Three Course Meal Tip #1: Elevate the Appetizer
I do not care if you are a seasoned chef calmly watching the dining room fill up way too fast or you are a first time dinner party host, sweating bullets as the clock ticks ever closer to the moment when the doorbell rings, you win the evening with your first course. If you screw it up you will be the first one eliminated from Chopped! The first bite has the opportunity to be talked about for the entire meal. This is the plate that sets the tone. Think about it, your guests have not even finished their first drinks. You have the opportunity to break the ice by bringing them together with the shared experience of an amazing bite.The appetizer is your announcement that this evening is going to be going to be special.
I am not going to tell you what to make for your guests, but I will suggest some tips on how to choose what you are going to feature for this all-important bite.
- Always KISS. The age old kitchen adage “Keep It Simple Stupid” is paramount here. A simple dish is not mundane or uninspired, it is easy to assemble using ingredients you prepped in advance and ready to use items that you trust. This does not mean that the starter has to be cold, but that you should be able to put it together with minimal effort and little cook time. Remember your guests are coming and you still have two more course and three more bottles of wine to go.
- You can splurge. Even if you are concerned with cost, the upside of the appetizer plate is that it is small so you do not need large portions. If cost is of no concern you can splurge even more! This goes for the additional elements on the plate. When you pick something special to be in the center of a dish do not squander it with sub par accoutrements.
- People eat with their eyes. More than any other dish the plating is critical on the starter. It is the first dish your guests see and while they may be hungry, they will want to savor the fact that nothing at the table is spoiled yet. Your plating should be clean and stylish regardless of the company you keep. If you paid attention to the first tip you already have your sauce and garnish set up to easily apply. So even if you are a rockstar doing a quick seared diver scallop appetizer your cook and plating time can be less than 5 minutes. Pre sauce your plates, drop protein on each one, finish them with glaze and garnish. Send it out the door, pour yourself another glass of wine, and take pleasure in knowing that your guests are about to be wide eyed smiling.
- Good PR is priceless. Tell your guests what is happening to their eyes, mouths and souls as they take in your first dish. I am not comfortable with bragging so this one was always tough for me, until I realized that I was not telling a story about me, but about the food. Tell them the story of why you chose the dish, where you got the ingredients, and how easy it was to prepare. No one will believe the later, but it will add to your mythical status as the Deliverer of Delightful Bites.
Remember when you create food for people you are taking responsibility for a memory. Make it count every time.
Eat with Understanding