Instead of the standard “Hello, how are you?” Filipinos like to greet each other with, “Kumain ka na?” (Have you eaten) or “Kain tayo!” (Let’s eat). Because food is such a big part of our culture, whatever the occasion – a business conference, a wedding, or a funeral, the meal is always the main event. But I think many of us find joy in feeding others as much as in eating. This is our way of showing off – our love, our hospitality, our cooking skills, our home, our wealth, what we can afford and what we are capable of. And as hosts, the best of us want to make our guests truly satisfied, happy and taken care of.
How do we do this? When planning a meal for an occasion, it’s exciting to jump into the menu right away. However, there are many elements that contribute to a good meal. To best enjoy the food, it’s important to set the right mood. When cooking for a big group, here are a few basic things to keep in mind.
1. Occasion – Is it a birthday celebration, a job promotion, or a simple get together? Is it a themed party?
2. Date and time – Is it in the summer where your guests need to wear light clothing, or hats in the cool evening? Do you have enough time to prepare? Do you need to send out formal invites, or is it a casual event where a text message will do?
3. Guests – Who is coming? Just adults, or will there be kids? How many? Expect the unexpected guests and make room for those who bring uninvited company along. In our gracious culture, gatecrashing is, more often than not, accepted.
Know your guests: Will there be vegetarians in the group, or a foreigner who does not eat pork? Are these your long-time, no frills buddies with simple taste, or, some serious food enthusiasts who will appreciate that stinky premium cheese and know the difference between vintage and ordinary wine?
4. Budget – how much can you afford? Do you want your guests to line up at the buffet station, or served at their tables?
5. Venue – Will you have enough space in your home for a garden picnic? Or does renting a function room sound more practical? Think about the weather and an alternative that will shelter your guests from the sun and rain.
6. Manpower – Are you cooking? Have someone assist you with kitchen prep, help set up and clean up afterwards, and ensure that food and drinks are replenished on time. This way, you get to enjoy being the host and spend quality time with your guests.
7. Menu – When you got the theme, the budget and know who’s coming, then you can create your menu. Will it be breakfast, lunch, snack or dinner? Will you serve rice or pasta? Spaghetti in a creamy tomato sauce, or chunky slabs of cheesy lasagna? Chicken kebab or beef kaldereta? Create a menu that shows variety, offering different types of meat combined with vegetables so that your guests have more to choose from. Example: beef bulalo soup, fried catfish with steamed native vegetables and shrimp paste, chicken barbecue with spicy vinaigrette dip, pork asado. Consider the balance of flavors – sweet, sour, salty, some bitter and hot. Mix soupy, saucy, grilled and baked. This avoids “umay” or getting tired of the same taste and textures. Don’t forget your cold beverage, as well as dessert with coffee or tea. Your guests will appreciate hot puto bumbong during the cool months, while icy halo-halo cools them in the summer.
Some things to consider when changing the size of the recipe:
Equipment – do you have big pots to fit all that cooking? If you change to bigger equipment, consequently you have to adjust your techniques and sometimes the ingredients. Evaporation rates vary depending on the size of your cooking equipment. Consider spoilage – larger volumes of food cool down and heat much more slowly than small volumes do.
Seasoning – doubling the recipe does not mean doubling the measurement of certain ingredients. Take it easy on the seasoning such as salt and pepper. You can always add more later if you taste the product and decide it needs more seasoning.
Serving portions – Remember if you serve multiple courses, chances are each person will have less serving of a particular dish (unless someone keeps coming back for more). To avoid wastage and to have better control of the food supply, do what caterers do at buffets – assign someone to scoop up food and serve onto individual plates as guests come along.
As a cook, use your judgment to anticipate these problems and modify your procedures to avoid them. This takes experience, so learn to adjust each time. When in doubt, you may always hire a cook or a caterer who will take your preferences into consideration. Yes, you want your guests to be happy, but you should enjoy your party, too!
When everything is set, put on the finishing touches such as appropriate music to complete the mood. And don’t forget to bond with your guests through fun and meaningful conversations. As they say, food is best enjoyed with great company.
Next week, I’ll show you how to create a big, satisfying meal using Clara Ole, with less effort and more time to enjoy your party!