Expert Tips for First-Time Hosts

festive apple for Rosh Hashana on fine chinaWith a round of Jewish holidays coming up, a lot of readers may be expecting a crowd. Smadar Saltun interviewed two caterers, Ronit Bronfman of Mazal Taleh and Anat van der Walt of Sodexo, about how to entertain a large number of people while still enjoying yourself.

Van der Walt points out that when cooking for 15-30 as opposed to 3-4, the differences are not only in scale. You have to make sure that you have enough space and equipment to cook, store and heat up your meal, because you don’t want to spend time fussing in the kitchen. Everything should be ready in advance. Here are their tips:

  • Stick to a few items, or you”ll end up without enough room in the oven or the stove. Van der Walt suggests one appetizer or soup, two or three main courses, two starches, one or two cooked vegetables, and one raw salad.
  • Choose items with long cooking times so they can stay on the stove without supervision. Items like steak, that cook quickly but are only tasty when served immediately, don’t work for a crowd. She suggests vegetable stews, roast beef, or chicken in a ceramic pot because they don’t require extra care and look impressive. My suggestions are:
  • Quantities: Van der Valt runs a catering business so she calculates weight more closely than the average home chef. She recommends 500-600 grams of food per person: 200-250 for the main course, 100 for the first course, 150 for the starch and 100 grams of raw or cooked vegetables. On Rosh Hashanah, there are other items on the table like challah, apples, honey and fruit. An ounce is roughly 30 grams, and a pound is about450 grams.
  • Cooking: Just like on the cooking shows, van der Valt recommends preparing and measuring all of the vegetables in advance. Then light up the oven or stove and start cooking.
  • Serving tips: Ronit Bronfman, owner of “Mazal Taleh”, offers serving tips for each course:
    • Serve the first course from small bowls waiting at the table. She suggests small servings of cold fish, vegetables, or meat. I also like to have something for the guests to eat immediately.
    • The second, fish course should be served in individual dishes with some depth, so the fish will hold the flavor of the sauce.
    • The third, main course should be served centrally, in two or three serving dishes. If the dishes are too large or heavy, guests will have trouble passing them around. Serving forks and spoons should be large and comfortable to hold, so food won’t spill on its way to the plate.
    • For dessert, Bronfman recommends a buffet on a separate table, with a few different types of cakes, petit fours, and chocolates. This can be prepared in advance, along with a variety of attractive utensils.

For many more ideas, check out Rosh Hashanah Recipes and Cooking Tips. For more tips on cooking for a crowd, check out my series about my son’s weekend bar mitzvah with 35 guests.

More tips on entertaining:
Ten Things You Should Know about Freezing for a Crowd

Preparing for a Holiday Cooking Session

Simple and Creative Ways to Garnish Food

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