How chefs entertain at home: the food, the music and the guests

The inside track on what's on the menu, what's on the playlist, and who gets an invitation

Ready to entertain: Scott Holder of Los Chicanos. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Ready to entertain: Scott Holder of Los Chicanos. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Ever been to a chef’s house for dinner? Me neither. While they are unlikely to be doing the washing up afterwards, they certainly have their uses when it comes to home entertaining. But it’s not mise en place and artful swipes of sauces. Just like us mere mortals, they like to have time to relax, enjoy a few drinks, and listen to some good tunes. Here’s the inside track on how some chefs entertain when they’re off duty.

Scott Holder, Los Chicanos

Scott Holder has an impressive CV, having worked in top-end restaurants globally, particularly in the US. As is usual, the chefs took turns to cook family meals for the team and the meals that stood out for him were those cooked by the Mexican chefs in the kitchen. He now brings a taste of Mexico and the edgy feel of the streets of Los Angeles to Dublin, with his Los Chicanos Taqueria food truck, which is parked outside Elliot’s Cash & Carry on Camden Row.

Entertaining at home includes all the punchy Mexican flavours he loves and, with a bit of advance preparation, there is no need to spend much time in the kitchen when your guests arrive.

“I would set out a make-your-own-taco night, which is nice and casual and gets everyone involved,” he says. “Some black bean tostados with avocado, orange, and our Los Chicanos Taqueria peanut salsa macha.”

Carnitas, the Mexican taqueria dish traditionally made with pork, is also perfect for prepping ahead. He roasts the meat overnight in the oven, so it’s easy to serve with sides of guacamole, salsa verde, pickled red onions, heirloom tomatoes with a lime vinaigrette, and some roasted potatoes with a chipotle aioli.

To get the atmosphere going, he suggests starting the night off with some funky music, a Margarita in hand, some tortilla chips and guacamole. Then everything else will just fall into place. “I would start the night off with some Rolling Stones Gimme Shelter, and as the night goes on, get a little more funky with The Sugarhill Gang Rapper’s Delight,” he says. “My go-to drink would be Paloma, a grapefruit and tequila cocktail which was always a favourite of mine when hanging out in the Mission in San Francisco when I lived there.”

And fantasy party guests? “They would be Stevie Nicks, Anthony Bourdain and Dr Victor E Frankl and Snoop Dogg,” he says.

Charlotte Leonard Kane, Scéal Bakery

Charlotte Leonard Kane and her partner, Shane Palmer, are the couple behind Scéal Bakery, renowned for its San Francisco-style sourdough and inventive pastries, which they sell at the Fumbally Stables on Thursdays and Saturdays.

Not surprisingly, with all of that access to 72-hour fermented sourdough, pizza is a favourite. If the rain appears, Leonard Kane will simply pop up an umbrella as she oversees the pizza oven.

A pizza party hosted by Charlotte Leonard Kane and Shane Palmer. Photograph: Shantanu Starick
A pizza party hosted by Charlotte Leonard Kane and Shane Palmer. Photograph: Shantanu Starick

As you can imagine, the quality of ingredients is paramount. “The tomato sauce has to be made with San Marzano tomatoes. No exceptions. We found the best brand is Strianese, which we buy from the Lennox Street Grocer,” she says. “Shane hunted far and wide for the right canned tomato. Many trial nights were had at home experimenting for the best consistency and acidity.”

While the recipe for sourdough is basic, it is all about the quality of the starter, and not everyone has been slinging sourdough in their kitchen since the pandemic struck. Leonard Kane says the Hopsack in Rathmines sells good cooked pizza bases, and has reports from her mother that Lidl and Aldi are now selling raw pizza dough, which you can roll out and shape yourself.

“When we first started doing our pizza nights, we would go all out with the toppings and we learned pretty quickly that less is more,” she says. “We do a Neapolitan-style pizza and we always use buffalo mozzarella, good tomato sauce and basil. You use them quite sparingly because it cooks quite quickly in the oven. Don’t overdo it.”

Charlotte Leonard Kane and Shane Palmer learned pretty quickly that less is more, when it comes to pizza toppings.
Charlotte Leonard Kane and Shane Palmer learned pretty quickly that less is more, when it comes to pizza toppings.

She also suggests buying fancy mushrooms from the grocer or Fumbally café, pan-frying them to reduce the moisture content, and scattering them on top. They crisp and char in the oven, adding an appealing, contrasting texture.

A classic Negroni is her cocktail of choice. “It’s an easy one to remember – 1oz Campari, 1oz gin and 1oz sweet red vermouth,” she says. “Some nights we shake it up with some blood orange juice, but you can’t stray too far from the classic. The pizza night playlist is diverse but chock full of golden oldies. You can guarantee that Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee are playing in the background.”

