Five top chefs give their tips on how to make your summer dinner party a success.
Dinner party time
In a career that's taken him from Oxo Tower restaurant in London to Comme Kitchen in Melbourne, this Englishman is now the executive chef at The One furniture store's cafes in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Believe it or not, as a chef I find dinner parties relaxing. I get to go home, entertain people and try out new ideas. If they like it, I might try it in the restaurant. Preparation is key. Find things that are quick and easy to assemble. Of course, you'll need a fully equipped kitchen with a good oven, a microwave and plenty of space to prepare. Find out what your guests like in advance and make sure you have a good mixture of things that will appeal to everybody. Canapés are good, whether it's vegetables, meat, fish or pastry - both cold and hot dishes. If you're doing canapés, you have more scope to make sure that everybody gets a little bit of what they like.
You can be a lot more casual with canapés. You can move around and interact with guests, mingle and talk. For a dinner party, I'd recommend no more than 10 people in your home to keep it nice and simple. Otherwise, you'll be doing too much rushing around - you'll spend more time in the kitchen than hanging around with guests. If you have an open-plan kitchen with a dining table next to it, then that's very sociable. But if you're hidden away around the corner, you won't get to mingle - you'll be too worried about your roast burning.
Baby Yorkshire puddings with roast beef are great. For the batter you'll need flour, baking powder, eggs and milk, which are beaten together into a smooth batter. Pass it through a sieve to get rid of any lumps. Set the oven to about 220°C. Use mini tartlet trays that you can buy in any supermarket. Put about 10ml of oil in the bottom of each recess to heat up, and when it's nice and hot pour the batter mixture into each one. It'll start to bubble in the oil. Put the tray back in the oven and let the puddings cook for 10 to 15 minutes until they've risen and gone golden brown. The meat is just sliced roast beef. You can cook it yourself and slice it, or you can buy it pre-sliced. Fresh beef tastes better, of course. Then we place the beef on to the Yorkshires and garnish it with horseradish cream, a caper and some chives.
The head chef at one of Dubai's most exclusive restaurants, The Edge, at DIFC. Generally, it depends whether you're having a formal or fun dinner party. If it's a sit-down dinner party then you should go for fewer simple courses. Maybe a salad to start, or something else that's refreshing before going into the heavier main courses. Personally, I like everything to be fresh, so I'd have a salad with young baby vegetables that you can get in the markets - small spring onions, radishes, tomatoes and items with lots of flavour. You can add what you want, but the most important thing would be the dressing.
Dressings and vinaigrettes are important but very simple to make. They should be prepared in advance and left on the side until you're ready to serve, so the salad doesn't get damaged and go soggy. A nice one is a tarragon dressing. Take fresh tarragon, some corn oil or vegetable oil (if you prefer olive oil you can use that, but it might change the flavour), a little bit of mustard, chopped shallot and vinegar. The shallots can be raw, but if that's too strong a flavour for you, blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes. Use plenty of oil, but it's the mustard and shallots that give the dressing its spicy flavour.
Small fried items are always good. Cut some deboned chicken into small strips, perhaps 2cm long, and cover them lightly with breadcrumbs, then deep-fry. A creamy mushroom sauce is nice with this, or a cold tartare or tomato sauce would make a good dip. For dessert, I usually make one big bowl of tiramisu. I whisk egg yolk with sugar, then I add mascarpone and beaten egg whites with a little whipped cream. That has to sit for four or five hours. Make layers of biscuit with Savoiardi, or lady fingers, soaked in coffee. You can soak them in fruit syrup if you don't like coffee. Make as many layers as you like and finish with cocoa powder sprinkled on the top. It takes 20 minutes' preparation time, but you should leave it for five or six hours in the fridge before serving.
The first Indian chef to win a Michelin star (2001), Bhatia went on to win another (2006) at his Rasoi restaurant in London while also being the consultant chef at Indego at Dubai's Grosvenor House. I don't get to do many dinner parties these days because I'm doing other things around the world. But I do miss it. I miss my family and friends. But sometimes if I go to a dinner party at somebody else's house, I end up doing the cooking!
