Hospitality @ Home: Buffet Set Up

With Turkey Day around the corner, here are some things to help you serve up your buffet with ease and style.

1. How many people will be at your party? More than 10 people, and you’ll want to be sure that you set your buffet so it can operate from both sides. For small gatherings “buffets” can be set on your stovetop in covered pots so that hot food can keep warm over a low flame, with plates and cutlery on a nearby countertop.

2. Do dishes need to stay hot? You can keep dishes warm by placing hot food on hot plates and keeping them covered. Soups and melty dips can be set in fondue pots over a sterno flame, or in crockpots to keep warm. Get your surge protector on and be sure to tape or otherwise secure loose cords so guests don’t trip over them.

3. Consider the silverware. If you are placing the silverware on the buffet, place it at the front of the buffet, rolled tightly in a roll up that can easily be held or even tucked in a pocket. But if it is possible, it is more efficient to pre-set the cutlery and napkins at individual seats at the non-buffet tables.

4. Consider the sauces. Place saucers beside serving dishes as a landing spot for spoons/ servingware so the tablecloth does not become covered in food debris.

5. Prevent traffic jams. Place canapes and beverages at different locations (if you have the room) to prevent bottlenecks. At a bare minimum, set your beverages on a separate table across the room from the food.

6. Be cagey. If you are on a budget, place plentiful, less expensive dishes at the beginning of the buffet and the more expensive, scarcer items at the end. As in, put your dinner rolls, and mashed potatoes at the beginning, the steak and shrimp at the end.

7. Be fancy. Create levels. By skewering meatballs or other small bites with bamboo sticks, or placing dishes with a low profile (like cut sushi rolls, tortillas, cookies) on literal pedestals. If you don’t have a plethora of cake stands, you can create levels by placing plates on overturned teacups or mason jars. Or if that’s not your aesthetic, you can place a row of sturdy boxes down the center of your buffet table, cover them with linens and tuck your serving plates around and on top of them. If you want to be extra opulent, you can fill the space between the plates with seasonal fruits, vegetables, and sturdy kale leaves to completely cover the fabric components, creating a “cascading cornucopia” effect.

The Overstuffed Thanksgiving Post…(part 1…)

From the blustery, gold-leafed Northeast to the sun-kissed coast of  California, Thanksgiving is right around the corner. As the tell-tale gobbling draws closer, even the best of us question why we ever agreed to host Thanksgiving Dinner in the first place.
The in-laws are coming in to town with Everest-level expectations, you are frantically googling “foolproof ways to cook a turkey” and coming up with 27,698 conflicting schools of “Roast!” “Smoke!” “Deep Fry!” “Brine!” “DON’T BRINE!” “High heat!” “Low and Slooow,” as well as the contrarian Millennial Generation belief—“Turkey is played out, Bring on the Korean short ribs and cardamom-infused seitan roll.”
Hospitality at home does not require that the host herself lose twelve pounds through sleep deprivation and midnight cooking binges. The best hosts are always the ones that know their limitations and can present themselves with grace by the time their guests arrive, regardless of personal taste and style.
Consummate hosts come in many flavors, but I make a distinction between four major types:
Domestic Engineers (traditionalists, a la Martha Stewart, or Audrey Hepburn’s Sabrina)
            Glamazons (a la Samantha Jones, or Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly)
Decadent Bohemians (eclectic, vivid people like Carrie Bradshaw, Audrey in Funny Face)
Conscientious Objectors (those who refuse to conform to expectations, like Annie Hall, Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday)
Anyone who has read my first post knows that I recommend getting professional help. Here in Los Angeles, there are a couple of ways to stage such an intervention.
Order in:
I like to get the turkey out of the way by picking up a cooked one the day before, so I can focus on the fun stuff like pies, side dishes, and signature cocktails.
No one has to know that you had help, but, personally, I don’t think there’s any shame in letting the cat out of the bag. …Or the turkey, as the case may be.
Ordering a few things in enables you to easily be pulling the Apple Pie out of the oven, or pouring Maple Manhattans as your guests walk in the door… Because nothing says “Happy Holidays” like the sound of ice in a shaker….
Suggestions for ordering in, by type:
Domestic Engineers: Turkey from Joan’s on Third  or Bristol Farms . Add your own maple baked sweet potatoes (from your great-grandmother’s recipe), Aunt Tilda’s pumpkin pie, and Parker House Rolls.
Glamazons: the full menu from Joan’s, Bristol Farms, or Street.
Decadent Bohemians: Turkey from Little Dom’s Deli or Street, and at least 2 servings of Street’s Vegan Jackfruit, or M Café de Chaya’s Savory Sliced Seitan, because there’s definitely going to be some vegetarians at your place. Cook up some Farmers’ Market brussels sprouts in bacon from McCall’s, and a Momofuku Crackpie  for dessert, and you’re set.
Conscientious Objectors: There is nothing wrong with ordering a pizza if that says Celebration to you. If your issue is just that you hate turkey, but are feeling otherwise fancy, pick up the Lobster or Lamb Roast from Street and finish everything off with a killer Sundae bar.
In the event that eating-in is not on the table; either because your guests won’t fit in your Lilliputian apartment, Medieval Parking restrictions on your block, you don’t feel like cooking (and the mountain of dishes that result), or the equation
your white sofa + booze +your friends= disaster….
Make Reservations:
No matter what city you are in over the holidays, here’s a tip: Hotel Restaurants.
At least one restaurant in a hotel must be open 365 days a year to serve the guests, regardless of holiday observation (visiting European businessmen don’t care about Thanksgiving, anymore than Americans understand all those British “Bank Holidays” when we’re on the other side of the pond). For Holly Golightly’s whose manicures never touch dishwater, this is perfect.
Imagine you, tippling a glass of wine as sparkling as your conversation, in a tufted booth, wearing a chic black one-shoulder dress, while servers drop delicacies at your table. The photos on your FaceBook page will be enviable.
It is definitely best to make a reservation a couple of weeks in advance, but should you need a last minute table for 8—because somebody burned the turkey—don’t be disheartened. Call ahead, tell the hostess your hardship, and that you’ll happily wait at the bar until something opens up. I guarantee you, you’ll eventually be taken care of; it’s the holidays, after all.
Note also, that a little tip for the hostess after your meal is not inappropriate here, if she really helped you out. A pre-emptive $20 handshake in an attempt to jump ahead of reservations is tacky, though, and could get her in trouble if she accepts it. Nobody wants that.
If you are doing the inviting, be clear with your guests about who is settling the bill. Unless you specify otherwise in advance, the rules of etiquette dictate that the host picks up the check.
Recommendations by type:
For Domestic Engineers: (obviously, only in case of emergency) Gordon Ramsay at the London, as well as Jar in West Hollywood & Tavern in Brentwood will be featuring traditional dishes from turkey to the pumpkin pie finale.  So Jar and Tavern aren’t in hotels… but they’re open and traditional.
Glamazons: Scarpetta @ the Montage Beverly Hills and The Bazaar @ the SLS Beverly Hills are both delicious, with plenty of social cache. The Bazaar is planning to feature an a la carte menu, while chef Conant at Scarpetta has put together an incredible four-course pre-fixe at $85 per person.
Decadent Bohemians: Simon LA at the Sofitel will be serving up a rock n’ roll take on traditional Turkey Day fare.
Conscientious Objectors: high-end? Delphine’s at the W Hollywood. The full menu will be available, so no need to be trapped by the dreaded flavors of the season. On the less fussy end? Dillon’s Irish Pub, right across the street, will have the game on and Mac and Cheese Kobe burgers at the ready.