Dinner party ideas: What do chefs cook when they have friends over for dinner?

Keep it simple and spend more time with your guests.
Keep it simple and spend more time with your guests.  Photo: iStock

There are few greater joys in life than sharing a delicious dinner with family and friends. But when you're the one hosting, the pressure is on to find a menu that will have your guests singing your praises, without turning you into an absent (and mega-stressed) host.

That's for us mere mortals, anyway. But what about those who make their living by creating food? Is dinner at a chef's house a grand, fine dining affair of intricately crafted gourmet delights similar to those you would find in their restaurants?

Well, no, apparently. Which is not to say the fare on offer isn't delicious. We asked some of the country's top chefs to let us in on their home entertaining secrets and the overwhelming theme of their responses is that simplicity is key. With a focus on great quality ingredients, our chefs prefer to choose easy, straightforward fare that speaks for itself, so that they, in turn, can speak to their guests. Now doesn't that sound like a good idea.

Here is what their go-to dinner party menus look like…

Frank Camorra, chef and owner of MoVida in Melbourne

Frank Camorra, Movida.

MoVida chef Frank Camorra. Photo: Ewen Bell

"I look to cook things that are fairly simple and just use good ingredients. Generally, I like to do shared food, but not smaller items like tapas. One of the classic ones is to buy a whole fish and bake it in the oven with potatoes, peppers, sherry and a bit of olive oil and just serve it with a salad of roasted peppers and onions, garlic and tomatoes, flavoured with cumin, vinegar, garlic and oregano, it's really rich.

"Another one I do quite often is a pot-roasted chicken, with lots of sherry and onions, then slow braise it in a metal oven pot until it almost falls apart. Again, lots of onions and garlic. I like to be able to just pop something in the oven, so you can chat with friends."

Whole snapper baked on potatoes and capsicum, with catalan wilted spinach.

Whole baked snapper with Catalan-style wilted spinach. Photo: Marina Oliphant

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For bigger occasions, like kids' birthdays, I like to make a massive paella, because it's something you can feed 20 or 30 people in one pan... but that takes a bit of work, you've got to be on the ball with that one!"

Matt Moran, chef and restaurateur

Matt Moran in his home kitchen.

Matt Moran in his home kitchen. Photo: Edwina Pickles

"Cooking at home with family and friends around is honestly one of my favourite things to do. What I cook really depends on the mood and what's in season at the time. Most often, I'll have a barbecue with some top quality meat from the family farm or some fresh seafood when the weather gets warm. During the winter months I love cooking classic roasts – I have a wood oven at home so I like to do a wood-roasted lamb shoulder or a porchetta with crunchy salads and sides."

Matt Moran's barbecued prawns with nam jim dressing.

Matt Moran's barbecued prawns with nam jim dressing. Photo: William Meppem

Tobie Puttock, chef and author

"I always keep it simple when friends come around and I like to serve the food in the middle of the table so I'm not spending too much time plating. A typical meal with friends at my place might start with little plates of olives, anchovies, butter, baguette and some pipis steamed with garlic, parsley, chilli and white wine. This is awesome because the only thing to cook are the pipis.

"For mains we might have a barbecued side of salmon, grain salad (made earlier in the day), and perhaps some barbecued broccoli, and I'll pop a couple of sauces like bagna cauda and spiced yoghurt in the centre. For dessert, something lush like lemon tart or chocolate mousse or maybe roasted peaches with creme fraiche."

Chef Tobie Puttock and his wife Georgia.

Chef Tobie Puttock and his wife Georgia. Photo: Josh Robenstone

Pete Evans, chef, author and TV personality

"We can never go past oysters or prawns or pâté for starters, followed by a roast of some sort like chicken, pork, duck or lamb with a mountain of vegies and fermented veg, and then my wife Nic makes the best chocolates so we finish with them."

Pete Evans.

Pete Evans. Photo: Supplied

Adrian Richardson, La Luna Bistro, Melbourne

"Anything I can cook over hot coals. I recently purchased a coal-fired spit roast (from Bunnings) and there is nothing better than having a beer or a wine with friends and family watching the coals and carving off delicious chunks of meat, served on flatbread with salad."

