Party time: Top chefs share their entertaining tips

Chicken paella is a crowd-pleaser.
Chicken paella is a crowd-pleaser. Photo: Supplied

It's happened to us all. Cooking time miscalculations that result in mass drunkenness; socially catastrophic pairings of (too honest) primary school friends with (too sensitive) work colleagues; organisational oversights that make you feel less party-animal, more galley-slave. Hosting your own party is full of dangers but it's also rich in rewards. With the silly season bearing down upon us, we consulted 16 of Australia's best (party-animal) chefs for tips, advice and inspiration on how to throw a party.

Recurring themes include: keep things simple, be organised and do as much as you can in advance. On presentation: lead by example (show people how to eat your food); grow edible flowers to trick up salads; buy colourful napkins and stock your house with fresh flowers; food looks great on vintage crockery; get creative with your lighting; consider whole roasts such as fish, pumpkins and tomatoes on the vine for visual impact; make sure your bathroom looks tight.

Also, don't forget to have fun. Other tips: give guests a drink or a snack immediately on arrival; keep a pizza delivery number handy for later in the night; clean up as you go; have a sober key-master so mates don't drink-drive. And finally, don't run out of booze.

Cracking good fun: Crab boil from the American south is Will Balleau's hit dish.
Cracking good fun: Crab boil from the American south is Will Balleau's hit dish. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Karen Batson

Cookie, 252 Swanston Street, Melbourne,

Hit dish? I've got three. A carpaccio of fresh trout on huge platters with green chilli nam jim; home-made barbecue sour pork sausages with sliced ginger, cucumber and chilli; and barbecue king prawns.

Favourite drink? A veneziano. A good splash of Aperol on ice, then fill the glass up with prosecco​ and add a little bit of lemon rind.

Paella is a crowd-pleaser.
Paella is a crowd-pleaser. Photo: Supplied

Party starter? Fresh oyster shots. I make a tom kha broth infused with kaffir lime and lemongrass, chill it, then add vodka. The oyster goes in a little shot glass and I pour the broth over it when people arrive.

David Moyle 

Franklin, 30 Argyle Street, Hobart,

Hit dish? Calamari in grill cages. I'll butterfly the calamari so it's flat, keep the wings and the legs and do them separately. I might put some slices of vegetables alongside the squid and I'll generally just give it a good toast over dry coals (not flame) for three minutes or so. I'll use an olive oil and a good vinegar afterwards, no seasoning beforehand.


Favourite drink? Something vermouth-based as an aperitif, especially in summer. A Jauma​ light sparkling chenin blanc by James Erskine would go well with the calamari.

Party starter? Meet them at the door with something to eat or drink.

Jerry Mai 

Pho Nom, T4, 567 Collins Street (also, the Emporium), Melbourne,

Party down: Chef Jesse Gerner breaks out the sports jacket.
Party down: Chef Jesse Gerner breaks out the sports jacket. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Hit dish? I love smoking a brisket served in little cos or iceberg lettuce cups with pickled radish and cucumber. I do a spice rub on the brisket and smoke it for five or six hours. You get the pickled sour crunch and that nice smokiness and fattiness from the meat.

Favourite drink? We love a good sangria (a great use for the odd gifted bottle of wine) and Pimms over summer.

Party starter? Really good tunes. We have those Wi-Fi speakers so people just throw on tunes and everybody gets to have a little go. (I'm not allowed to be in charge of music because we'd be listening to Elvis.)

Porteno's Elvis Abrahanowicz recommends the Aperol spritz for your thirsty guests.
Porteno's Elvis Abrahanowicz recommends the Aperol spritz for your thirsty guests. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Mike McEnearney 

Kitchen By Mike, whose Roseberry site has closed; stay tuned for a new Kitchen By Mike at 1 Bent Street, Sydney early next year,

Hit dish? Bouillabaisse. I'll buy big, whole john dorys, gurnards, some crabs – it depends what I find at the market – and I'll have this huge pot of soup in the middle of the table. People just pick and help themselves with lots of aioli and toast. People like to play and interact and the sharing thing is important at a party.

Favourite drink? I love Lillet on a warm summer's evening over ice.

Sangria is eminently drinkable and packs a punch.
Sangria is eminently drinkable and packs a punch. 

Party starter? I always fire up the vinyl. I often choose 20 albums that I want to hear through the night and put them near the turntable. Usually I'll start it off but everyone likes to get in there and play DJ. I like jazz (Miles Davis, John Coltrane), a bit of classical (Bach cello concertos), hip-hop (maybe some De La Soul), and I love Georges Brassens (particularly if we're having bouillabaisse); some people might put on some old '90s acid jazz and a couple of parties ago we had the Pixies blaring out.

Katie Marron 

Miss Katie's Crab Shack, The Rochester Hotel, 202 Johnston Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne,

Hit dish? One New Year's Eve I did a sang choy bao station. I did different lettuce cups (iceberg, cos, radicchio), stacked them on a table and then I did different fillings: vegie, chicken and cashew, beef, spicy pork and lots of different toppings (crispy shallots, chopped peanuts, spring onions and chilli) and sauces. It was mainly MoVida chefs that were attending the party and they just devoured it.

