Cooking for the holidays shouldn’t be a chore. When entertaining friends and family, it is best to keep your wits about you lest the kitchen explode in a shower of pate au choux and panic. To ease the stress, we spoke with professional Jon Wipfli, who has cooked in some of the best kitchens in Minneapolis, including The Bachelor Farmer, but now runs his own business teaching classes and working as a personal chef at The Minnesota Spoon.
Wipfli said, “When I cook for the holidays, or for large groups of family and friends I like to keep it easy on myself. Stressing out about sinking soufflés or rolling out highways of pasta is out. If you plan out your prep work, start with great ingredients and don’t complicate the dishes great food can be easy and stress free.”
Tip #1: Plan
Break out the cooking schedule into more than one day. For a feast, prep work can begin a couple days in advance rather than doing it all in the same day. Get a head start with foods that don’t lose quality sitting in the fridge for a few days. This will give you some room to breathe when your guests arrive. Think soups and stews.
Tip #2 : Use good food
This may seem obvious, but Wipfli thinks that the quality of ingredients can be overlooked. “When I was in culinary school one of my teachers would preach in a thick, French accent, ‘If you don’t start with good food, you can’t end up with good food.’” Find the freshest vegetables and source the best meats that you can find. It will make your job as a cook a lot easier.
Tip #3 : Keep it simple
Says Wipfli, “An acronym that’s thrown around in kitchens a lot is ‘KISS’ or – “Keep it simple, stupid”. I like experimenting with new recipes and techniques as much as the next person, but after some epic fails for large groups I like to keep my test kitchen sessions to smaller groups where failure is an option.” If your goal is to dazzle beyond the classics, just try adding a few twists to a tried and true standard.
“For example, I’d recommend split pea soup cooked with a smoked ham hock that, after cooking is removed, diced and used to garnish the soup. Finish with some creme fraiche and lemon zest.”
Tip #4: Remember this is fun
We tend to cram all of our hopes to reconnect with old friends and family into a few measly weeks each year. In the end, your guests want to spend time with you, not the back of your head bent over a stock pot. Breathe deep and remember that even in the worst case scenario, everyone loves pizza delivery and a good fiasco story.