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Sunday, May 23, 2010

How to Host a Fantastic Dinner Party

Years ago I hosted a series of dinner parties at my home because I wanted to get to know colleagues who for years had been merely acquaintances, not friends. The first dinner I hosted I invited a professional caterer, baker and facility coordinator. I hadn't thought about what they did for a living, just that I'd like to know them better. It wasn't until after they accepted the invitation that it hit me that I had chosen a rather intimidating crowd to entertain. LOL. The dinners were a huge success. Each time my guests stayed later and later until they were ending in the wee hours of the morning.

Recently I passed the torch on to two of my industry colleagues who love to cook. Flirty Professional MC (and DJ) Carl Mindling and I have been friends for years and I've had the pleasure of being invited to his table more than once to sample his culinary creations. Andy Mark I just met a few months ago at a networking event. Later I visited his blog and saw that he is also a foodie. I made sure to let Carl know and before I knew it they were off and running with hosting a dinner of their own.

Our hosts and chefs, Andy Mark and Carl Mindling.

The evening started with the most delicious hummus I've ever had. Carl whipped up this white bean hummus that I nicknamed Italian Hummus because he used Cannellini instead of the traditional garbanzo beans.

And Andy provided us with a selection of 4 distinctive cheeses. I enjoyed the truffle cheese, and loved the gouda. There was also a blue cheese and this stinky cheese that I was too chicken to try. I believe it was a Epoisses.

Carl also put together two types of Capresé Kebabs. Just a bite each of kalamata olive, fresh mozzarella, a fresh basil leaf and a tiny tomato. These were the plain kebabs created for one guest who is allergic to onion and garlic.

For the rest of us, ours had been marinated in olive oil, fresh herbs and garlic. I swear the mozzarella just melted in your mouth and each of the other ingredients provided a burst of flavor.

The table was set...

Carl took the next two pictures of Duncan Reyes and I. That was me tasting the dinner wine but, because I don't normally drink wine, I was holding my glass all wrong. What happened next was like a scene from My Fair Lady. LOL, Duncan turned me into a real lady he did!

Thanks to Duncan for showing me the proper way to hold a wine glass by its stem. It was only a taste on the off chance I might have developed an affinity or appreciation for wine but sadly, I had not. I just don't care for how it tastes.

This gorgeously green zucchini salad was prepared for us by Andy.

And here he is masterfully plating it for us.

Here are some photos from David Ethridge's camera that evening. Starting from top left and going clockwise were: Dinner, Lisa Whalen and Jasmin Wang, our dinner salad and Jasmin and David. BTW, David also took the picture of "The Toast" with his iPhone that evening. I loved it and will always take a similar picture at future dinner parties.

Our main course was a combination of both Andy and Carl's culinary skills. Andy prepared the pan roasted halibut with a hint of jalapeno and Carl prepared the side dish of steamed chard couscous with currents and toasted almonds.

That's Lisa Whalen capturing the evening from a professional photographer's perspective.

After dinner San Francisco chocolatier Christine Doerr from Neococoa treated us to a chocolate tasting!

We even got to preview 3 new flavors she has in the works...

Carl started to fade during the tasting and was the first to head home as he had a 100 mile bike ride that began at 6:00 AM the next morning with our friend and colleague (and the man who married my husband and I) Reverend Ed Holt. They were riding in the Strawberry Fields Forever Century Bicycle Ride. Impressive! You can read his blog post about the ride by CLICKING HERE.

At the end of the evening Christine treated us to little gift boxes of her delicious chocolates.

Oh My Gosh! They were so yummy! My favorite was the toasted coconut pictured here in the back right corner. Other flavors included: Crushed Cacao Nib, Almond Butter & Smoked Sea Salt, Mocha Cinnamon and Zested Lime. They just melt in your mouth.

And for brides looking for super sweet favors in flavors your guests will love... Neococoa offers truffle duos in two petite gift box options.

A special thanks to Robin for sharing her beautiful home with us that evening. The ambiance was wonderful and as each guest arrived they remarked about how much they envied your tree lined neighborhood, loved your decor and we were all blown away by your generosity.

So, here are my notes on hosting a successful dinner party:

1. Keep the guest list intimate: I kept my own dinners limited to 6 guests or less. This discouraged more than one person speaking at a time so the entire evening we were able to enjoy each other's stories and comments as a single group.

2. Choose your guest list carefully making sure that personalities and interests work. Don't invite your friend who hates kids and seat them next to someone who loves kids, has 4 of their own and is a grade school teacher. The dinner should be about enjoyment, not confrontation or domination.

3. Check with guests for food allergies and preferences. Is someone a vegetarian or vegan? These are things you should know before your guests arrive.

4. I always urged guests to dress casually and comfortably.

5. Choose a menu that doesn't demand a lot of time in the kitchen away from your guests. Dishes that can be prepared ahead with final assembly and details taking mere minute are ideal. Dishes don't have to be fancy, they just have to taste good.

6. Cook what you know. I always did. Especially if you aren't confident about your cooking abilities, save new recipes for another evening.

7. Use a list so that you don't forget to serve side dishes and the timer so that you don't get lost in conversation and overcook anything.

8. Relax and have fun! If you don't mind your guests staying late, don't have a clock in your dining area. My dinners went as late as midnight to 2:00 AM!


  1. truly a spectacular evening had by all. the food was as artful as it was delicious. the company was stellar. i can't wait for the next dinner party - let's go with the "funky food" theme! LOL! -- DUNCAN

  2. Stacie - thank you for immortalizing our first attempt on your blog! We really enjoyed everyone's company, wonderful conversations and of course cooking was a blast! I look forward to the next one! - Andy

  3. Hi Stacie,
    Thanks for a wonderful story! In my opinion, THIS is what it's all about: First of all, be a friend. I love your 8 rules -- one way or another, they'll apply to ALL events we plan. Especially #8, which should begin AND end with "Relax and have fun"!
    - Robbie

  4. How fun you guys! I'm married to a foodie, I just don't have the patience but I can throw a mean table :)


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