How to Throw a Dinner Party When Your Kitchen Is the Size of a Potato
Stop whining; it's not that hard.
Food Network just launched our first-ever Fantasy Kitchen Giveaway. To celebrate, we’re helping you make life a little better in your own kitchen with this Kitchen Tip Tuesdays series on FN Dish. This week — our last week, alas — digital manager Eric Kim shares his tips, tricks and wisdom for entertaining in tiny kitchens. Enjoy, and don’t forget to enter for a chance to win $250,000 toward the kitchen of your dreams.
"Necessity is the mother of invention." I forgot who told me this. Either my father or a really boring first date. They were talking about business, in any case, but the statement holds true for small-space entertaining as well.
I once cooked a seven-course dinner for a team of eight editors in my 250-square foot shoebox studio at the time. With a mere hot plate and toaster oven, and some smart (but light) pre-planning and organization, I was able to churn out salades composées, squash soup shooters, maple-candied crostini with soft cheese and even risotto.
At ease and levitating, all the while.
Sure, all eight of my guests were crowded around a flimsy, dollhouse-sized folding table from Fisher-Price. Sure, elbows touched and knees rose higher than the table. And sure, there weren’t actually enough seats for everyone, so a couple of us had to stand in the corner, holding our plates up to our faces like dogs and leaning in on a conversation we were never a part of.
But we all ate. And the food was delicious, if I do say so myself. (I do.)
In this day and age, living alone in non-mansion quarters is no longer an excuse to avoid having company over, formal or informal. It’s fake news that in order to cook delicious food you necessarily need "space" (a trigger word for me, among others, e.g. trypophobia, frog eggs, commitment).
If you’re reading this and your lifestyle is much loftier than mine and affords you more than my bountiful 250 square feet of decrepit, prewar Manhattan wood, then I implore you not to jump off quite yet. These tips and tricks may help you regardless of the size of your kitchen:
1. Do most of the cooking the night before.
This one seems obvious, but that’s only because it’s paramount to your survival. You won’t be able to enjoy the night if you’re performing a thousand microtasks that could’ve been completed in advance (this includes setting the table and cleaning your apartment). Especially when space is such a commodity, the trick is to maximize counter and sink space, which will be much easier to come by if you’ve already done most of the cooking and cleaning ahead of time. On the day of the dinner party, you’ll want to focus all your energy on your guests and to enjoy the precious time and space you’ve crafted for yourself as well.
2. Cook what you know.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: This is not the time to experiment. Not just because it’s important to feed your friends food that tastes good, food you feel confident about, but also because — I feel it goes without saying — if you’ve cooked it all before, there’s probably a higher chance that you’ll feel much less stressed about it. And minimizing stress is important when your life is already hard enough as it is. I mean, look at your kitchen! It’s so small!
3. Keep the space as cold as possible.
Before your guests arrive, blast the A/C and open the windows. This sounds random, but trust me: It’s a thousand times easier to warm up a small space than it is to cool it down. And whether or not you’re using the oven, your apartment will heat up. As your red-faced guests stomp up that seven-floor walkup, huffing and puffing at the top, I can guarantee you that they’ll be grateful for the breezy welcome.
4. Serve a house cocktail.
You’ll be surprised at how much time you won’t have once your guests arrive. They’ll pester you with annoying questions like: Where’s the bathroom? Do you need any help? Shoes on or off? Where can I put this huge, dirty winter jacket? Can I put it on your dog? If you keep a big-batch drink in the fridge, pre-mixed and ready before the party, you’ll feel like the Barefoot Contessa herself (or Bacchus), gracefully pouring this ready-made elixir for your parched guests and giving them something to do right away: drink. A nice Aperol Spritz or pitcher Margarita will do.
5. Tell people where to put their coats, bags and shoes.
You’ll need all the space you can get. One bag on a counter can mean the loss of some prime party-prepping real estate. Start the assembly line early or else your guests will trash your tiny, pathetic apartment with their things. (People love to bring their things.) In my abode, I designate this big white chair in the corner of my kitchenette; it piles up vertically and stays out of the way. If you don’t care about germs (I do), you could assign your bed as a makeshift coat "rack." The important thing is that you’re consolidating everyone’s baggage — including their deepest, darkest fears and anxieties — into one stockpile that you all can burn and chant around at the end of the night.
6. Make use of the entire apartment.
Though everyone will want to hover around you as you’re puttering about the kitchen, do yourself a favor and encourage people to spread out by placing snacks around the apartment — good things to eat, like nuts, popcorn and chips. Or if your affair is a bit more intimate, then ask your guests to pour themselves a drink and take a seat at the table you’ve set in advance. Obviously, this rule only applies to two guests or more; don’t ask your one early guest to sit alone all the way over there while you stand awkwardly alone in the kitchen. Clearly, you did something wrong in your past life to deserve such a small apartment, but that’s no excuse to take it out on your friends.