'You can't go wrong with a classic negroni,' says Jacqui Challinor.
'You can't go wrong with a classic negroni,' says Jacqui Challinor. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Favourite drink? Last summer I loved doing Amontillado sherry with tonic water and fresh orange because we were getting sick of Aperol spritzers. I'll sometimes freeze fruits like pomegranate or mint leaves in my ice trays to make it look pretty in the glass.

Party starter? I have a hat collection at home and in the throes of a party many a time all the hats have come out and people just sit around wearing ridiculous concoctions on their heads. That's always fun.

Gregory Llewellyn

Hartsyard, 33 Enmore Road, Newtown, Sydney,

Katie Marron, from Miss Katie's Crab Shack, says silly hats, as well as food, kick start a party.
Katie Marron, from Miss Katie's Crab Shack, says silly hats, as well as food, kick start a party. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Hit dish? At the last party we did a huge tin of smoked caviar, crème fraiche, ocean trout roe and (McClure's) "Bloody Mary", pickle and salt and vinegar crisps, all mixed in a bowl. Beautiful.

Favourite drink? Ice cold beers. I'm really enjoying Bastard Son (from Little Smith Brewing), an APA, made in Fitzroy. Also, Six Strings dark red IPA in tinnies – ridiculous.

Party starter? It's usually having my two-year-old open the door naked. But I think it mostly just involves food. I really try to do different things at home, whether it's barbecuing massive cuts of meat or just getting some really sensational cheese or making some bread – making that the highlight of the gathering.

DIY: Katie Marron sets up a sang choy bao station.
DIY: Katie Marron sets up a sang choy bao station. Photo: William Meppem

Luke Powell 

LP's Quality Meats, suite 1, 16 Chippen Street, Chippendale, Sydney,

Hit dish? A duck galantine that my business partner Elvis [Abrahanowicz] showed me how to make. It's a deboned duck that gets minced with a little bit of pork and pistachios and then gets stuffed back in to its skin, rolled up like a big sausage in plastic wrap; then you smoke it, cool it and slice it. Serve with some mustard and bread – it's delicious.

Favourite drink? A Hawaiian martini. Combine sliced pineapple, a few vanilla pods and four parts vodka to one-part Malibu in a big glass jar. Marinate for a week then strain it off. Then, just shake the liquid over ice, pour it into a glass and, if you're feeling dangerous, you can put a big chunk of pineapple in as well.

Jerry Mai would do smoked brisket in lettuce cups.
Jerry Mai would do smoked brisket in lettuce cups. Photo: Eddie Jim

Party starter? Music. Nothing too down or cool, something chilled like Black Keys or Howling Wolf. Later on, when everyone's a bit drunker or into the mood, you can put on, I don't know, Rihanna​, or whatever.

Elvis Abrahanowicz​

Porteno, 358 Cleveland Street, Surry Hills, Sydney,

Hit dish? It's usually something like good quality canned or smallgoods all out on the table so when people walk in they're ready to go: anchovies, sardines – a mad spread. It's delicious and easy to do.

Will Balleau, right, with brother Nick Balleau, loves tequila.
Will Balleau, right, with brother Nick Balleau, loves tequila. Photo: Josh Robenstone

Favourite drink? Aperol spritz. It's an easy drink to make, it appeals to everyone, it tastes good and you don't have to be a barman to make it.

Party starter? Have a good soundtrack and make sure everything is ready before the guests arrive.

Matt Wilkinson

Pope Joan, 75-79 Nicholson Street, Brunswick East, Melbourne,

Benjamin Cooper makes a big batch of jungle curry.
Benjamin Cooper makes a big batch of jungle curry. Photo: Eddie Jim

Hit dish? My roasted carrot salad with a hot and sour dressing. It's got a lemon, chilli and almond dressing with honey, dollops of smoked yoghurt and lots of chopped parsley.

Favourite drink? I've got a brand new gin and tonic recipe. You juice cucumbers with the skin on, add a little bit of salt, then freeze as ice cubes. In a long glass add the ice, more fresh cucumber, a pinch of salt, lemon, gin (Gordon's or Four Pillars from the Yarra Valley), tonic and a couple of drops of Sin-ko-nah tonic syrup.

Party starter? Apart from the old car keys in a bowl trick, a surefire way to get the party started is a) don't have the kids there and b) crank the music and c) something fun to get people started with eating.

David Moyle, of Hobart's Franklin, recommends meeting people at the door with something to drink.
David Moyle, of Hobart's Franklin, recommends meeting people at the door with something to drink. Photo: Supplied

Jacqui Challinor 

Nomad, 16 Foster Street, Surry Hills, Sydney,

Hit dish? The go-to for a Sunday barbecue has to be prawns with a beautiful fresh chermoula, bit of lime and fresh herbs (parsley, coriander and mint).

