5 Chef Tips and Recipes for an Intimate Dinner Party

Here's how to tackle your next fall feeding friends-zy

Here’s how to tackle your next fall feeding friends-zy

The shift in weather as autumn arrived also meant a shift in how we entertain friends and family. Gone are the casual barbecues on the back deck where it seemed almost effortless to feed a crowd.

Cooler temperatures and darker days inspire smaller, more intimate gatherings. Hosting a dinner party for friends shouldn’t be a stressful or challenging occasion. Advanced preparation, and thoughtful menu choices, ensure that you’ll be spending the evening with your guests rather than slaving away in the kitchen.

To that end, BCLiving canvassed some professionals—chefs Patrick Do, Chris Van Hooydonk, Andrea Carlson, Hamid Salimian and Jenny Hui—for their tips on hosting a low-stress dinner. (Yes, they do cook for friends on their days off.)

Here are the chefs’ menu suggestions, with wine pairings, which incorporate some of their favourite seasonal ingredients, to make your dinner party a flavourful success…


1. Chef Chris Van Hooydonk, Backyard Farm Chef’s Table

Farm to table doesn’t get much closer than at Chris Van Hooydonk’s establishment in Oliver. Set on two acres on Oliver’s Golden Mile, Van Hooydonk’s farmhouse dining room and kitchen are the setting for unique private dinners (they’re booked up a year ahead in high season), cooking workshops, and the hub for creating Backyard Farm products. Harvest means that the heirloom squashes, tomatoes, apples and herbs grown on the farm end up on the plate—sometimes within minutes of being picked.

Before launching Chef’s Table, Van Hooydonk had cooked at the Four Seasons in Boston, on cruise ships and was the executive chef at Burrowing Owl Winery. He wanted to relate to food in a different way, one in which involved the people he was cooking for.

“I wanted to tell the story [about the food] rather than just show the menu—making a connection with people through food… I felt there was an opportunity that people weren’t really taking advantage of.”

And he believes that’s an approach we should all try to take. He suggests make shopping for the ingredients for your dinner party—or perhaps any meal, really—an experience in of itself, and to be mindful of where your food comes from.

“It’s about finding and making the time to have sourcing your ingredients be an experience,” he advises. “It shouldn’t be about getting stressed out that you’re cooking for everybody. It should be about slowing down for a second and remembering that food should be a little bit more than just sustenance.” 

Spiced Heirloom Squash and Heritage Apple Soup Recipe

Wine Pairing: Maverick Estate Winery Origin, a blend of Gewürztraminer, Semillon and Chardonnay


  • 3 tbsp (45 mL) butter or olive oil
  • 4 cups (1 L) butternut squash or red kurri squash, peeled, seeded and large diced
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 cloves garlic-minced
  • 4 apples, Red Delicious, Royal Gala, Fuji-peeled, cored and diced
  • 6 cups (1½ L) vegetable or chicken stock, more if needed
  • 1tsp (5 mL) ground ginger
  • 1tsp (5 mL) smoked paprika
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) ground curry powder
  • ½ tsp (2.5 mL) ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp (1.25 mL) ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) apple cider vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup (250 mL) whipping cream or coconut milk-optional


  1. In a large saucepan, on medium heat, melt butter and add diced onion and spices. Cook on medium heat until onions start to turn translucent, approximately 5 minutes.
  2. Add garlic, squash and apples. Continue to cook for approximately 5 minutes and add stock and vinegar. Bring to a simmer and cook until squash is tender.
  3. Purée in blender, season with salt and pepper to taste. Return to simmer, and adjust consistency, if necessary, with additional stock, or for a creamy texture, add whipping cream or coconut milk and check seasoning.