I think it's important when if you have close friends around to prepare food that's quite laid-back and relaxed. Whenever we have anything like this in our house, we have a lot of DIY food. In other words, we'll cook and prepare stuff in advance and then lay it on the table for people to help themselves. That helps to warm the party up and make it very lively. And you can ask guests to bring their own foods, then you'll get a good mixture.
You can buy breads or wraps and do fillings. You can do chutneys and dips with small salads. The food should be in small portions. If they become large they can put people off. Finger food is much more friendly. People can pick and choose what they want to eat, because not everybody wants to eat the same food. You need to have a good spread with a few good dips, salads and breads or tortillas. It's so easy to prepare small things. Take something like broccoli. You can blanch it and put a simple marinade on it. Put it in the oven to finish off when people come to the house, or put it on the grill for four or five minutes. Serve it straight away. Or you can do small sides of potatoes, fresh prawns or summer fruits. Give them a nice spiced flavour, some lemon and some fresh herbs.
You want to build up a crescendo to the main courses. Then you want something more substantial. You could have some pilau rice or maybe a biryani, then a coconut prawn masala or a light lamb rogan josh. You can spoon them on to your plate; it's very communal. Have two curries, or main courses - one fish and one lamb or chicken. Lamb rogan josh is a slow-cooked dish, so you would need to cook it the day before. Stew your onions in a pan with some spices, and when they become brown add your lamb and then cook it until the lamb is almost done. At the last stage add the tomato purée just to thicken the sauce and give it colour. Add garam masala, some fresh lemon juice and coriander and the whole thing comes back to life.
The Argentinian executive sous chef is a master of the grill at Asado restaurant at The Palace hotel, Dubai. It all depends on the setting. For an indoor, family-style set-up, Arabic food is ideal. With mezze you have all different kinds of dishes and everybody can help themselves. Here in the Middle East there's lots of variety, from moutabel, baba ganoush and hummus to tabbouleh, fattoush and these kinds of salads.
It's not too difficult to do fresh flatbread at home, and it's the perfect complement for this style of food. There are two kinds of bread - the crispy flat buffet bread and the thicker pitta bread. The recipes are the same, but the thickness of the dough differs. Take roughly a kilo of flour, around 50ml of olive oil and 20-25g of salt. It's simple. We add a little bit of yeast, but not too much because it will rise too much - around 5g per kilo. The freshness of the flour determines how much water you should add - older flour absorbs less water.
When the dough has been kneaded, let it rest for at least an hour. Divide it into 30g pieces and roll them into round flatbreads. Thin, crisp buffet bread will be rolled to 2mm thickness; bake it in a hot oven - at least 220-240°C. Pitta bread will be about 5mm thick; let it rise a little longer and bake it at around 190-200°C. The smell of cooking bread is very nice for people coming into the dinner party. Just like if you go into a traditional Arabic restaurant, you smell the fresh bread and want to eat.
The Frenchman graduated from L'Ecole Hoteliere de Bois France and worked with the likes of Alain Senderens and Alain Passard before becoming the executive chef at the Sheraton Abu Dhabi. To plan a dinner party, the first thing for a host to do is prepare the menu. It can be elaborate or very simple. It all depends what the host wants to achieve by the food and the service. Writing the menu down will help when it comes to purchasing the items in the right quantity.
I think it's best to plan simple food - homestyle cooking that doesn't require too much thought, with more focus on the taste and the product. It's important to buy seasonal products because they're cheaper and more tasty. We're in the season for tomatoes. You can make a simple tomato salad with basil and a little garlic, tossed with olive oil. I'd use tomatoes from Jordan and Lebanon; they are very tasty. You could try a bag fish (where the fish is cooked inside a tin foil "bag" to keep in the flavours) using hammour with saffron spices and a simple fish stock. It's light food for the summer.
Or you can have hammour fillet, slightly poached and served with leek. Cut the leek in two, wash it, chop it up finely then sauté it with butter and salt and pepper. It's simple but good. There are some very good tiger shrimps on the market. Grill or sauté them with garlic and tomato sauce. Another dish that I like is chicken liver seasoned with salt and pepper and marinated with balsamic vinegar. Pan fry it with butter and olive oil and toss it on top of a mesculun salad.