Wil Wood, owner, Love to Cook Kitchen Kneads

As a child, I didn’t realize the culinary education I was receiving. When I moved out and started cooking for myself and one or two others, I realized what my talented mother had been doing all those years. It blew my mind that she could simultaneously be pulling fresh rolls out of the oven, stirring Hollandaise sauce to the perfect consistency to top the freshly blanched broccoli (which was neither soggy nor underdone) all to be served with the chicken she had just grilled. It would all be hot and fresh at the same time! All this with one oven and a four-burner stove.

Please pass the salt you say? No, no, no: Not necessary. Of course everything was seasoned to perfection.

I’m not there yet, and I still make lumpy Hollandaise sauce, but after observing my mother for a few decades and then owning a bakery and catering many events, I am better equipped to explain how to feed large groups of people.

Let’s not talk about restaurant or commercial catering, though. Let’s talk about when you invite a few friends over. Here are some Dos and Don’ts to help you sanely pull it off in style:

  • Prepare ahead!
  • Simplify your expectations.
  • Plan a dinner that people can serve themselves and requires minimal dishes.
  • Serve finger-food appetizers like chips and guacamole, bruschetta or good bread and butter.
  • Focus on the people and the experience. Put flowers on the table, pump up the jam and throw your shoes off.
  • Some of my favorite main dishes to serve a crowd are soup and a starch, burrito bowls and homemade pizzas.
  • Make yourself available so you can pay attention to your guests. Keep it simple and enjoy the people.
  • Use extravagant place settings — or any at all.
  • Worry about all guests dining in the same area.
  • Sweat it when something goes wrong.
  • Try a new dish. Save that for you and your family.
  • Forget dessert. Consider finger-food desserts!

Don’t treat this like a typical family dinner. It’s going to take longer, dishes will sit out dirty, children won’t eat their veggies and Aunt Suzie might say that garlic gives her gas. It’s OK! Remember, this is a special occasion. So, once people start arriving, ditch the apron and throw on your host(ess) hat!