Serves 6 toi 8

Beetroot, Celeriac and Apple Salad, Warm Corn Crusted Brie, Strawberry Balsamic and Toasted Walnut Recipe

Wine Pairing: A big-red, B.C. rosé by either Road 13 or Culmina winery


For the salad:

  • 1 medium celery root, peeled and julienned
  • 2 apples, cored and julienned
  • 4 beets (gold, red or chioggia), cooked and sliced
  • 1 cup (250 mL) arugula-washed
  • Olive oil or lemon-infused olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup (250) toasted walnuts to garnish

For the strawberry balsamic:

  • 2 cups (500 mL) frozen strawberries
  • 1 cup (250 mL) balsamic vinegar
  • ½ shallot,diced
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) honey
  • Pinch black pepper
  • ¼ tsp (1.25 mL) salt

For the cheese:

  • 1 small wheel double or triple cream brie, cut into 6 triangles
  • 1 cup (250 mL) milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups (500 mL) blue cornmeal or cornmeal, (fine grind)
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) olive oil


  1. For the balsamic: In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a simmer for approximately 10 minutes. Purée in blender and set aside to cool.
  2. To bread the cheese: In a small mixing bowl, combine egg and milk, whisk until well mixed. Place cornmeal in a separate bowl. Dip cheese wedges into egg mixture, followed by cornmeal and coat evenly. Shake off excess and repeat for two coats of cornmeal crust.  Set aside in refrigerator.
  3. For the salad, we use a Japanese mandolin to julienne both the celeriac and apple. The celeriac can be cut ahead of time, as long as it is stored in lemon water in the fridge. We will julienne the apple just prior to plating, so it doesn’t oxidize (turn brown). We simply boil the beets with the peel on in water, until tender and immerse them in cold water directly after—the peel will literally just fall off under cold water.  You can certainly cut them into wedges or rounds, or slice them as desired, whether it is for a family style or plated presentation. Lightly toast the walnuts in the oven ahead of time.
  4. To Finish: Place the beets on platter or plate, dress with olive oil, some balsamic and salt to taste. Toss together drained celery root, arugula and apple with a small amount of lemon infused olive oil, garnish with edible flowers, toasted nuts, pomegranate or pumpkin seeds as desired.
  5. In a large frying pan, on medium heat, preheat pan until hot. Add olive oil, and warm slightly. Turn heat to medium low, pan fry cheese (cold from the fridge) on all sides quickly as it browns slightly Remove from pan and plate immediately.

 Serves 4 to 6


2. Chef Andrea Carlson, Burdock & Co.

“I wouldn’t do courses,” advises Andrea Carlson, chef and owner of Main Street’s Burdock & Co, for hosting a dinner party.

“If you want something totally low-stress, just make a braise, whether it’s going to a vegetarian or meat-based. Then it’s done. It’s in the oven and your place smells amazing when people walk in.”

Carlson proposes pairing it with a big salad with hearty vegetables like artichokes and some fresh, crusty bread. Super simple, and easy to do everything in advance. And for a dessert, she suggests making a tart which can be baked the day before.

Make a dish you’ve done before, Carlson advises, “or do a practice run at a new recipe you might like to try. It takes the stress off on the day of.”

Carlson admits her menu for cooking for friends depends on her energy levels on the day saying, “it might involve a large salad.”

This recipe, from Carlson’s new cookbook Burdock & Co: Poetic Recipes Inspired by Ocean, Land & Air, has celeriac, one of her favourite root vegetables, as its foundation. And like many of Carlson’s dishes, it’s vegan-friendly.

Celeriac Pavé, White Miso, Pumpkin Seed Crumb Recipe

Wine Pairing: 2018 Ursa Major Estate Winery Viognier Flaming June


Celeriac pavé:

  • 2¼ lb (1 kg) or 3 medium celeriac
  • 2 tbsp (30 L) extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt

Pumpkin seed crumb:

  • ¼ cup (60 mL) roasted pumpkin seeds, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) sesame seeds, toasted
  • 3 tbsp (45 mL) bread crumbs (gluten-free or regular), toasted
  • 2 tsp (30 mL) extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt

White Miso Cream:

  • ½ cup (125 mL) white miso paste
  •  2 tbsp (30 mL) water
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) apple cider vinegar
  •  2 tbsp (30 mL) grapeseed oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Baby nasturtium leaves, for garnish


