A few days ago, Pallavi Kenkare ’20 wrote an opinion piece in The Sun about dinner parties, which can be summarized easily with just one of its sentences: “Between the ages of 18 and 22, do not invite anyone over to dinner.” To be completely honest with you, reading Pallavi’s claim that this was the only message to be taken away from her failed attempt made me incredibly sad. Some of my fondest memories here at Cornell are dinner parties that my friends or I have thrown. Feeding my friends is one of my favorite ways to express that I love and care about them. At the end of the day, sharing a home-cooked meal with the people that you are closest to beats any meal at a restaurant, and I firmly believe that everyone should try it. So I’ve decided to write a guide that will help anyone (especially those between the ages of 18 and 22) throw a dinner party. To Pallavi and the non-believers, grab a pen and take some notes!
Throwing a dinner party takes a little work, plain and simple. If you’ve never thrown one before, you definitely have to plan at least a little. Personally, I throw a dinner party with recipes that I have been itching to try for the first time or with old ones I want to improve. Maybe it’s a recipe article you ran into the other day or a Binging with Babish video you have a desire to try. Or maybe you just want to make some pasta! Whatever it is, at the very least you’ll need all the ingredients. I usually try to hit the grocery store the day before or the morning of the planned dinner party to grab whatever I need, plus a bottle or two of wine (more on this later). Make sure you have a solid idea of how many people you’re cooking for. No one wants to leave a dinner party hungry, so if you’re committing to throwing one make sure you cook enough food. Usually, I cook for one more than the planned amount of people coming over. That way everyone will be full, plus I’ll usually have leftovers for the weekdays too.
Make sure you plan for the amount of time it takes to cook for more than one person. Cooking good food takes time! You can’t rush onions caramelizing; they’re gonna do their own thing at their own pace. I usually start prepping food about an hour and a half before I’ve told everyone to show up. This is also the perfect time to blast your favorite tunes and pour yourself a glass of wine or crack open a cold one to sip on while you cook. Cooking is all about enjoying yourself, so have fun with it! You should never cook sober if you can get away with it (please be safe and drink responsibly, though)!
I think the biggest takeaway from my experience throwing dinner parties in college is the importance of asking for help. Let’s be real — calling ourselves adults at this stage of our lives is a very generous statement. Throwing a perfect dinner party where you do all the work is basically impossible. So don’t be afraid to ask your friends to help you out! Usually, I ask one friend to arrive a little early to help me prep for cooking, one to bring an extra bottle of wine and one to buy a tub of ice cream for dessert. Also, I literally don’t have enough plates to feed more than five people, so sometimes I ask people to bring plates or glasses too if I invite a big group over. The meal is more fun when it’s collaborative! So if someone asks if they need to bring a side dish, don’t turn them down. More food is always great to have, and honestly, a perfect baby-step dinner party could be a potluck.
The most important piece of advice I can give you is that you can’t be afraid of failure. Sometimes dishes don’t work out as well as you hoped. Other times, the recipe is not as tasty as you expected even though you followed it perfectly. Every once in a while, things go disastrously wrong. You just have to learn how to adapt! Add some extra spices, make a quick salad or make sure everyone is too drunk to care! Don’t be afraid of mistakes.
Cooking for and sharing a meal is one of the most intimate things you can do with the people you care about. It’s an expression of both trust and love, and it’s one of my favorite things to do for my friends. With more and more practice you’ll get even better at it, and it’ll require less and less planning! My first dinner party was not that great (I burnt the chicken a little) but now I am way more confident inviting people over. So during a week that isn’t a hell week for you and the squad, invite them over for a dinner party! Get some wine, cook a big meal and share a nice dinner with the people that get you through the week. I promise you it’s worth it!