By Olia Golovkina and Pamela Jacobs
Entertaining during the holidays can bring plenty of fun—as well as plenty of stress. It can be overwhelming to say the least. We decided to seek the advice of the pros—the food and beverage experts who manage to make entertaining for a crowd look easy—and asked them for their best tips and tricks to ensure a smooth, sensational holiday feast.
The Michelin-Starred Chef
Shaun Hergatt, Executive Chef at Juni, New York (juninyc.com)
As the Michelin-starred Executive Chef of Juni, the exquisite restaurant in the Chandler Hotel, Shaun Hergatt knows everything about preparing a flawless meal. He offers three tasting menus, including Herbivore, Omnivore, and a Chef’s Tasting Menu, each of which change based on the micro-seasons and the foraged ingredients he receives each month. With such constantly-changing dishes that are designed to suit all palates, Chef Hergatt is an expert on pleasing everyone.
So how does the chef recommend giving a gourmet boost to traditional holiday classics? “What I like to do is mix a little chopped black truffle into my stuffing, which I make with chestnuts and mushrooms. It captures an earthiness, and celebrates the season through a gourmet Thanksgiving spin.” Another delicious twist on an old favorite: “Instead of biscuits, I like to serve butternut squash scones,” says Chef Hergatt. “They’re always well-received.”
As for the to-brine-or-not-to-brine dilemma, Chef Hergatt says you should definitely brine, pointing out that “you need to make sure that the salt has gone all the way through the meat, and isn’t just on the surface.”
So how does this pro recommend keeping cool and calm when cooking for a crowd? “Keep it simple,” he says. “Don’t overproduce. Limit yourself to make sure that you’re not just cooking a lot of mediocre things.” Instead, “make sure the things you put out are special, and thought-through.”
Finally, when the meal is over, the dishes are done, and the family’s gone home, there’s still one thing left to consider: How to make use of all those leftovers. Chef Hergatt’s solution? “Breakfast! Chop up your leftovers and mix them with scrambled eggs; use this hash to top off toast.” We’re sold!
The Drink Master
Keith Whitten, Beverage Director at Balena Restaurant, Chicago, IL (balenachicago.com)
As Beverage Director at Balena—the acclaimed Chicago restaurant featured by Zagat and Thrillist—Keith Whitten oversees a wine list of over 100 bottles, not to mention a separate beer and cocktail menu. He definitely knows his drinks. And when it comes to choosing a wine pairing that provides a balance to a variety of dishes, he says “you cannot go wrong with sparkling.” In particular, he recommends a champagne-style wine from Contratto called Brut Millesimato 2010 Vintage. “The bright acidity and lively texture of sparkling wine make it great with a variety of food,” he says, “and the Contratto is a more full-bodied, broad-shouldered wine perfect for heartier fall fare.”
For reds, he recommends the Barbaresco from the producer Moccagotta with its notes of rich red fruit and slight tannin, which pair well with meat-heavy dishes. “Try to go with fruitier reds with vibrant acidity,” he adds.
And when it comes to cocktails, he offers us the two recipes below for celebrations of all sizes.
For a large meal that needs a bright accompaniment, try this punch recipe, which is adapted from the classic Mother-In-Law.
1 750 mL bottle of your favorite bourbon (at Balena they use Jim Beam Bonded)
250 mL (1/3 bottle) of Ramazotti Amaro, a classic Italian after-dinner liquor that’s a little peppery, with a touch of licorice flavor
125 mL (1/4 bottle) of Dry Curacao, an orange liqueur (at Balena they use Pierre Ferrand)
125 mL (1/4 bottle) of Maraschino Liqueur (they use Luxardo, an easy-to-find Italian brand with a smooth, clean flavor)
Pour in a big punch bowl of ice and stir together. Add some brandied cherries and some orange peels to add extra aromatics. At Balena [they] serve a cocktail called the Southern that essentially follows this proportional recipe. The cocktail has a bold bourbon flavor, rich texture from the Amaro, with a bracing citrus touch from the Curacao.
