Ted Allen's Holiday Happy Hour

The Chopped host gathers his food-savvy friends for an end-of-year cocktail party.

Christmas, New Year, Drinks, Dinner Party, Appetizer
Photograph by Jim Franco

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On his Food Network show Chopped, Ted Allen gives chef contestants a mere 30 minutes to make a three-course meal from scratch using surprise ingredients. "It's cruel is what it is!" Ted says. "I'd be a terrible contestant. I love to cook, but I'm not very fast." He is, however, good at whipping up tasty food and throwing a party that will impress some tough critics: his food-obsessed friends. At this holiday cocktail party, Ted's guests are barely through the door before he offers each one a shot of white-bean soup spiked with bacon. "When someone walks into your home and you give them this two-gulp portion of warm soup, it's very welcoming," he says.

This isn't actually Ted's place: His Brooklyn house, which he shares with longtime partner Barry Rice, has been torn apart for a renovation. So the two are hosting their "Roman holiday" party in the New York City loft of Linda Lea, the executive producer of Chopped, and her partner, Pamela Nelson. You'd think that after long days overseeing intense cooking battles, Linda and Ted might want a break from the kitchen (they wrapped up shooting just days before this party). But for this group of close friends, many of whom, like Ted, are from the Midwest, there's just no substitute for a home-cooked meal. "Don't get me wrong, we love to eat out," says Ted, who was a restaurant critic for Chicago magazine before launching his TV career on Queer Eye. "It's just that in New York, where people live in such small spaces, you can be good friends with someone for 10 years and never see the inside of his or her apartment." So he and his friends take turns throwing a dinner party every couple of weeks.

This time, in place of a sit-down meal, Ted and Barry put together bite-size Italian snacks like small pieces of pork roast over crisp polenta, and citrusy scallops and clams served in the shell — ideal because guests don't have to put down their wineglasses to eat. "My best piece of advice for throwing a dinner party: Use the oven more than the stovetop," Ted says. "And serve a few dishes that work at room temperature. You'll spend less time in the kitchen and more time eating and drinking with your friends."