How to host a great dinner
As we welcome the Chinese New Year, here are some tips on how to be a wonderful host this Year of the Rat!
This is inspired by a message I recently received from a friend, asking if I knew anyone who could give their friends a workshop on how to be a great host (i.e. how to set your table, what accessories to add to make your table pretty).
Then I had the pleasure of dining at the home of THE hostess with the mostest, Beth Romualdez, last week.
Romualdez, or Tita Beth, as she is called by most, is author of Cooking Lessons. The book is inspired by the late great food legend Doreen Fernandez, who encouraged her to put her recipes into writing in order to keep her legacy.
She was a consultant to highbrow names in the culinary field such as the restaurants of Tagaytay Highlands and Rustan’s Gourmet to Go. She also mentored some of today’s culinary celebrities such as Reggie Aspiras and Bella Yuchengco.
She gave cooking lessons for 20 years before focusing her energies on her grandchildren.
Here are a few tips that I gathered from that dinner table for those who might be doing their own hosting this year:
1. Prepare the menu in advance and go to the market yourself
For a successful dinner, the beginning of the process is in creating the menu—planning out every detail meticulously.
Sourcing is next. Tita Beth shares that sometimes it takes her three trips to the market just to complete the ingredients that she needs for her recipes. That is a true labor of love.
For the boodle fight dinner that she recently hosted, she had a bit of challenge sourcing banana leaves, as she usually gets this from Tagaytay, which was terribly affected by the ashfall from the Taal eruption. She had to go to four different markets just to get banana leaves … for a dinner for 6. So you see, being a great host is not all glamour and glory; it is a lot of hard work.
2. Printed menus are cute
A memorable Japanese dinner at the home of Ernie and Lourdes Fajardo of the Maya Kitchen had a haiku-themed menu. Each dish served came with a haiku written especially for each dish. There were also haikus made for each guest, describing the guest, written on beautiful paper, which we brought home.
3. Make a signature dish
There will be that one dish that everyone will remember. At Tita Beth’s boodle fight, all the dishes were memorable, of course. But if you are hosting, have at least one memorable one.
I especially remember Tita Beth’s binagoongan. It remained loyal to standards, but the saltiness of the bagoong was tempered and slightly citrusy. If I ever try that kind of binagoongang again, I would know that it is a Beth Romualdez recipe.
She also served Tilmok, a Bicol delicacy, but she added her twist by steaming the crabs and coconut meat with kamias.
That is how the great cooks of our lola’s generation did it. While they serve a familiar dish, you would know if it was cooked by Nana Meng or Nana Julita or Ka Pacio just by the taste of it. And when they are gone, you always hear, “This dish is not the same.”
If you don’t cook, have a signature delicacy that everyone will remember—whether it is dulong for appetizers or Brazo de Mercedes for dessert. Just make sure it is memorable.
4. Hire a waiter if you have to
Our dinner was casual so there was no need for one. Tita Beth says, however, that when she hosts a bigger, more formal dinner, she does not hesitate to get professional help.
This is essential for things that might seem mundane but otherwise critical to the experience of each guest, like simply asking for another glass of water, noting last minute dietary changes, etc.
5. Collect dinnerware
An excellent host has his or her own collection of plates, utensils and ornaments to complete the look of the table.
Great hosts build their collection from both local shopping and travels around the world. Some share that they allot an extra luggage just for these items when they travel.
My friends are already starting their pottery collections. Others are more playful, like Lourdes Fajardo who has a collection of dolls that she uses for her cheese grazing table. It’s a signature stop as a prelude to dinner when she entertains at her home.
The challenge here is having space for your collection. The collection will also grow with you, i.e. not only bigger but also better. You will not only add but discard some through the years, as your taste matures, as your pocket expands, as your home space allows. Just start collecting.
6. The essential role of the Glamorous Gay BFF
Every great host I know has a secret weapon: the Glamorous Gay BFF who helps in designing everything from interiors to the flowers to the tablescape, etc.
The ultimate Glamorous Gay, I remember, was Teyet Pascual, who not only had the greatest painting collection but also made the most elaborate and entertaining designs such as feathers and opulent ornaments that would be obscene if not executed so elegantly.
Aleth Ocampo, who accepts private dinners at her home, has a secret Glamorous Gay weapon as well who does the floral arrangements for her tables.
7. The drinks are as important as the food
This is just my personal tip. For me, the drink completes the meal.
Feel free to have fun with it. Pair kaldereta with a whiskey or a red; pair duck with white wine.
The one thing I have learned from wine makers is that there are no rules. I usually just have a bar or a table where all the drinks are, including several options for wine, and have guests pour the drinks themselves, at their pleasure, or with the assistance of a waiter or bartender.
8. Make sure the loo is impeccable
If the eyes are the windows to the soul, the toilet is the window to a host’s real life. Have a fancy soap, cute trash can, candle, hand towels and loads of toilet paper.
9. Offer good coffee or tea at the end of the meal
The kind of coffee you serve will also make an impression on guests. The frou-frou serve Nespresso, but the cultured ones like to share their knowledge of beans, distinguishing aromas and tasting notes. Benguet Arabica made in a French press would make a memorable final note to a wonderful dinner.
10. Have fun
Your guests will know if you are stressed. So prepare well, then relax, chuck the apron and have a great time. Just don’t get too drunk before your guests do.
Gong Xi Fa Cai! Kung Hei Fat Choi!
More from the author at margauxlicious.com. Follow @margauxsalcedo at Instagram.
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