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At Home with the Kitchn’s Sara Kate Gillingham

Elena North-Kelly

December 16, 2015

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Photo by Leela Cyd

In 2005 writer Sara Kate Gillingham took a deep breath, a leap of faith, and co-founded the Kitchn, a design-forward website that sought to inform and inspire every aspect of home cooking, from recipes to advice to renovations. Now, with a readership of over 17 million per month and a 2015 James Beard Award–winning cookbook under her belt, Gillingham certainly knows her way around a kitchen—both in her own home and through the lives of the many readers she connects with each day. Below, senior editor Elena North-Kelly catches up with the founding editor and avid cook to get her tips and insight on entertaining, including her most trusted recipes, indispensable tools, and levelheaded approach on gracefully handling any dinner party disaster.

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JBF: Many of us at JBF often turn to the Kitchn for tips on getting organized. Talk to us about the ideal prep timeline for hosting a dinner party. For example, how far out do you recommend shopping, prepping, and cooking?

Sara Kate Gillingham: Depending on the ingredients, shopping can range from weeks ahead to the day of the event. Dry goods last a long time, but something like fish should be as fresh as possible. As for prep, I love getting things organized—mise en place—as far in advance as possible. Obviously you don’t want to cut vegetables days ahead because they'll dry out, but some dishes have a sauce, for example, that will hold (and sometimes even improve!) if made a few days early. 

JBF: Speaking of which, what are some of your favorite make-ahead recipes for hosting sanity?

SKG: I love stews, beans, and cuts of meat like pork shoulder that work well in a set-it-and-forget-it situation like a slow cooker. I’m also a big believer in homemade ice cream made a day or two ahead. It’s not difficult and has major "wow" factor. 

JBF: Atmosphere and tablescapes are both key elements of home entertaining. What are some of your most indispensable serving pieces for hosting?

SKG: I love platters of varying sizes. Nothing says “bounty” like a table full of overflowing platters. I’m a ceramicist, as well, so I try to use all my own pieces. I also love mixed-up serving utensils; I don’t shy from pairing unmatched serving spoons and forks. For something casual, I have no problem using both my speckled-enamel spoons from Mexico and my mom’s old sterling. 

JBF: On the flip side, what are the best hostess gifts, other than a bottle of wine?

SKG: Nice salt like Maldon or fleur de sel, and flowers. I love getting flowers. My friend Mark Bitterman owns a shop in New York City called the Meadow that sells both! 

JBF: Have you ever had any dinner party disasters? 

SKG: Of course! Things burn, I slice my finger on the mandoline, the wine is bad. Just like anyone, I can make mistakes and I can just have plain bad luck. I’m old enough and have been through enough that the only choice I see is to laugh it off. 

JBF: What do you look forward to most about hosting a dinner party?

SKG: The real honor it is to feed people and to bring them together and give their souls a warm feeling with good food and a great vibe. 

Photo by Leela Cyd

JBF: How do you gracefully handle the sticky issues of guests lingering at the end of the night, or unruly guests who’ve had a bit too much to drink?

SKG: I’ve had guests sleep over! I can’t think of a time when I wished someone would leave. For the unruly guests, I recommend offering water and a cab home.

JBF: Finally, is there any key element to entertaining that you think is too often overlooked? 

SKG: I think there’s a fine line between taking things too seriously and missing the good time, and also being too casual. For example, don’t sweat it if things aren’t perfect, but also put in effort where effort pays off—cloth napkins, good lighting, and fun music goes a long way. 

For more great tips and recipes from Gillingham and her editorial team, check out thekitchn.com.

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Elena North-Kelly is senior editor at JBF. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.