If you’re an adventurous home bartender, or if you’re looking to surprise your guests with something special this season, try this delicious cocktail recipe.
1 1/2 oz Brugal White Rum (any white rum would do)
1/2 oz Green Chartreuse (absolutely irreplaceable)
1/4 oz St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram (irreplaceable)
1/2 oz Lime Juice
The white rum gives a spirited backbone while allowing the rich flavors of the Chartreuse and the Allspice Dram to meld. You really get a full spectrum of savory and sweet spice. Add the egg white and all ingredients into a shaker, and give a long dry shake to build a good frothy texture. Add ice and shake again to chill. Serve into a coupe glass with a little grated nutmeg to bring out the autumnal flavor. The egg white can be left out if you don’t feel comfortable with the technique, or just don’t want that rich of a texture.
The Entertaining Expert
Anna Watson Carl, Food Blogger (theyellowtable.com) and Cookbook Author (The Yellow Table: A Celebration of Everyday Gatherings, Sterling, 2015)
Anna Watson Carl’s love of cooking and entertaining has taken her on quite the culinary journey, working as a personal chef, teaching cooking classes, writing for food magazines, and creating a blog named after her beloved childhood table that made its way from an antiques store in Nashville in the 70s to her home(s) in NYC—on which she’s hosted countless dinner parties and wowed many a guest. The blog’s overwhelming success led to an equally successful cookbook, in which she shares her secrets for bringing people together through simple, delicious food.
Naturally, we needed to pick Carl’s brain on holiday entertaining. How does the entertainer extraordinaire avoid being overwhelmed? “Plan ahead!! When I’m making multiple dishes for a holiday dinner party, I always make sure a few of them can be made totally in advance. I also try to create a menu where some dishes are cooked in the oven, some on the stovetop, and some require no cooking. For Thanksgiving, for example, I’ll make my stuffing, cranberry sauce, and maybe a roasted sweet potato dish the day before. I’ll roast and carve the turkey the morning of and prep ingredients for a salad, and then just reheat dishes and toss the salad right before we sit down. That way you’re not doing everything all at once—and, most importantly, you can actually spend time with your guests once they arrive!”
Of course Thanksgiving is only one of several holiday meals. We asked Carl to recommend favorite dishes from her cookbook, and her recommendations included Pork Loin Stuffed with Prosciutto and Fig-Rosemary Butter. “It’s really delicious to serve at a holiday dinner party, and looks really pretty on a platter. I like to serve it with Farro with Wild Mushrooms and Haricots Verts with Dijon Vinaigrette.” She also points out that while “both of these dishes are really flavorful side dishes,” they are “also really healthy!” And for dessert? “Something a little decadent, like Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding Cakes with Grand Marnier Whipped Cream and Chocolate Shavings. Always a crowd-pleaser!”
One of the first things guests at Carl’s yellow table notice is that the décor is as delightful as the food. So to make an autumn table look festive, she recommends “food elements like little pumpkins or gourds or pretty little Delicata or butternut squash, on the table as an arrangement.” Come December, she’ll “switch from oranges and browns to reds and silvers and golds. I love using slightly shimmery table runners for something fun and festive, and putting fresh cranberries in the bottom of glass candle holders and placing votives on top. It adds a nice pop of color to the table.”
Perhaps the most difficult part of entertaining in New York is our very limited space. However, Carl points out that “all of my Manhattan kitchens have been tiny, but I’ve managed to throw many dinner parties anyway!” The secret? “Again, planning ahead is crucial. The more you can make in advance, the more you can avoid dishes piling up! Also, don’t try and do it all yourself. I am a huge fan of having friends help out by bringing a dish, or at least helping out by bringing a bottle of wine. Just because you’re the host doesn’t mean you have to do everything!”
And one final trick of the trade? “If you can invest in a Metro rack with a built-in countertop—basically anything to give you some extra storage and counter space—it’s definitely worthwhile.” This star blogger and author has definitely proven that NYC entertaining can be perfect and painless.