Alo Food Group, Toronto Ontario

Chef Patrick Kriss Shares His Tips for Seamless Holiday Entertaining

The holidays should be about spending time with loved ones; not spending excess time in the kitchen. Event planning should be meticulous so you aren’t stressed day-of the party.  Whether you're hosting an intimate gathering with friends & family or throwing the doors open for a blowout bash, Chef Patrick Kriss gives his tips for easy holiday entertaining that will wow any guest. 

It’s All About the Preparation 

From purchasing and ordering to chopping and assembling; think about what can be done in advance. It goes without saying, but you should carefully plan your menu and write out a corresponding grocery list so nothing is missed. Sharable starters, a family style dinner with 1 or 2 protein options, 2 sides, a salad and a dessert is a perfect menu breakdown for parties of any size. 

For me, the busiest time is the day before the party. Set the table, organize all utensils and platters, order all party necessities, build your charcuterie and cheese board and cut or chop anything that won’t wilt or brown.

Set Goals

I do as much as possible 1-2 days before the event and set challenges for myself for the day of the party like how infrequently can I use a knife or how few pots can I use? It’s a fun challenge that pushes me to plan ahead. 

Start the Party Off Right 

A charcuterie board and cheese platter are fool-proof ways to start any event. Your guests can graze with a drink while you put the finishing touches on the main meal. The ideal cheese board should include a variety of options such as a soft cheese, a hard cheese and a goat cheese. You can pre-cut the hard cheese like a cheddar or manchego, but leave the soft cheeses whole; your guests can serve themselves. 

Your charcuterie board should also include an assortment such as a spicy chorizo, a sweeter coppa and a rich serrano ham. Have fun with the accompaniments like gherkins, a grainy mustard, fresh figs, honey and Marcona almonds. Slice a baguette that can take you through dinner. Your boards should look really plentiful. Use a smaller serving platter and buy a lot of 3 varieties of salumi as opposed to buying minimal slices of lots of different kinds of meat. Keep it simple. If you want to incorporate seafood, shrimp cocktail requires no cooking. Buy it pre-made and serve. No-cook starters that can be assembled the day of are a no-brainer. 

A Toast to the Host 

Enjoying a drink should be a breeze. Don’t overcomplicate the bar by trying to curate cocktails. Choose 1 white wine and 1 red wine to serve throughout the evening. A good rule of thumb is to have one bottle of wine for 2-3 people for every two hours. This should assist with bottle numbers. 

Spirits like vodka, tequila, gin, whiskey or bourbon are all excellent options to offer, just keep mixers to minimum - a soda or tonic alongside citrus slices or wheels. Your guests can mix their own drinks to their liking. 

If you do want to go above and beyond, outsource. Order ice from companies like IceMan and order large cubes or Collins spears that will add thrill to each glass. 

Champagne is also very festive. I like to end the evening with a glass of bubbles that can be served with dessert. Popping bottles really celebrates the season. 

Dish Ideas

Family-style eating with a show-stopping main dish is simpler and more fun than individual plates. Let your guests serve themselves on a bountiful table or buffet-style if you have island space.

Side dishes like Brussels sprouts are perfect because they can be cut in half the night before. You can simply roast with butter, salt and pepper or add pancetta and toasted pine nuts for a quick and elegant garnish. Room temperature side dishes are also a timesaver. I would actually recommend a beet salad as the beets can be roasted, peeled and cut the day before and stored in the fridge. Day-of, just finish with a goat cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette. Another great salad option is an endive salad. Choose a leaf that is easy to wash and prepare! You can serve with grapes and walnuts and use your favourite mustard vinaigrette recipe that can also be made the day before in a mason jar for a quick shake and serve! Finally, roasted new potatoes with garlic and rosemary are my go-to potato side as they do not require peeling or cutting. 

For the main dish, don’t feel like you need to impress by purchasing expensive cuts like a tomahawk. Buy a skirt or flank steak from your local butcher to ensure quality. You can prepare an incredible sauce the day before that your guests will love. My favourite is a chimichurri sauce that is herbaceous and full of flavour. Make sure to also have good quality bread and butter available throughout the meal; all that’s required is a quick slice. 

A Sweet Finish 

Everybody loves dessert. Great cakes and pies are labour intensive. I recommend buying something from your favourite bakery or dessert shop. An Aloette lemon pie, an Alobar cheesecake or our mille feuille are crowd pleasers. If you want to make a dish, a light and easy idea is macerated strawberries with double cream. 

More Time-saving Tips

Your guests are there to see you so have fun and enjoy your night. Outsource where you can. Rent glassware from companies like Chairman Mills. They deliver to your door and pick-up the dirty items. If time is tight, review your menu and buy a few dishes ready-made. Even in the winter, if you have access to a barbeque, use it. Barbequed dishes are delicious and require less pots and pans than using the oven. Oh and whoever cooks, shouldn’t do the bulk of the cleaning. Cheers.