  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Peel the celeriac and slice on a mandolin as thinly as possible. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper and place down a layer of the celeriac slices, then brush with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Repeat this layering until all the celeriac has been used. Cover the loaf pan with a lid or foil and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the celeriac is tender. Allow to cool. Cut a sheet of parchment to lay on top of the terrine in the loaf  pan and top with a heavy weight so that the terrine will compact and become stable for slicing. Refrigerate overnight with the weight on top.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the seeds and breadcrumbs. Add the olive oil to moisten and mix until it just comes together. Season with salt to taste.
  4. In a blender, combine the miso, water and cider vinegar and blend until smooth. While continuing to blend on low speed, add the oil in a steady stream. Season with salt.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  6. Remove the weights from the celeriac pavé, unmould, and trim the edges. Slice lengthwise into four pieces. Place the pieces onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and warm gently in the oven for about 20 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven and top with a generous layer of Pumpkin Seed Crumb. Transfer to plates and top with dollops of White Miso Cream and baby nasturtium leaves.

Serves 4


3. Chef Patrick Do, Do Chay Saigon Vietnamese

For Patrick Do, Do Chay’s co-owner and chef, cooking for friends offers an opportunity to experiment with different flavours and ingredients that wouldn’t necessarily be a fit for the recently-opened Kingsway restaurant.

“If I know exactly who’s coming to dinner, I can tailor the experience to each individual diner,” Do explains.

Do recommends that if you’re considering presenting a multi-course meal to limit the courses to four saying that “people tend to naturally become full between dishes no matter the portion size.”

He suggests starting with a small amuse bouche that will “set the scene.”

Focus the meal around one theme, he advises, such as an ingredient.

“Use one ingredient many times and surprise your guests with applications and preparations they wouldn’t think of. For instance, kabocha (Japanese pumpkin/squash) can be done as a savoury dish and as a dessert. You can use it as a puree on the plate or substitute it for potato in a coconut milk potato pavé.” 

Do likes using kabocha saying the flavours work well in Vietnamese. “It’s hearty and filling but mild enough to impart bold Vietnamese flavours like curry or anise.”

Kabocha Dumplings Recipe

Wine Pairing: La Frenz NV Tawny Port


Homemade wrapper ingredients:

(Wrappers can also be purchased at most grocery stores)

  • 4 cups (1 L) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup, plus 4 tbsp (300 mL) hot water
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) salt
  • 3½ tsp (17.5 mL) curry powder
  • 3½ tsp (17.5 mL) turmeric powder

Kabocha filling Ingredients:

  • 1½ cups (375 mL) kabocha, chopped
  • 1½ cups (375 mL) shiitake mushrooms
  • ? (220 mL) jicama, chopped
  • ½ cup (125 mL) white onion, finely chopped
  • ? cup (80 mL) red shallots
  • ½ cup (125 mL) jalapeno
  • ? cup (80 mL) garlic, minced
  • ? cup (80 mL) Korean red chili flakes
  • ½ cup (125 mL) brown sugar
  • 4 tsp (20 mL )  Asian five spice powder
  • 5 tbsp (75 mL) dark soya sauce
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) black vinegar 



  1. Add flour, curry, turmeric powder, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add near boiling water to mixture and mix with a wooden spoon or chopsticks. When you achieve large crumbs, transfer to a flat surface and knead with hands for approximately 6-7 minutes or until smooth.
  2. Cover with cling wrap and let rest for at least 1 hour to a maximum of 3 hours.
  3. Cut piece into 4 and form each piece into a long roll. Cut each roll into 12-14 pieces and roll out into wrappers.


  1. Sweat onion and shallots in a large sauté pan with avocado or canola oil. Add garlic, mushrooms, jicama, jalapeno, and kabocha to the pan and sauté until you achieve slight browning. Add seasoning to taste and set aside.
  2. Take dough wrappers and spoon 1 tablespoon of filling into the centre of wrapper. Pinch together sides in the centre and pleat 8 times. 
  3. Repeat until wrappers are finished. You can freeze these dumplings to enjoy at a later time.
  4. To serve, pour 1 cup (250 mL) of water into a hot pan, add dumplings, cover and heat for 10 minutes. When water evaporates, add oil and pan fry for 2 minutes for color. 
  5. Enjoy with a spicy, sweet soy sauce.


