Nathalie Dupree is a grande dame of Southern cuisine. The author of 15 cookbooks, including Nathalie Dupree’s Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking and Nathalie Dupree’s Comfortable Entertaining: At Home with Ease and Grace, she has received 3 awards from the James Beard Foundation and was one of the founders of the Southern Foodways Alliance.
When she wants to chat about throwing a party, we take notes. If you have the honor to be at one of her parties, you understand.
1. What are the considerations you have when you develop a menu for a party?
When I am having any kind of party, even if it is casual guests for a supper, I try to think about what my guests will like. I check first to see if there are allergies. If they have “references” that are not life-threatening, I just make sure they have enough to eat, without eating the thing they don’t like, but I don’t exclude that from the menu. For allergies, like shellfish, I do exclude the food itself completely. I always ask if there is a shellfish allergy when I serve shell fish. I also exclude them and other dietary “offenses” when having guests who won’t, say, eat pork. Then I try to have varied plate, with protein, vegetables, and a starch. I load up on vegetables if there is a vegetarian coming, for instance.
I try not to duplicate an ingredient within a menu—cream in only one dish, cheese in only one, fish in only one, etc., so that there is not too much of a good thing. If I am serving alcohol I always make sure that I have plenty of protein—and for a stand-up party I always serve a large portion of meat, so that there is something to entice the men who won’t eat other things. And, finally, what would supper be without dessert?
2. What dishes do you consider to be your go-tos?
Shrimp and grits; beef tenderloin; pork ribs with coca cola sauce; roast chicken; onion tarts, onion soups, cold soups in the summer; biscuits, biscuits with ham, chocolate roulades and snowballs (chocolate cake covered in whipped cream), and peach cobbler with caramel sauce.
3. What are your top 3 tips for holding a dinner party?
Get everything cooked ahead of time. Get everything cooked ahead of time. Get everything cooked ahead of time!
Seriously, other than that, be clear to your guests about what time you plan to serve—will it be half an hour of cocktails? Or one hour? I.e., say, “Please come at 7, we plan to sit down to eat at 7:30” or whatever your plan so people are clear it is a sit down occasion and they know they will be expected to be ready to sit down by then.
For cleanup, get a cooler of hot soapy water and put any last minute pots and pans in it to soak, leaving your sink and dishwasher free to clear to so you don’t look like a mess.
4. What is your most memorable dinner party?
When Pat Conroy, Anne Siddons and Calvin Trillin came to dinner along with a dozen other people at two tables. I had them and their spouses at different tables so everyone could enjoy the celebrities, but they couldn’t stand it and soon Pat and Calvin were sitting at the same table, regaling everyone with tales that cannot be repeated. The rest of us just moved our chairs over and sat in chairs behind the table they were sitting at.
Nathalie will be in Charleston at Southern Season on March 16 for a week-long event A Culinary Experience for Advanced Home Chefs.
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