Richie Castillo, Bahay Food Truck

Former Clanbrassil House chef Richie Castillo recently launched his much anticipated pop-up, Bahay, bringing a taste of the Philippines to Dublin 8 during his two-week residency at Roe and Co’s D-8TE food yard. His Filipino dad introduced him to Filipino cooking from a young age, and one of his favourite dishes when entertaining at home is pancit canton, which he describes as a Filipino version of chow mein.

Richie Castillo, Bahay Food Truck, with his mini table-top Konro Grill. One of his favourite dishes when entertaining at home is pancit canton, which he describes as a Filipino version of chow mein. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Richie Castillo, Bahay Food Truck, with his mini table-top Konro Grill. One of his favourite dishes when entertaining at home is pancit canton, which he describes as a Filipino version of chow mein. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Castillo’s recipe for pancit calls for chicken thighs (more flavourful and juicy than chicken breast), chicken stock, Chinese cabbage, carrots, onions and garlic, as well as any vegetables you have to hand. His favourite is pak choi or choy sum. He says it’s well worth investing in a mandoline slicer to speed up vegetable preparation and minimise waste.

All of the necessary ingredients for pacit can be picked up in an Asian grocery store. The sauce is based on Toyomansi, a soy sauce mixed with calamansi, a citrus native to the Philippines, and Castillo says Monika is the best brand for wheat flour noodles. He also suggests buying a jar of good chilli oil, his favourite is the Lao Gan Ma brand.

For Castillo, the music starts when he’s cooking. “I’m a big vinyl head so there’s already a record playing while I’m in the kitchen, I like to listen to hip-hop while I’m cooking,” he says. “I’d recommend listening to Pete Rock- Lost and Found: Hip-hop Underground Soul Classics from start to finish, what an album. If hip hop isn’t your thing, and you’re going for more of a party vibe, stick on Pender Street Steppers & Beautiful Swimmers set from Dekmantel Festival 2016. It’s got four hours of disco and house belters.”

When it comes to drinks, the weather influences his choice. “With the weather being so warm and sunny, I’d have to go for a bottle of Pittnauer Rosé by Nature,” he says. “It’s a real summer bottle of wine; juicy, refreshing, and loads of red fruit notes. If you’re looking for something with a bit of fizz, I’d go with Meinklang Prosa Frizzante.”

Aisling Moore, Goldie Fish & Ale

Chef Aisling Moore outside Goldie restaurant in Cork: During lockdown she spent her time cooking Indian and Thai food, which she says is perfect for entertaining. Photograph: Clare Keogh
Chef Aisling Moore outside Goldie restaurant in Cork: During lockdown she spent her time cooking Indian and Thai food, which she says is perfect for entertaining. Photograph: Clare Keogh

Aisling Moore landed a Michelin Bib Gourmand for Goldie restaurant in Cork in January this year, and is one of the country’s leading proponents for using sustainable fish, ensuring that waste is minimised by using a “gill-to-fin” approach to cooking.

During lockdown she spent her time cooking Indian and Thai food, which she says is perfect for entertaining.

“What I’m doing now, which is super handy, is making naan bread ahead of time, freezing it, and two or three hours before people come over, I take it out of the freezer. Then all you have to do is flash it on the pan. It really is the ultimate fast food,” she says. “I did a Kashmiri fish curry with pollack recently, and you can get everything ready in advance, and as people are arriving, you can literally add your fish in, and it takes two minutes.”

Cockles and clams are another favourite, much better than mussels she says, as you don’t have to clean them. They just need to be purged in salted water, but generally they’re already filtered when you buy them.

To cook the clams, Moore heats some olive oil in a large pot, adds plenty of sliced garlic, ginger and lemongrass, and allows them to infuse gently. She then adds in the shellfish, a good glug of white wine, maybe some chillies, puts the lid on, and cooks it for two or three minutes. She brings the pot to the table so people can serve themselves with the broth and crusty bread.

“I’d probably do some snacky bits first as well, fried boquerones,” she says. “I buy the anchovies in Toonsbridge. I just toss them in cornflour, although plain flour will do, and some paprika, and shallow fry them. They are delicious. It’s the ultimate snack and I would definitely have them with a Negroni.”

She always finishes with a simple, fruit-based dessert. “At the moment it would probably be strawberries dressed in sugar and apple cider vinegar, crème fraiche and meringue, just put them all together, like a fool,” she says.

And music? R&B soul, or Jungle, soft electronic music.

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