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Entertaining Tips from Carla Hall

Elena North-Kelly

April 29, 2015

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To help you prep for a stellar Beard Awards viewing party, we tapped the chef, television personality, and host of our 2015 Book, Broadcast & Journalism Awards, Carla Hall, for some sage advice. Below, the former caterer shares her top tips.

 

Turn Down the Volume

 

I want background music at a cocktail party, not something that will take over the conversations. The playlist depends on the crowd you’re entertaining, but jazz is always a good place to start.

 

Make It Ahead

 

I like to prep and cook as much as I possibly can in advance. I want to enjoy my guests! Plus, as a recovering caterer, I can’t help but think that way. Even the hot dishes that I plan to serve are prepped to the point of just finishing when the guests arrive. I may have a total of 30 minutes in the kitchen. I don't want my guests to feel like they need to offer to do any work.

 

Stock Up

 

It's a treat for me to actually cook for my friends, so I make as much as possible from scratch. But I stock up on things like cheeses, artisan breads, marinated olives, crackers, jams/compotes for cheese displays, piecrust, and nuts. These items come in handy for whipping up easy hors d’oeuvre.

 

Think Seasonally

 

Since the Beard Awards ceremony happens in the springtime, think about your favorite seasonal ingredients. I would go for anything with peas. I loooooove peas! I like to serve pea pesto with crackers and veggies, cod poached in pea soup, or spring vegetable potpie or risotto.

 

Do the Math

 

As a rule of thumb, for a cocktail party, I would plan for 10 to 12 bites per person or 3 to 4 bites per hour. If dinner is being served, I plan for 2 to 3 bites per person. Ice is another important thing: you'll need it both for chilling beverages and for serving. In the warmer months, you’ll need twice as much ice as you would at other times of the year—about 1 pound per person.

 

Plan the Aftermath, Too

 

I find that the one thing party-throwers are prone to forget about is the cleanup. It's always great to have a plan. Setting up a dump station for glasses, plates, and flatware makes your life a lot easier.

 

 

Need some party-friendly canapé ideas? Check out our recipe roundup here.

 

Elena North-Kelly is senior editor at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

 

The 2015 James Beard Awards are made possible by the generous support of our sponsors, including:

 

Premier Sponsor: All-Clad Metalcrafters

 

Supporting Sponsor: Breville

 

Gala Reception Sponsors Braveheart Black Angus Beef from PERFORMANCE Foodservice * Celebrity Cruises® * Groupon * Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts

 

Additional support by VerTerra Dinnerware * Wisconsin Cheese

 

See our complete list of Awards sponsors.