How to cater for a dinner party

You've set the date, you've planned your menu and you've invited your guests, but how do you make your next dinner party a stress-free success? Giovanni Pilu is here to help.

By Giovanni Pilu
Giovanni Pilu
Preparing a dinner party for a large group can be daunting. You want to make sure your guests are not only well fed but are also kept entertained, rather than being left to their own devices while the host has a meltdown in the kitchen. And let's be honest: after all the time you've spent planning the party, you want to enjoy the night, too. We asked Sydney chef Giovanni Pilu (Pilu at Freshwater) for his top tips for catering for a dinner party en masse.
Plan ahead
Try to avoid last-minute chaos by cooking at least one course, from start to finish, at leisure and ahead of time. Normally, I like to prepare the dessert before people arrive so I can relax with my guests after the main meal. A tiramisù or individual crema Catalana are both easy options.
One thing that's often forgotten is ice for drinks; either make plenty or buy a few bags. There's nothing worse than a warm G&T.
When it comes to the dreaded clean-up at the end, make things easier for yourself by starting with an empty dishwasher so you can pack as you go.
Get guests involved
Have drinks ready for your guests as they walk through the door - everyone always gathers in the kitchen so put them to good use with a Negroni in hand.
Keep it simple
You don't want to overcomplicate the snacks before the main course. Try to pick foods that you can eat with one hand, so guests can manoeuvre freely around the space, with drink in hand.
At my house, I usually opt for classic antipasto to get things started: salumi, olives, crispy Sardinian bread, chunks of Parmigiano Reggianno and maybe a selection of bruschette - broad beans and ricotta perhaps or ripe tomatoes, good olive oil and basil. Fresh seafood like oysters and prawns are also great to start with.
Relax and enjoy
When planning your menu, avoid anything that's going to keep you in the kitchen too long. You don't want to have massive gaps between courses and then emerge from the kitchen flustered and having missed half the conversation.
Share everything
Large sharing plates are great for dinner parties, especially amongst friends. The bonus for the host is fewer dishes to prepare and plan ahead for. I like to put a huge bowl of pasta and salad in the middle of the table and everyone digs in. A whole baked fish, like a snapper, with a mix of seasonal sides is always popular. Good quality bread on the table is a must.
Giovanni Pilu is the chef-owner of Pilu at Freshwater and an Ilvenista ambassador.