4. Chef Hamid Salimian, Popina Canteen

As a chef who serves up elevated “fast food” for his patrons, chef Hamid Salimian, co-owner of Popina Canteen on Granville Island, takes home cooking to another level when entertaining friends—he conjures up a Persian feast.

“I tend to go a bit crazy and prepare a lot of different dishes but going crazy is a big part of having people over,” says Salimian of his approach to entertaining.

For home cooks, he counsels that organization is key to warding off stress when hosting a dinner.

“Write your menu, then make a prep list, planning which day you are going to do each step. This will determine your shopping list,” Sallimian advises.

Creating a menu with most of the dishes being made in advance simplifies the whole process.

“Do all the work a day or two before the party, so that at the party you are only reheating, or finishing a last item in the oven or grill.”

He recommends also prepping serving ware and plan for where it will go on the table. And says that if he’s doing multiple courses, he has them timed so that the dining experience will flow.

“I would have all the appetizers ready to go when they arrive, then the main, vegetables and starches at the same time—one hour after they arrive—followed by dessert,” he suggests.

For fall ingredients, Salimian likes sunchokes, carrots, squash and wild mushrooms—any of which could accompany this roasted chicken recipe.

Saffron Lemon Chicken Recipe 

Wine Pairing: There is no hard rule on red or white wines for chicken, but a full-bodied Chardonnay would complement the saffron and lemon flavours in this dish.


  • ½ large white onion 
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil 
  •  ½ cup (125 mL) lemon juice 
  • 1 whole lemon sliced into 4 
  • ¼ tsp (1.25 mL) ground saffron 
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) salt 
  •  2 game hens (or a small chicken). Alternatively, you could use a whole fryer chicken, butterflied/spatchcocked (backbone removed and flattened—ask your butcher to do this for you.)


  1. Place onions, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon slices, saffron and salt into blender and blend until fully smooth.
  2. Place chicken in a Ziploc bag and add marinade, then seal bag tightly. Make sure the marinade covers the entire chicken inside the bag, refrigerate overnight.
  3. The next day, remove chicken from bag and place chicken flat on a roasting pan, skin side up.
  4. For game hens, bake in a preheated oven at 375F. For whole chicken, bake at 350F for 45 minutes or until internal temperature has reached 165F.
  5. Place roasted chicken onto a platter and serve with basmati rice.

Serves 4 to 6 


5. Chef Jenny Hui, The Lazy Gourmet

For The Lazy Gourmet’s executive chef Jenny Hui, comfort foods that evoke feelings of warmth are her fall favourites to eat and cook, imagine steaming chicken pot pie and fragrant stews. And when cooking for friends, she takes an easy-going approach saying her friends are just appreciative.

“There is no pressure when cooking for friends,” Hui says. “They are always happy with anything I make, and I love creating dishes that are family-style—great for sharing.”

She’ll keep the menu simple with perhaps starting with a hearty soup, then a pasta dish for an entrée and “a chocolate dessert with ice cream.” 

Hui advises three courses but definitely no more than four. Her most important tip is to just keep it simple.

This recipe for braised short ribs is perfect for a make-ahead dish while delivering on that cool weather, comfort-food vibe.

Braised Shortribs Recipe

Wine Pairing: Liquidity Dividend, a full-bodied red wine


  • 6 bone-in beef short ribs,
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tbsp (60 mL) vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 3 tbsp (45 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) tomato paste
  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 4-5 cups (1-1¼ L) beef stock


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Generously season short ribs with salt and pepper.
  3. In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sear short ribs on all sides. Transfer short ribs to a roasting pan.
  4. To the pot, add onions, carrots, and celery and sauté over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Add flour and tomato paste, cook for about 5 minutes. Then add wine and bring to a boil.
  5. Pour mixture over the short ribs. Add rosemary, bay leaves, and garlic.  Cover short ribs with beef stock. Cover with foil.
  6. Place in oven for 3-4 hours or until short ribs are tender.
  7. Transfer short ribs to a platter. Strain sauce and pour over ribs. Enjoy!