Cooking for big numbers in a small kitchen

Updated on 13 June 2012 | 0 Comments

Experienced supper club chef James Ramsden reveals how to cook for large numbers of people in a small kitchen!

Cooking dinner for your friends is one of the greatest pleasures in life. There are few things more heart-warming than looking around the table and seeing smiling faces all gobbling on something you’ve created. 

All too often, however, the whole process can be a bit of a battle, particularly when the numbers go above any more than six – your pans are too small, you’ve spent most of the day washing up, and the small cow that you’ve bought won’t fit in the oven. 

But it doesn’t have to be that complicated. With a bit of forward planning and an acceptance that you probably can’t create a Michelin-starred dish (and quite frankly why would you want to?) cooking for ten can be an absolute doddle. Follow these tips and you’ll have your friends eating from the palm of your hand:

A tidy kitchen is a happy kitchen

I know, I know, it’s incredibly anal, but – and trust me – cooking is so much easier in a tidy kitchen. Perhaps it’s feng shui, perhaps it’s just common sense; when the kitchen is clear so, it seems, is your mind. You can concentrate on the cooking instead of getting distracted by a month-old copy of Grazia while you try and chop onions on four square inches of worktop.

Harness your ambition

However brilliant a cook you are, there are limits to how much you can do for big numbers, unless of course you are happy to ignore your guests all evening, which is just rude.

So discard any grandiose aspirations to cook reductions of this with foams of that, triple-cooked chips and beef done three ways, because in a tiny kitchen it just isn’t realistic.

Plan a do-ahead menu

In an ideal world, there should only be a couple of bits and pieces left to do when your guests pitch up.

One of the constants in entertaining is that even if your kitchen is the size of a bathmat, your friends will insist on piling into it, meaning any last minute cooking is going to be a challenge.

Plan a menu that lets you have the majority of things done ahead, and that doesn’t require three hot courses. In fact, I’d forget doing three courses in the first place. There’s no need. Knock up something delicious that people can nibble on with drinks – roasted almonds are a favourite of mine, or perhaps a few crostini, or even a big plate of ceviche and a few chopsticks.

Then get a big joint of meat to stew or slow-roast and serve with some simple vegetables. If you want to go a bit off-piste you could try something like buffalo rendang. For pudding find something you can do in advance and serve cold – lemon posset is as straightforward as it gets and utterly delicious, or something like brownies and ice cream is never going to disappoint. 

Be careful about quantities

The knee-jerk reaction to cooking for any more than six is to cook as much food as is humanly possible, but in reality you never need as much food as you think. I have friends who proudly say ‘I always overcater, just in case’. Why?! You’ve spent more money than you needed to and the chances are that most of the food is going to end up in the bin. 

Think carefully about how much each person will eat of each thing and work to that. I guarantee you’ll still have leftovers. 

And if it all goes horribly wrong…

Well, it shouldn’t if you follow the above, but you never know. Should the oven pack in, the jelly not set, or your hair set on fire, the main thing is to remember that it’s only dinner. Your friends have come to see you, not your food, so there’s no need to flip out if things don’t go according to plan. They probably won’t even notice. I recently served an unset rosewater panna cotta to friends with some poached rhubarb, calling it rosewater cream instead. They lapped it up. 

First and foremost a dinner party should be more about the ‘party’ than the ‘dinner’. Create a cosy atmosphere, keep the food simple, and make sure everyone has plenty to drink, and the rest will be a cinch.                            

James Ramsden runs the Secret Larder supper club in Holloway. 

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