Page 28 - Yeovil Feast Magazine
P. 28

Now that’s entertainment
by chef Russell Brown, formerly of Sienna
Cooking can be daunting, even if it is for family and friends; I do get it. I’ve cooked professionally for more than twenty years now and still, on occasions, get nervous. My cooking is very di erent now that I no longer cook every day in a restaurant. It may be a demonstration, or cooking at home for a photo shoot, recipe testing, or a guest chef dinner. The secret, however, is the planning and preparation; recipes, prep lists, the ordering, planning dishes or a menu that can be achieved with con dence, making sure the equipment is available and so on. All of this can be applied equally to cooking a dinner party at home.
What is the occasion? Who are the guests? What am I good at cooking? These are some of the key questions to ask so that you can begin planning a perfect dinner party. And a perfect dinner party shouldn’t leave the cook stressed and stuck in the kitchen!
The occasion will dictate the style of meal; casual – a big bowl of chilli and crusty bread to share, or a more formal three course meal? Whom the guests are and how many of them will also in uence your choices. It is always worth checking if people have things they can’t eat, won’t eat or just really dislike, before the day. That is all part of the prior planning. Write a menu, actually put it down on a large sheet of paper to give room for a list of everything you need to prepare, right down to the tiny details such as chopping herbs to  nishing a sauce.
Dish by dish, list every component and you will see what can be done ahead of time. For example, a dish of potato gnocchi with wild garlic pesto could need blanched and refreshed gnocchi, pesto, vegetable stock, cooked spinach, toasted pine nuts, parmesan shavings, olive oil, Maldon sea salt, and fresh ground black pepper. From the list you can determine what needs to be done when, and in reality every element of this dish can be prepared in advance. Heat a ladle of stock,
drop the gnocchi brie y in simmering water to reheat, drain and add to the stock. Add the cooked spinach, pesto, and season. Plate and garnish with the pine nuts and parmesan, drizzle over a little oil. All this can be done in  ve minutes from things that could have been prepared the day before.
If I was cooking dinner at home, say for six people, I would have some simple canapés or charcuterie to go with pre- dinner drinks; good bread; a cold starter such as a salad, terrine or a seasonal vegetable dish; a casserole, braise or slow roast with new potatoes; a dessert that can be brought to the table whole, such as a chocolate mousse cake, and cheese to  ll any gaps. Even the potatoes can be pre-cooked, tossed with butter and seasoning, chilled, and then warmed in the microwave when needed.
All the best food I have eaten has relied on simple preparations with great ingredients. Ten elements on a plate means there are ten things that can go wrong and even in a professional kitchen with all the kit and lots of sta  that is a challenge. Planning and simplicity are the keys to a great dinner party that the cook can enjoy along with the guests.
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