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Creatives on how to prepare for dinner party season

IMAGE VIA @SOMETHINGSILIKETOCOOK/INSTAGRAM

WORDS BY IZZY WIGHT

Top up.

Some people were born to host. At the mere suggestion of a get-together, they’ve mentally drafted a four-course menu with drinks to pair, chosen an appropriately swanky playlist and shucked the oysters. They don’t classify themselves as ‘foodies’, per se – more aesthetically driven, overly generous entertainers. I love being friends with those people.

A couple of years ago, I hosted a ‘dinner party’ (a term I use extremely loosely). It was supposed to be a simple pasta night. When my three guests arrived suspiciously early, I felt the sweat start to pool under my ‘kiss the chef’ apron. My tealights seemed to be giving off a searing heat. How many minutes did the fettuccine need to boil again? Where did we keep the wine glasses? Why is there no music playing? Is everybody having fun?!


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Thankfully, my skills have made a marginal improvement since then. I always know where the wine glasses are! But let’s go back to those naturally gifted hosts, shall we? With the festive period well and truly upon us, I talked to local creatives about dinner party season. Read on for tips, recipes and recommendations.

Patti Chimkire, pastry chef and founder of Mali Bakes

 

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We love hosting a dinner party in our backyard or on our rooftop in the summertime. My go-to is a simple setting with a white linen tablecloth, fresh flowers and pretty candles from Before March. I like to let the food do the talking!

Seafood is probably what we cook most throughout this time of year. I always start with an antipasto platter, Noisy Ritual Pet Nat and – of course – fresh OYSTERS! I’m also obsessed with cooking crab at the moment. My favourite recipe is crab stew with fennel, tomato, orange, and fresh marjoram served with Israeli couscous salad.

Jamsheed chilled red is absolutely beautiful to have with this dish. Music-wise, we just love a good mix that keeps the party going. I always put on Sasha Marie Radio Chapter 39.

@mali_bakes

Gemma Leslie, artist and founder of Food For Everyone

 

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Let’s get together at dusk with some jazz classics and a festive glass of Lambrusco (my favourite is Solar Wines). Make a snack to line the stomach; a toasted baguette with pickled shallot and anchovy will do nicely. We’re making pasta tonight. My guests are helping. Lots of eggs and flour to prep for the pasta.

I pre-make some simple salads and a bolognese sauce. Serve the pasta in the biggest bowl you have. My go-to serving bowl is by Nicola Fasano and my plates are fun and simple Bistro Plates by Food For Everyone. I use Opinel knives, simple silverware forks and Maison de Vacances napkins. A bunch of Parmigiano and basil accompany the main – be generous with both.

Summer nights call for simple desserts – cherries on ice with some good quality dark chocolate does the trick. Everything is colourful and simple, which makes me happy! Vino and music are key. Top up.

@gemleslie

Paris Zouzounis, cook and creator at Iso Kitchen

 

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I like to start with a theme, this makes the menu planning smooth and it’s much easier to choose drinks and setting when there’s already a rough guide. Match the music to the vibe you want for the night. And prep food in advance if you can – this lets you actually be present and spend time eating with your guests instead of being stuck in the kitchen.

You don’t need to have fancy skills or be in the kitchen for hours. Jazz up some simple snacks, get fancy with your presentation, play around with serving ware and decorations. I love mismatching old platters from secondhand stores and using old cans and wine bottles as vases and candle holders.

And have something fun on hand to break up the night. I love conversation cards like Reflex or We’re Not Really Strangers!

@iso.kitchen

Ella Taverner, Fashion Journal’s Account Manager

 

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The easing of restrictions has invited a flurry of excitement into my sharehouse with dinner, drinks and parties finally back on the agenda. Aside from the basics (a clean house and a strong appetite) I always like to create a warm, inviting ambience around the dining table. This typically includes an array of candles, dried flowers and a subtle essential oil burning nearby (my favourite is Le Soir from Maison Balzac).

Most of my friends arrive with wine in hand, but I always like to have some alternative options in the fridge, particularly if we’re eating heavy foods. My go-to is the seltzer range from 5PM Beverages*. They’re super light and crisp while still being full of flavour, and with zero sugar and zero carbs, they tick the box for my more health-conscious friends as well.

The Mixed Pack is a great crowd pleaser with three delicious flavours; Watermelon, Berry Pomegranate and Grapefruit. The perfect combination for the summer season ahead.

@ellataverner

Clementine Day, self-taught cook and author of Coming Together


I think my first tip is don’t overthink it. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it’s about spending time together and sharing a meal. And a blooper is always a great laugh, so don’t worry. I try to plan as much of the menu as possible around the people who have dietary requirements – an inclusive menu everyone can eat really helps people to relax and enjoy themselves.

