How to avert a dinner party disaster

If the dinner party ship is sinking, here are some tips and tricks to avoid disaster.
If the dinner party ship is sinking, here are some tips and tricks to avoid disaster. Photo: Jennifer Soo

There are few things more wonderful than sharing food and laughs with friends. Inviting dear ones into your home, to break bread at your table, is one of life's simple pleasures but being a dinner party host can be stressful.

Even the most experienced entertainer is only one in-depth conversation, or one glass of wine too many, away from a dinner party disaster.

A meal you've cooked 100 times with great success may suddenly become an undercooked mess if you've changed the quantities, or a new experiment that looks delicious in the book may not turn out at all as it reads.

Averting a dish disaster

A kitchen can be a cruel mistress if you turn your back on her, as discovered by personal chef Matthew McCool. While creating a roast mushroom soup for a lunch for VIPs in his employer's Point Piper home a delivery arrived at the door.

"I thought I had turned off my soup when I went out the front to pick up some supplies from my supplier but when I came back into the kitchen the soup was completely burnt," he says.

But McCool didn't just burn the soup, he cremated it. "The kitchen was full of smoke. Ten more minutes and I think it would have been on fire. I thought I turned it off but I must have turned it the other way," he says. "I just decided not to mention it. If you ruin an entrée, you can just go ahead with a main."

The rise of informal dining has seen much more food placed in the centre of the table – olives, breads with a zingy olive oil. If you have antipasto in your fridge you can bluff your way through an entrée.

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"I think dinner parties are more like an Italian family feast with stuff out ready to go," added McCool. "You can create a continuous meal and just keep bringing out food for the table and then there's the main course."

A dish takes longer than expected

Time and again on reality shows like My Kitchen Rules, we see confident cooks underestimating timings when cooking for many. Having food for picking at on the table may also cover any issues you have with food taking longer than expected to hit the table, and your diners getting restless. It helps to keep the wine flowing also.

Help! There's an unexpected vegan at the table

It would be very unusual for a vegan or someone with food intolerances to arrive without first letting you know, according to naturopath and nutritionist Janella Purcell. But if you are caught out there are a few simple ideas that you can throw together to keep the party running smoothly. If a guest is vegan and your vegetables have been cooking in the roasting pan with meat, you need look no further than the pantry.

"You can find a can of legumes, and mix through some green leafy veges, put some nuts and seeds in it and make a tahini dressing with some lemon juice, or you can mix some hummus through. They'd be really happy with that," says the author and co-host from Good Chef, Bad Chef.

"Also, a quick soup of onion, garlic and white beans all pureed together with some nut butter to make it creamy would work as an alternative if you're serving a creamy soup."

If you're cooking pasta and your guest is gluten intolerant you can pop on some rice, or serve the sauce with some vegetables. When you have multiple food restrictions like Janella, who is gluten intolerant and has been a vegetarian for 30 years, that's when things may become a little trickier.

"I went to an Italian friend of mine's family feast on New Year's Day and it was a traditional meal. All they had was spaghetti and meat sauce and I ended up having iceberg lettuce and white vinegar. They were really embarrassed but they shouldn't have been."

No wine please, I'm not drinking

Dinner parties are not only about the food, they are also about tasty beverages. But not all of your guests may enjoy a tipple. 

Operations manager of Lentil on the Rocks, Jeebak Bajracharya, knows a thing or two about alcohol-free drinks as he is at the helm of Sydney's first mocktail bar.

According to him you don't need to have alcohol to create exciting drinks and even using every-day ingredients you can whip up something special.

"You could make a version of our Fantasea, which is strawberry muddled with lemon syrup, lemon, dash of orange juice garnished with orange wedge," Bajracharya says.

"But if you had some warning and wanted to make something fancy, we are currently experimenting with ingredients for something we'll call the Placebo, which is coconut, grenadine, lime, house-made aged agave-soaked pears, with curacao syrup garnished with seasonal fruit."

Most of all, remember entertaining friends is supposed to be fun, so if the ship is sinking just dial a pizza because it's about spending time with people, and even pizza comes gluten-free (and in some cases, vegan) these days.