Dinner Party in an Hour

What do you do when you've got guests on the way and barely any time to prepare for them? The New York Times cooking columnist comes to your rescue.
  • Transcript


Question: What do you do when friends are coming over and you haven't got anything prepared?

Mark Bittman: I often don’t figure out what I am cooking until an hour before people come over but I make sure there's food in the house and I think that's important.  It seems so obvious when you say it but so many people don’t do it.  

If you have a lot of food in the house cooking is much easier because now you have so many options plus there's pressure on you to cook because you don’t a want the stuff to go bad.  So what I cook for people pretty much depends on what I have.  I try to always have, you know, something.  

Question: Tell us about one of your dinner parties.

Mark Bittman: I had made a deal with a friend who was an architect and he designed an office for me and the deal was that I was going to cook dinner for him and his wife and two of his friends and my wife. 

So there was going to be six of us.  And we set a date, I guess; he says we set a date.  And that morning -- that afternoon actually, about two o'clock he called and said what time do you want us to go over?  I had completely forgotten about it.  So I went shopping and I made -- I ran out to the store, I came back, I made – this is a long time ago -- but I made roast chicken with vinegar, was sort of classic French recipe, some kind of potatoes, a salad, and I don’t know if I made or bought a bread and I made chocolate mousse for dessert and I did that in about two hours, which, for me, is a lot of time in the kitchen for me; I don’t spend two hours in the kitchen that often.

The great thing was the food was not that great.  The food was fine.  The great thing was, a.) I got away with it and, b.) they thought it was fantastic and it was then that I realized that if you cook for people in your home they, a.) they're looking forward to it, b.) they're going to cut you so much slack.  They're going to give you every benefit of the doubt.  They're going to be grateful and, therefore, the food is going to taste better than it would if you were in a restaurant where the server was annoying you and you knew you were going to spend a lot of money and, you know, you had to travel to get there and blah, blah, blah. 

So I think it was really – and that was probably 12 or 15 years ago.  So it was about halfway into my -- I've been cooking for 40 years, so it was two-thirds of the way into my life as a cook when I realized that you can do pretty much anything in your home if you take it seriously and do it as well as you could do it and your friends and family are really going to appreciate it.

Question: What defines a Mark Bittman meal?

Mark Bittman:  My presence.  I guess there's other kinds of Mark Bittman meals.  Well really its simplicity, its honesty, it's not overdoing it.  Generally speaking, it's very few ingredients and very little technique and not that much time and its home cooking.  There's nothing fancy about it.  There's no pretense, I like to think there's no pretense.  I mean this all -- it sounds too good to be true.  It sounds like better than I am but it really is what I do.  So I guess I'll take some credit for it.