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Suggestions and Tricks to put together a polished professional meal.

I enjoy having guest for meals but I would like to develop a system where I am able to get everything done so that I am not going crazy at the last moment. I am able to do a lot of the preparation in advance but I find it difficult to get everything out of the oven and on to the table quickly. Being old school I do like to make numerous dishes so that everyone will find something they like. How do chefs do it. Also, I like to make at least three dessert choices. Problem is, at the end of the evening I am exhausted. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Also, can anyone recommend a site I could go to that could give me some good tips?

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  1. Hire help.

    Producing numerous cooked dishes, ready at the same time, plus multiple dessert choices, doing it all yourself, *is* exhausting and a lot of hard work. Hire someone to help with the work (chopping vegetables, watching pans as they cook, serving at the end).

    The other thing is to run through your planned menu exactly as you plan to serve it, several times before the run with guests. That will make you more efficient when you do it, and will allow you to iron out any wrinkles in the process.

    1. The operative word is "chefs" plural. It's unlikely that you can turn out working alone in your kitchen what the multiple pros can do. I'd say hardly anyone does more than an app, a main, a couple of sides and a dessert. And one dessert. I'd go for quality rather than quantity.

      1. Include several dishes that are completed in advance. I had a summer vegetable ceviche ready and refrigerated four hours ahead of time...couscous which takes minutes to prepare and almond cake with berries ready to assemble. Made the grilling of swordfish a non-issue as everything else was done or close to done.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Tripper

          Will you share the veg ceviche recipe?

          1. re: lexuschef

            It is the cover recipe for the August Food and Wine magazine. Visually beautiful and delicious. Served for two dinners and everyone enjoyed it. Great issue...lots of veggie recipes.

        2. You have already realized the importance of early preparations, and that's half the battle. Where you are confused is about commercial kitchen production, where they have much more staff to assist and much more equipment available to get any job done properly...also, in the best of commercial kitchens. not every item comes right out of the oven and onto the dinner table....only individual plates are rushed out, Many items for the home are served family style or in casserole form where the mass of the dish maintains heat.....Meats also need to be rested. Worrying about getting something out of the oven and on to the table is not necessary.

          If you map out each dish, you can figure out the time needed and when to get started.

          This is not to say your query cannot be solved and cannot be done in the home kitchen.. What you need is better time management and have what you need(early preparation of ingredients) to finish any sides and sauces. If you approach your cooking of the meal like you do for the holidays....you can knock out food with the best of them.e.g., if you make a roast, do it early and expect to hold if for up to two hours.....that gives you enough time to rest the meat and the oven becomes free to heat up the rest of your menu....Once your food is heated, it will stay hot long enough to get to the table and be served without any problems or complaints.

          1. I am known (by my friends and family) for my wide variety of foods served to guests. I often serve many apps and many desserts at parties. I serve a variety of vegetable dishes in the main course. The trick is to choose carefully, consider serving temperature. Not everything should be planned to be served from the oven piping hot. I plan so that I am not in the kitchen when my guests arrive.

            You need to bake in advance, choose some dishes that will be served cold, some best at room temp, and dishes that will stay fresh when sitting out (not anything with melted cheeses,cream sauces, or that will wilt once assembled, etc). I make an exception for baked Brie because when wrapped with phyllo, it stays self contained and warm until everyone cuts into it, otherwise, cheese is best at room temp anyway and can be prepped well in advance. Gougeres, crackers, pasties, can all be made in advance.

            For desserts, I usually offer a simple baked good or two ( like a brownie, lemon pound cake, etc) that can be served plain or topped, then maybe a pie or tart and/or fruit based dessert. If I make homemade ice cream, I make it in advance. Most all desserts can be made in advance. I don't choose something like a sabayon that I have to fuss with when I have guests in the next room.

            1 Reply
            1. re: sedimental

              this is great advice.

              a friend yesterday was complimenting me (blush) that whenever i had parties, she swore i must have 6 clones helping me. :) but the real trick is planning your dishes so that not everything has to come off the stove or out of the oven at one time.

              recently i made braised pork for friends. i had cooked it a couple days before, so that while we were enjoying apps, it was on low-heat, being simply rewarmed in the oven. the sides were a carrot salad and a pea/basil flan, both of which were cold, and thin sliced potatoes, layered and roasted with butter that i had cooked in the morning and were reheating with the pork. i make stuff like this a lot so i'm not a slave to last-minute cooking.

              as for desserts, people are stuffed from the meal, so unless it's more than 15 people, 3 is usually too many unless 1 is just a fruit plate. i never serve dessert that requires any kind of last minute attention other than being removed from the fridge and plated.

              realize when you dine out there is more than one person in the kitchen cooking and plating the food for a party of four. different components come from different stations and they are not making stuff like risotto or short ribs to order.