YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Tricks of the Party Trade


"Giving a party is like handling a stage production," says Sue Campoy of Julienne, a take-out cafe in San Marino. "There is just no way one person can perform all the parts." But you can organize all the parts--if you plan ahead, stick to a budget and remember the most important rule of party-giving: A host's place is with the guests, not in the kitchen.

That last bit is always the toughest to manage. And so we consulted some of the city's best party experts--caterers--and asked them to share their secrets for not only surviving a massive holiday party, but for enjoying it too.

The current state of the economy is causing hosts to take another look at America's frugal past. "We're going back to the basics," says Julienne's Susan Campoy. "We're cooking stuffed cabbage, sausage ragout, casseroles of baked pasta, but we're upgrading them with modern touches."

For instance, the sausage ragout she serves is topped with feta or Gruyere cheese crumbs; baked pasta is made with shiitake mushrooms, prosciutto and three different cheeses. The traditional antipasto is given a California twist with baby corn, grilled peppers and smoked mozzarella.

Campoy's trick: "If you want to enjoy a party, you need to have reliable people to help--but they don't have to be expensive professionals. Use your neighbor's children or friends. "

All of the caterers agreed that keeping things simple is very important. "The days of multi-course menus of five years ago are over," says Kathleen Bergin of The Butcher, The Baker, The Pasta Maker. "Now people want to cut down on the cost by planning parties with fewer dishes, less silver and china and fewer rentals to worry about." Hosts are also looking for low-cost but plentiful entrees served with a few salads and a terrific dessert.

Bergin's trick: Serve pasta for a cost-conscious party.

Andrea Bell of L.A. Celebrations in Los Angeles suggests developing a detailed menu and timetable. List the concept or theme, the menu and a shopping list (including beverages). Then set up a timetable for all aspects of the party--from setting the table to reheating a dish at the last moment. "Nothing should be left for the last minute that can't be handled in advance," she says.

Bell suggests simple, hearty meals that can be completely made ahead and reheated at the last moment, such as a vegetable-and-bean soup served with grilled sausages, assorted breads (from different bakeries) and herb butter, followed by an easy, inexpensive dessert of Bartlett pears with honey and fresh cheese.

The day before, wrap salad greens in towels and make the dressing. Have serving pieces polished and labeled to go with appropriate items.

Mulled wine is a good beverage to keep in mind, says Bell, because large quantities can be prepared ahead and only need to be heated up at the last minute. Eggnog also can be assembled ahead, leaving the addition of whipped cream for last.

Bell's trick: When cooking party food, never use recipes you haven't tried before.

Lila Green of Renta Yenta in Beverly Hills says oversights can ruin a party. An example: "A lot of people pick up food at take-out places, but forget to get a chafing dish to keep the food warm."

Ice, Green thinks, is another item that is often overlooked. "You'll save money by having the ice delivered by the 100-pound bulk rather than buying small bags at the supermarket and carrying them yourself," she says.

Another tip from Green: figure out how much Champagne you'll need ahead of time, because once Champagne has been iced, it should not be allowed to come to room temperature. "It's wise to assess exactly how many Champagne bottles should be iced, to avoid ruining good Champagne," Green says.

Green's trick: "Close the bar an hour to a hour and a half before the end of the party and set up warming drinks such as tea, coffee or cocoa, for the road. Don't forget, the host is held responsible for their guests safety once gone."

"You'll save lots of money if you give a party in the afternoon rather than at night when drinking is heavier and the food and beverages more varied," advises Aleta Parrish-Dichter, president of Duck Duck Mousse in Pacific Palisades. For a party that's easy on the host, Parrish-Dichter suggests cold dishes to which guests can help themselves, such as pates, terrines, Brie layered with nuts or pesto, or sandwiches and salads, rather than hot meals that require special equipment, careful replenishment and, perhaps, costly labor.

Parrish-Dicter's trick: A full bar is expensive and requires a skilled bartender. Serve only beer, wine and nonalcoholic beverages.

"To avoid crowds collecting in one spot at a large party," suggests Gary Ware of Ware's the Party Catering in Los Angeles, "group foods on tables set up in stations around the house."

Los Angeles Times Articles