Adrian Richardson

Adrian Richardson. Photo: Supplied.

Matt Sinclair, former MasterChef contestant

"If we are entertaining, there is nothing I love more than spending the afternoon babysitting a coal-fire pit with beer in hand getting it to the optimum temperature ready to cook like a caveman. Food and fire is becoming one of the hottest trends at the moment, it's like we've come full circle. We've rediscovered there is a flavour that can't be replicated by electricity, gas or induction. Granted, a lot more work is involved but the results are next level... Maybe it's similar to the way in which a beer always tastes better after you've mowed the lawns."

Matt Sinclair with his chicken parmigiana sliders.

Matt Sinclair. Photo: Supplied

"Get a couple of chickens butterflied by your butcher, whip up a simple marinade of olive oil, garlic, thyme, lemon zest, smoked paprika and salt, grill the birds over the pit skin-side down and let nature run its course.

"Pair that with roasted harissa pumpkin smothered with currants, pepitas, coriander and tahini dressing, then a beautiful, zingy garden salad and you are in business."

Barbecued spicy chicken.

Barbecued spicy chicken. Photo: William Meppem

Shaun Quade, Lume, Melbourne

"My go-to menu for having friends over for dinner is fairly simple, you want to keep it simple when cooking at home as firstly, there's less mess, and secondly, I'm at home. I love cooking for friends but I spend all week labouring over intricately crafted dishes at the restaurant so I love having the chance to cook something very simple. I always make cooking at home a collaborative affair, everyone is getting their hands dirty when they have dinner at my house – no exceptions.

Chefs John-Paul Feichtner (left) and Shaun Quade (right).

Shaun Quade likes to use eucalyptus leaves from his garden. Photo: Craig Sillitoe

"I'll normally start with a side of citrus-cured fish, either trout or kingfish. Serve that with good rye bread, cultured butter.

"For mains, I'll normally do a slow-roasted lamb shoulder on the bone. I like to brine this overnight with eucalyptus leaves which just so happen to be outside my front door, then slow roast on a barbecue getting it nice and smoky and charred. Then depending on what's in season, just a fairly simple warm vegetable salad with a vinaigrette. If you have lamb fat... use it. No one is judging.

"Dessert is as simple as melting some good quality dark couverture chocolate with coconut butter to create your own version of ice magic and pouring it over scoops of Maggie Beer's honeycomb and burnt fig ice-cream."

Warm roast vegetable cous cous salad.

Warm roast vegetable cous cous salad. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Alastair McLeod, founder Al'FreshCo

"Guests in our home vary. There can be family, kids, chefs and oldies. I feed them all the same. I give them an expression of the season in the form of salads to share. More often than not lunch is a vegetarian affair.

"At this time of the year (summer), try a salad of assorted zucchini – grilled ribbons, thin raw slices of yellow squash and roasted zucchini flowers. Punctuate with crumbly feta, pomegranate and toasted macadamia nuts. Another winner is heirloom tomatoes, watermelon, olives and lashings of soft herbs. The key to a good salad is varying textures and a punchy dressing. Have grains, croutons and capers as part of your artillery.

"To turn this into dinner, roast some fish, grill some chicken or barbecue some beef and serve with good bread and butter."

Alastair McLeod.

Alastair McLeod. Photo: Supplied

Jordan Toft, executive chef at the Newport and Coogee Pavilion, Sydney

"Friends over for dinner means grilling over a fire (as it means I'm relaxed) or a shellfish boil thrown over a paper-covered table with soft white bread and aioli. No plates, just stand and eat until full."

Christopher Whitehead, executive chef at Palings, Sydney

"When friends come for dinner, my motto is always whatever allows me to spend as little time in the kitchen as possible. To start, it's usually champagne and some easy nibbles (olives, dips etc) – no entree. But for main it is often Indian-flavoured dishes, or braised chicken dishes. In winter beef bourguignon. I always make a tart for dessert."

Jordan Toft, executive Chef at The Newport & Coogee Pavilion

The Newport and Coogee Pavilion chef Jordan Toft. Photo: Benjamin Dearnley