We at Central Grazing believe that the dinner table can be a unifying place we gather to feed our bodies and our connection with others. It’s also a space to express one’s value for community and the planet by serving dishes with ingredients that are sustainable, seasonal, and local. Our grass-fed lamb delivery service, online recipe catalog, and nose-to-tail cooking guide were conceived to support regenerative agriculture practices and regional food system reform — all while reinforcing the quintessential human experience of dining at home. Especially around holiday time, we’re excited to share ideas that inspire and ease your preparations for a shared meal with loved ones.
Steve Poses is a renowned chef, restaurateur, and caterer whose iconic restaurants Frog and Commissary — opened in Philadelphia in the 1970s — set the stage for the city’s vibrant culinary scene today. As owner and operator of Frog Commissary Catering for 40-plus years, Chef Steve catered more than 15,000 events and served more than 15 million guests at countless venues. His favorite place to host a dinner party? At home. “I believe in the essential importance of human connection. And there’s no better way to make that connection than inviting family and friends to share a meal at your own dinner table,” he says.
Below is Chef Steve’s guide to being a successful host. It’s adapted from At Home: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking and Entertaining — a collection of recipes, tips, and personal stories reflecting his philosophy: “Entertaining is a gift you give to others.”
Sign up for our newsletter and enter for the chance to win a FREE copy of the cookbook! Full terms and conditions here.
Home entertaining is about creating a sense of welcome and warmth for your guests. Hospitality is about providing a space where people feel safe and cared for. It is not about impressing your guests with how good the food is or how beautifully the table is set. This is not the culinary Olympics! So relax. Plan. Make an effort. Care. But just do it. Whatever you do to welcome friends and family into your home and make them feel special is good enough.
Always be willing to take some risks in the kitchen. Provide some surprises, create the unexpected. But don’t go overboard. The very first menu I created for my first Frog restaurant in 1973 included quiche, snails, paella, cannelloni, and brochettes. It was quite exciting for its time. My then sister-in-law looked at the menu and said, “That looks great. But what would your father eat?” It was a good reminder that people generally need some familiar anchors, in their lives and in their meals.
Something needs to tie the meal together. Holidays, with their attached traditions, always work. Using seasonality in both the menu and table styling is a natural strategy. I like to roam a market to see what’s fresh and ripe and colorful, then build a menu around those items. In summer, the highlight might be perfectly ripe tomatoes and just-picked corn. In fall, you can explore the many things that can be done with fresh pumpkin. Shopping at your local farmers market is also an important way of staying connected to your community.
Entertaining is a form of theater that can appeal to all of the senses. Visual presentation of a meal is almost as important as its taste. Think color, texture, and scale—on the plate and on the table. Consider the setting, the lighting. A sizzling pan or platter suggests exciting drama that you can create in your own dining room. Don’t forget the aromas! The fragrance of cinnamon-scented cake or fried bacon or a leg of lamb pulled from the oven as guests arrive whets the appetite.
Plan carefully. When determining a menu, prepare a mix of hot and cold; have few items that require last minute attention. Know what everything is going to be served with and on, when things need to go in and come out of the oven. Make lists. My mother—who was a wonderful entertainer—forgot, on occasion, to serve the salad because she didn’t make a list of what she was serving. Write it down so you don’t have to think about it! Careful planning reduces the stress and increases the enjoyment of entertaining.
When the Japanese ready a tea garden for a tea ceremony, they clean up every fallen leaf. Then they add a few back so the garden doesn’t look too perfect. A perfect garden might make a guest feel like they were burdening their host. Likewise, entertaining should appear as though it took some effort, but not too much (even if it did).
When planning and preparing for an event, remember that you’re already a good-enough entertainer just by welcoming people into your home. Push yourself, but don’t set your entertainment bar so high that you won’t want to take the leap for fear of falling short. And above all, maintain a sense of humor. It isn’t all that serious!
The most important thing to do when you have bid goodbye to your last guest is to stop for a moment and give yourself a pat on the back. If this was a team affair, share a moment of satisfaction with your cohost(s). Entertaining is an act of love. In the end, that was the most important ingredient. Whether everything worked out perfectly or not matters little. What matters is the commitment you made to open your home and heart. Good job! Now, the dishes.