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Use seasonal, local ingredients and get your guests involved.
Looking back, the holidays and New Year’s were a bit of a blur. Dinner parties, office functions, family dinners, cocktail parties—just a stream of celebrations with seemingly never-ending food and drink.
I applaud those who opened their homes to host full-on dinner parties. The idea of cooking a feast for a houseful of hungry guests can be a daunting task. Shopping, preparation, guests’ dietary restrictions and limited kitchen space are a just few things hosts need to take into consideration. Then, of course, there’s the actual task of cooking and serving. Add the task of trying to do it all sustainably and passing the duty back to Mom starts to sound like an appealing solution.
Often, hosts resort to serving prepared and pre-packaged food to save time. Some of my friends have confessed to doing this—purchasing all the courses pre-cooked, arranging them on serving platters and just praying that nobody could tell. The result is a lot of unnecessary waste produced by excessive packaging, not to mention the lingering uncertainty from not knowing the ingredients’ source or quality.
And of course, nothing beats the flavour experience of cooking from scratch.
During the holidays, I was invited to a dinner party unlike any I’ve ever attended. My friend Sara hosted the event at her house with the help of Anthony Nicalo of Inevitable Table, a private chef service founded on solid environmental and health principles.
This unique experience expanded my mind on how to entertain in an earth-friendly manner and even converted a few kitchen-phobes at the party.
Ten of us gathered around Sara’s kitchen island at 3 p.m. Anthony, a seasoned chef dedicated to sustainable food systems and connecting the farm to the table, was our hands-on mentor, guiding us through the preparation of four courses while introducing us to a variety of local produce and seasonal ingredients.
Anthony Nicalo offers his private party service all year-round. His other services include: grocery service, cooking classes and wine-pairing dinners. Book your own event or have your pantry expertly stocked in advance of your next party through the website.
This was not merely a cooking demonstration. Instead, Anthony encouraged guests to get their hands dirty by doling out tasks to everyone. He was technique-focused and carefully explained how each recipe was adaptable according to what is available in the market.
Amateur cooks and hobby chefs alike had a fantastic time mingling while rolling out whole-wheat pasta, marinating lamb chops, scooping out pumpkins for roasting and making crepes for a layered mascarpone cake.
The kitchen, the heart of the home, was alive with chatter, laughter and the sounds of chopping and whisking. Some ladies admitted to being too intimidated to entertain in their homes but said they were now inspired to cook more and involve their friends.
And in the end, we surprised ourselves by the elegant and healthful dishes we made together in a few short hours.
Anthony designed the gourmet menu with the season, health and flavour in mind. Instead of granulated sugar, he sweetened the whipped mascarpone, spread between the layers of crepe, with organic local honey. Milk and hearty vegetables replaced the need for heavy creams and butter in the parsnip purée. The use of whole-grain flour for the pasta provided additional nutritional value and a wonderfully toothsome texture.
Practicality and sustainability were also essential elements in Anthony’s menu planning. As he explained, instead of mindlessly following a cookbook recipe, we should look to in-season ingredients for inspiration.
By incorporating basic cooking techniques with the bounty of local ingredients available to us, cooks can throw greener dinner parties with the land’s and the guests’ well-being as priority.
After several hours of cooking together, we settled around the dressed dining table. Anthony completed the final plating and presented each course with an expert wine paring. His other venture, Farmstead Wines, focuses on establishing relationships between wine farmers and the consumer.
As we sipped on naturally farmed, vinaroon-crafted wines and feasted on our collective creations, we were appreciative of the provenance of our environment. Knowing every ingredient that went into the dishes made each bite especially palatable.
This was by far the most memorable dinner party I attended throughout the holidays. The educational experience helped demystify home entertaining and how to utilize seasonal, local ingredients simultaneously. It also encouraged us to cook more and to cook healthier—which should help us meet our New Year goals.
Vancouver blogger Melody Li shares her beloved recipes, culinary travels and gastronomic insight in her blog, GourmetFury.com. Don’t miss her drool-worthy photos, quirky narratives and refreshing perspective on local and cultural ingredients. By day, she is a writer, an art and ceramics teacher, and a recipe developer. By night, she is a wine and cocktail ninja.