Chef Alison Roman’s Dream Dinner Party
Brooklyn-based chef and food writer Alison Roman is known for pulling off the impossible: getting millennials and the recipe-averse to forgo ordering in, crack open a cookbook and relish in whipping up a feast in their own kitchen. Her recipes are unfussy and possible to recreate without too much know-how, yet they leave an unforgettable impression on your tastebuds – her salted chocolate chip shortbread cookies were the first to go viral, followed by her spiced chickpea stew with coconut and turmeric, which fans christened simply #TheStew.
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Her YouTube channel, Home Movies, is not only a portal to culinary wisdom, but legitimate, first-rate entertainment (she’s team anchovies for reasons she could wax poetic on for days). After the overwhelming success of her books Dining In and Nothing Fancy, Roman, who started out as a restaurant pastry chef, has a new cookbook out: Sweet Enough. She also has other exciting ventures ahead, including a corner store in upstate New York and a podcast where she dispenses advice to eager callers. She sits down with Service95 to talk hosting the perfect dinner party…
Her Dream Dinner Guests… People who really love to eat, who will always bring their plate to the sink, who will always bring at least one bottle of something to drink.
Her No.1 Hosting Tip… Put a plan together. In the past I’ve been very free-form and I’m like, ‘Oh, I’ll just throw together a salad,’ but it helps to write a menu. It’s a lot less chaotic in the end if you do that.
You Should Never Overlook… Seltzer. You have to alternate it with anything that you’re drinking, especially if it’s wine. People will always be like, ‘Oh, yeah, I would love a seltzer.’ And you can’t run out, you just can’t.
What She’s Wearing… Variations on a theme: a high-waisted pant and a button-down shirt. I don’t wear shoes in the house, so it’s a barefoot situation. I try to have it feel casual but put-together. I don’t think about it too much unless I’m hosting a special-occasion-something. But I feel like I’m entering a new era of hosting; shedding some of the casualness and finding myself more drawn to having dinner feeling a little more pointed, rather than just a free-for-all.
What Guests Can Expect… Animated, lively conversation. People anticipate really good food, they anticipate staying late, they anticipate drinking good whatever. But it’s not about what things look like, there’s no showpiece, no food for the internet, if that makes sense. It’s for us, in this moment. The dinner party is one of the last truly experiential, intimate things that we have. People being in your home is the most exclusive, in a good way, the most intimate, in a good way, the most unique, in a good way. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind experience.
What Not To Discuss… Anything related to a woman’s age – like getting married, or having children.
The Playlist… We’ll start with something mellow, vibey, nothing too upbeat. Then as the night progresses (depending on who’s there and what their vibe is, if they’re trying to go home or if they’re trying to stay), it can really go up from there. These days, it never turns into a full-on dance party unless I’m hosting a party-party, but if it’s a dinner party and we’ve moved to the couch area, my husband takes over and he’ll get into some weird, deep ’70s Topanga Canyon-seeming vibe.
Her Go-To Dish… If you eat meat, the roast chicken on the cover of Nothing Fancy. It’s a wonderful dinner party trick, because you season the chicken, you cut up some tomatoes, you put in the oven for three to three and a half hours and it’s perfect. It’s like you didn’t do anything really. As long as you salt it well enough, there’s nothing to do, and it’s just ridiculously delicious.
What We’re Drinking… I love starting with a vermouth and soda, a gin and tonic, or a cassis and soda – or something light, bubbly, aperitif-y, on ice.
What’s For Dessert… I like to offer an amaro, or I’ll make coffee earlier in the day and freeze it with a little booze in it and then make a quick shaved ice granita texture and give that to people at the end. The other night I just put out bars of chocolate and peeled some tangerines and was like, ‘Have some chocolate.’
The Worst Thing A Guest Could Do… When the guests don’t vibe, that’s a nightmare, like when the conversation dies. And you’re like, ‘Oh, I made a bad setup.’ That’s happened before, but not often. I have eight people at a dinner party – I make sure that everyone knows at least one person, but that not everyone knows each other.
…And The Best Ask questions about the person they’re sitting next to, engage in conversation and don’t talk about themselves the whole time. Don’t be too polite. Being a good dinner party guest requires vulnerability. You need to open up a little bit.
Suzana Vuljevic is a culture writer, editor and translator, whose work has appeared in Undark, Artforum, Eurozine, and more