8:06 PM on October 22, 2014

If it helps, a lot of professional chefs actually feed themselves absolute rubbish. They taste their work all day, and then they get out of work, drink watery beer at some hole in the wall to clear their palates and let go of the last twelve hours they spent on their feet between a fire and another fire and a large sweaty man moving a knife way too fast. Then they stagger home and throw some pasta in a pot.

You may be unlikely to impress this guy on a professional level, but it's very likely that just sitting down and talking to someone while he eats is going to put your dinner among the top ten meals he's had that month.
posted by d. z. wang at 8:27 PM on October 22, 2014 [8 favorites]

I used to cook professionally.

- Yep! It always tastes good when someone else makes it!!

- My favorite side dish is (Yukon Gold) Mashed Potatoes. I would be overcome with True Joy to find them on your table.

- Ditto if you did some awesome steak in a cast iron pan and then made a pan sauce while the meat rested.

QUESTION: Wanna know the secret to elevating any recipe?

#1 Use Shallots instead of onion.

#2 Use plenty of good quality fresh unsalted butter (I use Kerry Gold Irish butter. Any European style butter is yummy, tho.)

#3 Use Sea Salt and season while cooking

#4 Taste as you go. I repeat! Taste as you go!!

That's it. Voila! You're now an expert.

PS - Top Sirloin is just fine if you treat it right. Tri Tip or Rib Eye would be great. Filet Mignon actually doesn't have a lot of flavor, so skip this expensive cut.

I think the best tasting beef is grass fed and grain finished. So basically, get thee to a Whole Foods or proper butcher shop.

BONUS POINTS: if you made slow cooker beef (grass fed, grain finished top round, a totally inexpensive cut) cooked 8hrs+ in red wine, mushrooms, garlic, and shallots + chopped parsley for garnish served over mashed potatoes you would be a HERO! Also, you're house will smell amazing.
posted by jbenben at 8:28 PM on October 22, 2014 [18 favorites]

Any European style butter is yummy, tho

Because it has a higher milkfat content, even Kerrygold - it's a nice treat.
posted by The Whelk at 8:31 PM on October 22, 2014

Stella Culinary's World Famous Braised Chicken Thighs are excellent, have a wonderful fanciness-to-effort ratio, and are inexpensive to boot. Use a decent balsamic vinegar--I've used really cheap stuff (probably anything that doesn't mention anything about how long it was aged or that has coloring of any kind listed in the ingredients) and while it was *still* good, it was a bit too sweet and wasn't as good as using the good stuff. Or use red wine! The way the recipe is written is very engaging and thorough on methodology, and there's a video recipe of a variant, too.

Another chicken thigh recipe that is slightly less "fancy" (read: French-ish) but still absolutely dynamite: Chicken Thighs with Creole Mustard Orange Sauce. Amazing flavors. I'm going to have to try this recipe with the Stella Culinary method.

What these both have in common is a wonderfully complex, balanced sauce with sweet, savory, spicy, sour, salty, umami flavors, and tender unctuous juicy meat with (if you like) crispy skin.

Hard to go wrong with a perfectly roasted chicken and classic sides, too. I like Thomas Keller's recipe. Simple and great.

I promise I eat things besides chicken!--these just happened to be recipes I have had people rave over. As far as general dinner party tips: I like to do a reverse timeline. Plan out every step of preparation and cooking, estimate the time it will take, and pad your estimate. Work out when dinner needs to be ready (don't forget to leave time for yourself to relax and get ready to greet your guests, too) and work backwards to figure out what needs to start happening when. Do as much prep as you can beforehand. Maybe pick a recipe that doesn't involve any tricky last-minute steps so you can just pull it out and serve with no fuss, enjoying yourself with your guests the whole time. And remember, they'll just be so happy someone else is doing the cooking for a change. Have fun!
posted by spelunkingplato at 8:36 PM on October 22, 2014 [10 favorites]

PS - Using plain white mushrooms would be a shame. Using crimini mushrooms and adding a handful of dried exotic mushrooms to bump up the earthiness would be oh so very wise and delicious.

Just FYI.
posted by jbenben at 8:36 PM on October 22, 2014

My husband is a chef, and he likes any meal he didn't have to make. As long as you're not opening cans of Campbell soup and pouring the contents onto Hamburger Helper, your chefly guest won't care. If he/she does, I hope he/she is too polite to let you know. I vote for BBQ, ambrosia salad, and peach pie.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:00 PM on October 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: First pour one oz of burboun into the cook.

Generally; greet their nose first, so you want to have something on the stove or in the oven.

I live in the coastal South so the menu might differ depending your location but some dishes span the region. I remember once having collard greens cooked with pigtails where I could feel my strength growing with each bite.

You must have pie or cobbler.
posted by vapidave at 9:20 PM on October 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

A good friend who is a professional chef will often request a simple meal when she comes over. I even once made wagon wheel noodles with butter and ketchup at her request.

Go with the comfort food you know. Give a good first impression and a good last one. Pie and ice cream.
posted by 724A at 9:22 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hi, also a chef (I suspect jbenben is far better than me though).

