With the holiday season around the corner, many families are gathering to celebrate, and there’s no better way to do that than by enjoying a delicious meal.
Whether you’re planning a holiday feast for a smaller gathering or a larger event with dozens of people, there are many tips and tricks to keep in mind to help ensure an unforgettable dining experience.
One of my biggest tips for preparing a meal for a large group is to plan ahead to help ensure you don’t encounter any hiccups during the actual cooking process. It’s important for chefs to ensure they have all the ingredients needed well in advance. I also recommend ensuring the proper cooking utensils are available, as well as serving dishes for each item. By laying these items out in advance, it helps cooks ensure the process goes smoothly so they’re not having to take any last-minute trips to the store, which can delay the process.
Timing is also very important when it comes to perfecting a holiday meal. I always recommend that the cook allots more time than they think they’ll need for the process. Additionally, I find it helpful to lay out all of the ingredients I’ll need on the counter to ensure everything is easily accessible for an expedited cooking process.
If possible, I recommend that cooks get their family members and friends involved in the meal planning process. I always like to touch base with the group to see what types of food or dishes they prefer. Even though I cook for a living, I also like to ask my friends and family members if they have any specialties or tips for making their favorite holiday dish. That way, I’m curating the menu to my guest’s preferences while helping them get involved in the planning process. When attendees feel involved, they’re also more likely to want to help out in the kitchen, which can help alleviate some of the stresses of preparing the meal.
It’s helpful for cooks to start with the more intricate dishes and leave the easy steps for later in the process. Of course, if you’re planning to cook a turkey, that’s a very involved process in and of itself. The most important part of cooking a turkey is to start thawing the turkey three days before the meal. The turkey needs to be fully thawed to ensure it can be thoroughly cooked without the risk of overcooking the outside of the meat, which can make it dry and less tasty.
Once the turkey is thawed and placed in the oven, the thermometer will be your best friend. I recommend checking the turkey every 30 minutes and taking it out of the oven once it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit toward the breast and 180 degrees toward the thighs. Let it rest for about 30 minutes before cutting and serving. I prefer to brine the poultry and white meats to keep them nice and juicy.
While a delicious meal is key for hosting a successful holiday gathering, I also recommend thinking outside of the meal to create an overall fun experience that guests will remember for years to come. For example, I personally like to create a festive ambiance with a nice table set-up that’s conducive to a family-style meal. I also recommend having a storytelling component to the meal where people can tell their favorite stories related to the holiday or playing a fun game that helps attendees spend quality time together.
When planning any large meal, it’s important to try to monitor food waste. The way I do this is to attribute about 5 to 6 ounces of each dish to one person and then multiply that by the number of people who are attending. If there are any leftovers, I recommend hosting a post-holiday brunch or lunch where you can use the extra food to make delicious turkey sandwiches and leftover specialties.
About the Author
Originally from Gorakhpur, India, Amit Pandey has created unforgettable dining experiences around the world, from studying under Michelin Star chefs at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, France to working at the Constance Ephelia Resort in Mahe, Seychelles. Throughout the past five years, Pandey has held leadership culinary roles at Texas-based resorts and hotels including La Cantera Resort & Spa, Sheraton Gunter Hotel and Horseshoe Bay Resort. He is currently the chef de cuisine of Antlers Lodge at Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa.