Serving up a feast for friends is like piloting a jet in a storm. No one wants to see an air show – you just have to land the damn plane. I learned that a few years ago, when I tried to serve a chef-calibre meal to 30 of my closest friends. I ended up overcooking the delicate fish, melting the cucumber-uni gelée, and turning the seaweed foam into pond scum. The question hit me too late: why didn’t I just make a big pot of pasta?
Face it: your home isn’t a restaurant. And your buddies don’t want to see you sweating and cursing in the kitchen, doing your best Gordon Ramsay impression. More than anything, people are impressed with a calm, collected host – one who greets them with a cool drink and doesn’t make them wait too long for the food. They’re happy to chow down on anything homemade, served family style. Picky eaters can avoid foods they don’t like, there’s no waste and your friends do the plating for you.
So think ahead and work ahead. Start your prepping at least one day before your guests are due to arrive. Keep it simple, pick foods everyone loves and no one eats enough of, and create your own traditions. Be the guy who throws the best braai or who makes legendary steaks.
These days I host a pork roast at my family’s farm every summer, far away from the city. When we carry the glistening beast from the fire pit to a paper-covered picnic table, juices dripping all the way, a scene from The Walking Dead ensues. My friends turn into a bunch of pork zombies, pulling and chewing at the smoky meat and crackly skin, grunting monosyllabic approval. It’s a meal you could never order in a restaurant. And that’s the whole point.
– Ian Knauer is the author of The Farm: Rustic Recipes for a Year of Incredible Food (R331, kalahari.com).