Please, stick to what you know and love and are happy making. As a breed, pros tend to be happiest with simple comfort food made with love. Ain't nothing better. Don't be intimidated by credentials; in my experience nobody who's professionally trained criticizes someone who isn't unless specifically asked (or they're a colossal ass) to comment on something. Even internally; we spend so much time cooking for others that it's a treat of epic proportions when someone takes the time for us. As said above--we cook for a million hours, drink away the pain, then eat cheez wiz or something.

But if you want to do simple-but-still-challenging, have you considered doing a whole fish? Get it gutted (and scaled otherwise you'll be finding scales in your kitchen ten years from now), but head and tail on--whatever's the right size and fresh at your local fishmonger/farmer's market. Season the whole thing in and out with salt and pepper, stuff the cavity with slices of lemon and maybe some fennel? get some olive oil on the outside and roast. Looks spectacular at the table and tastes like heaven.

But really really? Cook what you love, serve it family style, and your guests--especially the chefly one--will be over the moon. Trust yourself :)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:28 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just echoing the cook the thing you love best, and comfort food is fine. Years ago I was invited to dinner by a seriously famous chef at his home. We had fried chicken. Simple, tasty, and most of all, enjoyable.
posted by Gotanda at 3:23 AM on October 23, 2014

Southern food-- can I come over? Regional food is the best! Seriously if I were invited I'd be hoping you would serve some of that southern iced (fruit?) tea.
posted by BibiRose at 4:21 AM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Serious Eats one-stir risotto is a recipe that looks like it took way more time and effort than it does. (But I would recommend taking it for a test drive before trying it for guests.) It can be nicely dressed up for autumn by adding seasonal flavors. One of my usual combinations is wild mushroom, toasted almonds, dried cherries, and flash fried sage.
posted by Candleman at 6:41 AM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

One of our dear friends is a chef and I'd echo everyone who said, do what you know and love. She loves it when I serve something from my roots. For me, that's Chinese food, but it's the same when anyone shares food from their ultimate comfort zone.

I grew up with some great Southern food and I'd say do your favorite dish and if it isn't already amped up on butter (or bacon fat) give it a little butter finish. Yum.
posted by advicepig at 7:10 AM on October 23, 2014

Agree with everybody above re: Cook what you love and know. If you're still looking for ideas, I made jambalaya the last time I had a bunch of people over, went down well. Was helped by the fact that I also made these. Calls for a few exotic ingredients, but that's what the internet's for, and they're about 90X better than the mix. Pack a hell of a punch, will probably be a novelty even to your chef guest, and you really can't screw 'em up.
posted by Diablevert at 7:23 AM on October 23, 2014

An authentic dish from any cuisine will do, but o must say, even though I just finished dinner, fried chicken, corn bread, etc sounds great.

A friend's husband cooks for a restaurant. The staff send out for McDonalds.
posted by SemiSalt at 3:31 PM on October 23, 2014

Echoing everyone here who said cooks tend not to feed themselves (or at least not extravagantly), and it's a treat to be cooked for by others.

Also, I'm a former pastry chef, and lots of people hear that and assume I'm a dessert snob. Some people believe me when I assure them it isn't true (a cake needn't be the world's best to still be a delicious treat that I would devour and appreciate) - but others stay anxious to the point that they won't let me taste their homemade cookies (goddammit), for fear I might be critical.

Which is not to imply that's the situation here - it's rather the opposite, and I mention it only to hopefully reduce your anxiety. You say that your friend is "not the kind of person who would criticize or nitpick or comment," and this, combined with your willingness to cook for him is like 85% of what you need for this meal to be a delicious success in his eyes.

It's an awesome, sweet idea to make a special meal your cook friend will really enjoy. Looks like you've gotten a ton of great suggestions here - good luck!
posted by jessicapierce at 8:42 PM on October 23, 2014

Once, when I lived in NYC, I made a home-cooked dinner in a gallery for some sort of art-event. It was really home-cooked. And people went all crazy about it, as in: oh wow, I haven't had mushy vegs since my grandmother died. There were professional chefs at the event and they were very sweet. Also, I got job-offers from rich people who wanted me to cook for them.
As a result, I began cooking for events for a living, and adapted some professional knowledge.
The thing is, professional cooking isn't all-good. Home cooking affords time and care in ways that are rarely possible in professional kitchens.
There are some dishes best made in restaurant kitchens, like french fries, or all the sous vide stuff. Some products are hard to get as a private person - if I don't have time to pick my own mushrooms, the ones I can get at a store are not as interesting as those chefs can get through their connections.
Home-cooking, based on the produce you can find at your local store/market, and cooked with knowledge and care will out rival 80-90% of all restaurant food, and most chefs know it.

That night in NY, I cooked a North African dinner, the way you eat in Paris. There were a host of pre-prepared starters - mostly vegetarian - and a main dish of cous-cous. For dessert, there were seasonal fruits. In North Africa, and many places in France, this is home-style cooking. It's simple, no stress food, based on tradition and a child can manage most of it.

Your suggestion of southern comfort food seems very similar and nourishing. Go for it!
posted by mumimor at 11:13 AM on October 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Guys, these are all fabulous answers. I feel a lot better about flexing my Southern muscles. Thanks so much for your replies and suggestions. Metafilter to the rescue!
posted by schooley at 6:21 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

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