For a real buffet experience, check out The Buffet Party exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center in New York, especially the live event on November 17th! On that Tuesday, from 6:30 - 9:00 pm. a festive buffet reception, as well as silent auction of delightful buffet "gear" will compliment the exhibition and benefit the Bard Graduate Center Scholarship Fund.
Following a splendid dinner party, what does one remember? The ambiance. Their hosts, and the good company of fellow guests. And the food, especially the food - and the manner in which it was served!
What better way to ensure that guests leave with such memories than a spectacular buffet?!
The buffet, as we now know it, has had a lengthy evolution which can be summed up quite simply in that buffet-style entertaining is the best way to serve a large group of people, with a small staff, and guarantees that food will be piping hot and beautifully presented (if the hostess has done her homework). Much more so than a seated dinner, a buffet-style meal also frees up the hostess to spend most of her time with her guests, and the options for decadent and creative recipes are endless....
More on chafing dishes...Eleanor Roosevelt was a big fan of chafing dishes and presided over one at her informal Sunday night dinners. She would scramble eggs in one for her guests. As the story goes, one of the first things she asked when she came to the White House was if they had a chafing dish. (They did not, but quickly acquired one for Mrs. Roosevelt.)
In their book entitled Corned Beef and Caviar for the Live-Aloner, Marjorie Hillis and Bertina Foltz impart recipes and advice for great entertaining. Marjorie Hillis, as you may know, was an editor at Vogue and in some ways the Carrie Bradshaw of her day. She was witty and was a positive role model for single women in the 1930s. She advised single women that one way to entertain was to host an informal Sunday night supper where she cooked dinner herself - or at least pretended to. She suggests the live-aloner mix canned spaghetti, onions and garlic in a chafing dish in front of her guests, and that by doing so, she would appear "appealingly domestic." Carrie Bradshaw indeed.
Domesticity, while appealing, can be slightly more developed than the charming approach of Marjorie Hillis... Think about these ideas for creating a beautiful and impressive buffet spread.
What to serve...
1. Make dishes that can stay hot for long periods and by doing so become even more delicious. Some of my favorites, and other great recommendations, are listed here.
2. I would rather have 2 dishes of the same casserole because one large one often looks like its been massacred after a while. (Not very nice looking!!)
3. Try to avoid individual seasonings, dressings and sauces that complicate the one plate approach.
Setting the table...
1. Use china plates, even if you have to combine several sets. For picnics, decorative metal plates are great. Paper plates can easily backfire -depending on what your serve. A basket or a rattan charger can be very elegant.
2. Use oversized napkins, 22" - 24" square, that your guests can lay over their laps (and your upholstery!). I roll them around flatware, and stack them at the end of the buffet table.
3. Stemless glassware is a smart choice! We love the new stemless wine glasses from Reidel.
4. Use trivets to keep hot dishes off the table.
Entertaining large groups indoors...
1. Make a mental map of the evening. Picture where everyone will sit, what adjacent furniture will be used for eating or resting a drink.
2. Create opportunities for guests to mix and mingle between courses.
3. I love the double buffet-line approach - duplicate your serving dishes so that two lines can move simultaneously and nobody has to wait!
4. Always have someone supervising the buffet, waiting for the inadvertent spill, and replenishing dishes. Your guests will also appreciate a little help as often they are busy enjoying themselves (the true measure of your success)!
The Buffet Cookbook, by Ruth Langland Holberg. Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York. 1951.
The Perfect Hostess Cookbook, by Mildred O. Knopf. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 1950.
The Gift of Southern Cooking, by Edna Lewis & Scott Peacock. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 2003.
Barefoot in Paris: Easy French Food You Can Make At Home, by Ina Garten. Clarkson Potter, New York. 2004.
The Perfect Host, by William Yeoward. CICO books, London. 2009.
The Weekend Cookbook, by Mary Merrill and Mildred Falk Loew. Coward-McCann, Inc; New York. 1957.
Corned Beef and Caviar for the Live-Aloner, by Marjoria HIllis and Bertina Foltz. 1937.
Martha Deane's Cooking for Compliments, by Martha Young Taylor. M. Barrows & Co., New York. 1954.
Come for Cocktails, Stay for Supper, by Marian Burros & Lois Levine. The Macmillan Co., London. 1970.
And of course, Emily Post's Etiquette, edited by Elizabeth L. Post. Harper Collins, New York. 1992.
Graphic design & layout by Matthew Kowles.