Favourite drink? You can't go past a negroni.

Matt Wilkinson's roasted carrot salad.
Matt Wilkinson's roasted carrot salad. 

Party starter? I'm pretty chilled but I like a bit of the Strokes or Arctic Monkeys – that always gets people in a good mood.

Jesse Gerner

Añada, 197 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne,

Hit dish? I've got a massive paella pan that I can cook enough for up to 60 people and it looks pretty impressive. I use Calasparra or Bomba rice, a good stock and I generally put a bit of chicken in; it's a crowd-pleaser.

Throw a chermoula-slathered prawn on the barbie.
Throw a chermoula-slathered prawn on the barbie. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Favourite drink? Aperitifs like negroni​, vermouth, Campari. I import Casa Mariol Vermut Negre​ (black vermouth) and I love that bitter-tasting drink to start with.

Party starter? Old-school, fun, classic funk, like P-Funk. It always gets people fired up. Even breaking out MC Hammer, Jurassic 5, or Michael Jackson. That sort of stuff gets people off their seats.

Casey Wall 

Rockwell and Sons, 288 Smith Street, Collingwood,

Hit dish? It's either lamb or pork shoulder. I use a Weber charcoal grill and build the fire off to one side so there's no direct grilling. You want to keep the temperature pretty stable, about 120C and a lamb shoulder will take five or six hours (maybe an extra hour for the top half of a pork shoulder). You want the internal temperature to reach 93C.

Favourite drink? My partner owns a craft beer bar and we always have a few beers to try out. Cocktail-wise it always starts with gin and tonics and moves pretty quickly to boulevardiers​ (a negroni with bourbon instead of gin), our cocktail of choice.

Party starter? Usually the second cocktail mixed with a bit of Talking Heads.

Benjamin Cooper 

Chin Chin, 125 Flinders Lane, Melbourne,

Hit dish? There'll always be at least one curry. They're big dishes, they're saucy and you can feed a lot of people. If I don't have a lot of other spicy food I'll do a jungle curry. Otherwise I'll do a butter chicken or a massaman.

Favourite drink? Champagne mojitos are my current favourite. Instead of soda you add champagne or sparkling wine. It's fantastic.

Party starter? If you've got a friend who might be a bit shy but loves their music a great way to get them to open up is say, "Oh, look, I haven't got any music, do you want to chuck your iPod on and choose some tunes?" Let people get involved and become part of an experience and they'll remember it forever.

Mike Eggert 

Pinbone (new site coming soon)

Hit dish? Over summer I get good avocados, split them in half, remove the seed, cover them in lime juice, fill the holes with fresh sashimi-grade sea urchin, raw scallops, tuna belly diced up and cooked prawns. Serve with some corn chips and a salsa if you can be bothered. The idea is to spoon down through the seafood into the avocado.

Favourite drink? I stole this one off my sister Berri. It's perfect for a barbecue or a hot summer party. Lagerita: 40ml tequila, 15ml Cointreau, one half lime, one half lemon, 5ml sugar syrup, 60ml lager.

Party starter? Shot-gunning a few tinnies of beer always helps loosen people up. If you're looking for a wild party spiking the punch always helps. If you are a little more civilised it is always a good idea to serve some food or a course where people eat with their hands. It never fails to get people talking and relaxed.

Morgan McGlone 

Belle's Hot Chicken, 150 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne,

Hit dish? When my fiancée and I have a party we always fire up the barbecue. I always find Southern is the easiest for me to roll out en masse. I love doing barbecue pulled pork and coleslaw with bread rolls to make sandwiches. My girl Trisha, she makes the best caramel slice known to man.

Favourite drink? I used to live in São Paulo for three years and learned first-hand how to make caipirinha, so I love starting off the party with them. We always drink a bit of natural wine, as well, which I love serving in magnum form. I always try to finish the night with an Old Pal (Canadian rye whiskey, French vermouth and Campari) or some Pappy Van Winkle (bourbon whiskey).

Party starter? Music! I'm into Seu Jorge, Radiohead, Ben Harper, John Coltrane and The Game.

Will Balleau 

Le Bon Ton, 51 Gipps Street, Collingwood,

Hit dish? A traditional southern low country boil. Start with a large pot of beer and water on a rolling boil, add Zatarains or Old Bay Seasoning, potatoes, corn cobs, andouille​ (smoked) sausage, prawns, whole crabs and mussels/clams. Strain and dump the whole mess on an outdoor table lined with newspaper and cover in garlic butter and seasonings. Folks then stand around the table, eat with their fingers and make as big a mess as possible. It's a blast.

Favourite drink? A large champagne punch or similar is best as it saves the host on constant cocktail duty. Check out the 1939 book by Charles H. Baker The Gentleman's Companion: Being an Exotic Drinking Book Or, Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask. His section on punches is fantastic and includes advice such as, "one should always use large, solid ice in a punch – small ice will dilute and surely court disaster". I love it.  

Party starter? Tequila, sangrita and mariachi music.