Who doesn’t love a good dinner party? I’m a fan, but this should be no surprise given my chosen career! To assist the home-chefs out there, I’ve prepared this refresher course to help you take your next dinner party to another level.
Prepare For Flair
When it comes to cooking and entertaining, nothing should be left to chance. I always begin by picturing the faces of the guests who will be sitting around my table. What are their likes and dislikes? I like to gently push them to try new things while keeping the menu in their comfort zone. Other things I consider are the weather (warm weather food is very different from cold weather food), and dietary restrictions.
My suggested menu might be intimidating, but with organization and preparation, the whole thing can come together in a couple of two-hour prep sessions. With this approach, you will be free to enjoy the party with your guests, instead of spending the whole party cooking and cleaning.
On the day before your party, set aside a couple of hours. Decide what has to be done, then challenge yourself to make as many items as possible in advance. Lots of small things can be accomplished: cutting lemon wedges, chopping vegetables, making pâté, and preparing beef tartare ingredients (except for the beef, of course). Don’t let these tasks become chores; they should be fun! I like to pour a nice glass of wine and turn up the music before I pick up my knife.
For the day of your event, make sure you have some help for small things like answering the door and getting people drinks. That way, you can focus on the final stages of your dinner.
The Art of the Matter
The best advice I have for food presentation is to keep it simple. You don’t need to buy a whole lot of new items. Coffee cups work wonderfully as risers; white plates make the colour of your food pop; and a small amount of oil brushed on the side of a plate and sprinkled with smoked paprika looks delicious. I like to use natural elements, such as marble, bamboo, flowers, and river rocks to accent the food.
For instance, add river rocks that have been stored in the freezer to crushed ice and you have the ideal presentation base for oysters or chilled seafood. River rocks are also impressive as holders for labels, place cards, or menus. Just cut a slit in the rocks with a tile saw, or ask your local hardware store to do custom cuts.
Another idea is to ask a marble company or countertop maker for their marble off-cuts. Not only do these make attractive cheeseboards, but the raw edges add a dramatically stylish element. Multiple sizes and shapes can be stacked for a striking multi-tiered tower to display food — place canapés or bite-sized appetizers around the edges.
For stylish presentations, I like to use bamboo poles, which are available at many shops in Chinatown. Drill small holes along the length of the pole to hold skewers; or cut the poles in half and line with banana leaf to use as platters or plates.
I also like to put flower petals between two glass tiles for a very clean, natural look (a stunning way to serve dessert or cheese).
The real key to elevating the style of your food presentations is this: try to take the ordinary and see it in a new light. When I hear my guests say, “I would never have thought of that!” I know my dinner party has been a success.
Chef Takashi Ito’s Barbecue Duck and Green Onion Crêpe Wedge
• 1 whole barbecue duck, deboned, rough chopped (Purchase from a Chinese butcher in Chinatown and ask the butcher to debone the bird for you. My favourite is Loy Sing. Be sure to ask for extra barbecue sauce.)
• 100g shiitake mushroom, rough sliced — fresh, if possible
• 4 tbsp of extra barbecue sauce from butcher
• 3 bunches green onion, white part, fine chopped
• 3 bunches green onion, green part
• 140 ml all-purpose flour
• 1 egg
• 250 ml water
One week before: Blend the green part of the onion and 50 ml of water in blender. Beat egg in stainless steel bowl and add green onion water and rest of water. To make crêpe batter, add flour slowly while you whisk. Season with salt to taste.
Cook crêpes in a nonstick pan with a little oil, making them as thin as possible — approximately 10 inches in diameter. Cool to room temperature. Using parchment paper to stack crêpes, wrap with film, and freeze.
The day before: Sweat the shiitake mushrooms with canola oil; remove from heat, and cool to room temperature. Place duck and shiitake in a food processor with a metal blade. Process until it forms a course paste; add white part of the green onion and extra barbecue sauce. Season with salt and black pepper.
Spread duck paste on crêpe, and repeat, making layers like lasagna, ensuring every layer is evenly spread.
Place cellophane on top, and place plate upside down on stack to press lightly. Store in fridge overnight. When ready to serve, slice into wedges.
By Takashi Ito