A big bowl of pasta (risotto if you’re doing gluten-free) and a couple of salads is great for a smaller group. I like to do a series of veg-based dishes and salads for a bigger group, this means people can pick and choose what they like the look of.

Add a fun cocktail to start the party (and one that can be easily made non-alcoholic) and toast to being together. In summer, this is accompanied by a playlist of almost exclusively bossa nova.

@somethingsiliketocook

Sasha Gattermayr, Editor at Tart Magazine

 

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To begin with, ensure your lighting is varied in height and glow. Good options include tall supermarket candles stuck in empty wine bottles (if you don’t have holders), tea lights, paper lanterns or lamps draped with pieces of coloured cloth. These are so much more atmospheric than harsh downlights. Mix and match all of the above for maximum ambience.

Diana Henry’s How To Eat a Peach and Anna Jones’ The Modern Cook’s Year are my favourites for dinner party dishes, but I follow lots of food people on Instagram and save their spreads and recipes to a dedicated folder on my phone. It sounds organised but I promise, it’s like a scat mood board.

Hetty McKinnon’s Community and Neighbourhood both have the best, heartiest salads. Pavlovas, trifles or just summer fruits served in a bowl with cream, lemon zest and edible flowers for dessert require minimal pastry skills (side note: always garnish! Leaves, salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil hide everything). And French 75 cocktails made with prosecco are easy and fun welcome drinks.

The more table accoutrements you collect over time, the more you can mix and match as the occasion presents itself. Go secondhand! The amount of mismatched glassware, cheese knives, silver candlestick holders and patterned coupes I’ve found in op shops, you’d be astounded (my mum once found a full set of Austrian crystal wine glasses for $20!).

I also will gladly buy secondhand kitchen utensils like egg beaters, bamixes and cheese graters from Savers. This is great if you want to try out more complicated recipes that require sophisticated equipment. Pair these ‘vintage’ finds with pieces from local makers – like candles from Tony Assness, a tablecloth from Shop Louee, placemats from Ulo Australia, napkins from Pan After and fresh flowers from the market.

@sashapotatoes

Mon Barton, model, marketing consultant and content creator

 

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If the love language test was up to me, there would be a sixth category dubbed ‘feeder’. Cooking food for people (literally anyone) is 110 per cent my love language. My kink, you ask? Table settings and crockery. You can always find me in op shops trawling the crockery section for vintage Italian salad bowls, dainty porcelain plates and stunning silverware that’s begging for a polish.

Since starting my new cooking venture Naked Hungry, I’ve realised people love the idea of hosting, but don’t know where to start with presentation or recipes. My first tip is to think about the shapes of the food and choose complementary crockery. My second tip: lighting is everything. Invest in some tapered candles and candlestick holders.

Third, plan your menu days before and organise your schedule so you know when everything needs to start cooking. Finally, start a collaborative playlist with the people who are joining your dinner. Let your guests add songs they like, that way everyone is happy. Enjoy and happy cooking, fellow feeders!

@mons.monday

Giulia Brugliera, Fashion Journal’s Managing Editor

 

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As a chronically time-poor control freak, I don’t often host holiday festivities. But I always make sure to contribute as a guest. My family and friends all celebrate Christmas each year, so I’ve been working on a formula that seems thoughtful and fittingly seasonal, but can be organised in a five-minute trip to Dan Murphy’s.

A colleague recently recommended Diplomatico Rum Reserva Exclusiva* over ice, and I’ve since learnt it matches perfectly with Christmas pudding (a festive spin on the classic rum and raisin pairing). The rum is distilled in ancient copper pot stills and aged in small oak casks for up to 12 years, which I have no doubt will impress the hardcore rum-drinkers at Chrissy lunch.

@fashionjournalmagazine

Sophie McIntyre, founder of Club Sup

 

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This year, I’m hosting Christmas Eve with my housemates and Christmas Day with my boyfriend’s family! I love making a gelato-filled pandoro for dessert. You can have such fun with it flavour-wise and it’s only three steps (if you buy gelato). A Hugo spritz is the drink to kick off the Christmas lunch spirit.

For the table setting, I can’t go past a white table cloth, beautiful napkins and colourful serving platters. I’m currently dreaming of these. Add some butcher’s paper and markers on the table for the best after-lunch games! And for music, we love to start a session with our guests on Spotify and have them add songs throughout the day. For backup, I have my Club Sup playlist.

@clubsup_

*Products marked with an asterisk are produced in partnership with each listed retailer. 

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