Pro Tips for Hosting (or Faking) the Best Thanksgiving Ever
This year, you’re the host.
Maybe you shrugged and said, “our place?” Or maybe someone volunteered you. (That bitch.) Now you’ve got 12 adults, 4 grumpy in-laws, 3 teenagers, 6 kids and 10 food sensitivities showing up hungry at your door on Thanksgiving Day.
Who really prepares for the holidays anymore? November is just a long, sugar-coated slope to despair: family drama, travel delays, struggling to keep the Santa myth alive only to find your 4th-grader just cut class. So, what do you have planned? Nothing, sweetie, I’ve been too busy trying to determine if I’m depressed or it’s just 2017.
Read on to save your reputation, your relationships and your sanity.
Restaurateur, celebrity chef, cool AF dad of two and entrepreneur Jack van der Hidde is throwing you a bone. Thanksgiving happens to be a favorite meal for this European-trained chef to prepare, and he’s sharing a few secrets to success – or just how to fake it.
“I grew up in Norway, but my mother lived in New York, where she adopted the tradition and brought it back. When I was young, it was one of those yearly parties where I learned how to cook — helping my mom preparing the meal for 20 of her closest friends.”
He’s come a hell of a long way. Van der Hidde was Executive Chef at LA’s Osteria La Buca, then worked as a private chef for Leonardo Di Caprio, Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell and a bunch more but we won’t name-drop. If it’s good enough for Leo, we’ll have another helping.
Pro-Tip #1: Don’t Overthink It.
But first, perspective: It’s a party, and these are Your People. No one’s writing a Yelp Review. Keep the wine and beer flowing and focus on fresh, simple ingredients.
Van der Hidde loves nothing more than being a guest. “People are always intimidated to cook [for me] when I’m invited somewhere. I’m just happy I don’t have to cook!”
What do you serve guests waiting for the big meal? He suggests starting off really simple, which can be elegant. “I love a good charcuterie plate. Cheese, salami, antipasti, crackers, grapes, and crudité. It’s easy because you don’t have to cook anything, all you have to do it put it nicely on a platter.”
Pro-Tip #2: Help Yourself.
No one, especially an ace chef, makes a holiday meal on his or her own. But that doesn’t mean you should extend an olive branch to your moody Mother in Law, who’s insisting she helps you in that hot kitchen.
What three qualities does van der Hidde look for in a sous-chef? “Leadership, loyalty and organization skills.” Preach.
You need zero nonsense: someone to take directions, corral the little monsters running in and out, one who won’t take your shit-fits over the gravy personally. You must be put, and kept, on track. If that’s not your spouse, then phone a friend. Or better yet, hire a little help for the prep or the dishes–no judgment. Call it your best decision to invest in enjoying your company.
And make sure these cheap, game-changing tools are on hand.
“We were invited to a Thanksgiving dinner one year and I was excited for once not to have to cook. It was supposed to be for 12… it suddenly grew to 25 people and I, of course, had to take charge and made it all happen.”
Pro-Tip #3: Jump the Gun.
Van der Hidde’s most important piece of advice? Start prepping the meal 2-3 days in advance. “You can prepare 90% of the meal in the days leading up to your party.”
All the best restaurants do it — van der Hidde says they’ll ready that ‘special’ a day or two before serving it. (You didn’t think you were just going to Salt Bae this turkey, did you?) “A braised dish is relatively easy and can be made a few days in advance. Serving it with either a creamy polenta, risotto or fluffy mashed potatoes.”
This way, heating and plating is all that’s left to fuss over. Now you’re in a groove, with more time to get more fun from your food. Perhaps this is the year to serve the adults an Elevated Dish, like these creamy cannabis infused mashed potatoes…
Pro-Tip #4: Crowd Pleasin’.
You’ve got Grandma’s china plates glued down, the best-smelling candles lit, and the Tom Petty tribute station on Sirius. Nice work. But you’re still feeling like a Basic host? Don’t beat yourself up, or attempt every one of these 8 Super Impressive Thanksgiving Recipes from our friends at HuffPo.
“The easiest recipe that’s always a hit is my SPICY!! habanero cranberry sauce,” says van der Hidde. This one satisfies adults and kids alike, and he’s graciously shared it here. You’re welcome.
- 1 Cup orange juice
- 12 oz bag fresh cranberries
- 1 medium habanero chile (1/2 ounce), seeded and cored
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 finely grated lime zest
Put all ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil, let simmer for 15-20 minutes until all the berries have popped. The sauce will thicken as it cools. Bonus – you can make it up to a week in advance.
It’s Thanksgiving – which may be the greatest balancing act you pull off all year. For all your sweat and tears in the kitchen, there are fuller bellies and belly laughs, and a moment to savor with the ones you love (which is just plenty for some).
For van der Hidde, and many who host on the regular, he finds Balance in routine fitness to counter the days filled with food, drinks and smokey lines. “Balance is being able to get a workout in 3-4 days a week,” he says, but still surrounds himself with foodies, taking long bike rides with chef buddies and quality time with his family. No doubt dreaming up what else to do with those habaneros.
Ride it out, friends – and Happy Holidays.
Photos of Jack and his family were taken by his wife and photographer Felicity Murphy.