Yotam Ottolenghi’s NOPI restaurant, with head chef Ramael Scully at the helm in the kitchen, is adored by London’s foodies for its innovative, memorable food served in elegantly relaxed surroundings. Diners at the restaurant are treated to a grand tour of global culinary influences, with glimpses of Ottolenghi’s Middle Eastern heritage and Scully’s Malaysian/Chinese/Australian background in every dish.
NOPI’s food is perfect dinner party fare; this is true ‘special occasion’ cooking. With the release of the NOPI cookbook, Yotam and Scully want to give amateur cooks the tools they need to create incredible, restaurant-standard food at home. When you’re planning your next dinner party, and you really want to wow your guests, this is the book you need by your side in the kitchen.
Cooking for guests is all about confidence, and even the most self-assured home cook can feel overcome by nerves at the prospect of turning out three (or more!) perfect courses in an evening, particularly where new ingredients or techniques are involved. Never fear, dinner party hosts! Ramael Scully (or Scully, as everyone calls him) is here with wise words to soothe and instruct. Read on, for the secrets to dinner party hosting, NOPI style…
So, Scully, I like to think of myself as a confident cook, but cooking for friends or family always throws me into a tizzy. It’s that combination of wanting to impress and, at the same time, choosing to cook unfamiliar dishes. Am I right to be terrified?
No! Go easy on yourself. What could be nicer than bringing together great friends, great food and great wine? If you’ve never had a dinner party before, my advice would be to take baby steps. Spend time choosing what to make and go for simplicity. The venison with date labneh, blackberries and peanut crumble in the book is a perfect recipe to go for – this may sound like a massive leap into the deep end – but it’s actually really easy and unstressful to make as all of the elements can be made the day before ready to just be put together on the night. You have the feel and look and taste of something really impressive but it is actually really simple to do.
Preparation is fundamental if you’re going to host a dinner party. Take your time choosing your recipes and read them through at least 2 -3 times before you get started with the cooking. One mistake to avoid – make sure you don’t choose dishes that all need a lot of work at the end, when your guests are likely to have arrived and are expecting your company. Something like my Persian Love Rice would be a good one to do, for example: it’s a beautiful vegetarian main course – spiced rice stuffed in vine leaves – which can be made entirely in advance. With all the work already done you can then relax on the actual night and focus on enjoying it all.
My ultimate pro tip would be to always take care of your mise-en-place – “everything in place” before you even think about firing up your stove or switching on the oven. Get all your kit ready; get your ingredients out and lined up in the order you’ll need to use them; do your chopping. And do your washing up as you go – if you’ve got a friend you can employ as pot washer while you cook, even better!
I’m feeling calmer already, Scully, but it’s the bit at the end that really gets me. What can I do to make my food look fabulous on the plate? I want my guests to feast with their eyes as well as their mouth…
While you’re cooking, have an idea in your head of how you’d like it to look on the plate and how the different components of the dish can work together. Find a favourite spoon from your cutlery drawer to help you get smears right, if you want to do them. And keep wet J-cloths handy to mop up any spills. But don’t get too upset if it’s not a work of art; food doesn’t need to look fussy or formal. When it comes down to it, it’s the taste that matters more than anything else.
I’m ready! Any final words of advice?
Going to go back to my Malaysian roots for this and say – ALWAYS make more food than you think you’re going to need. Present your guests with a real feast. In Malaysia, we always offer guests a doggy bag of leftovers at the end of the night as a parting gift. I’d love this to become a British tradition too!
If Scully’s words of wisdom have got you itching to throw your own NOPI dinner party, here is his ultimate late summer menu, taken from the book:
Ramael Scully’s Ultimate Late Summer Dinner Party Menu
Starter: Tomatoes with Wasabi Mascarpone and Pine Nuts
Dessert: Baked Chocolate Ganache with Spicy Hazelnuts and Orange Oil