Leave the fancy centerpieces and intricate table settings to someone else. When you’re a chef as decorated as Michael Symon, you’ve earned every right to let your food be the star of the show. The James Beard Award winner let us into his home in the Hamptons for an intimate look at how he throws his outdoor dinner parties. From table decor to serveware, he’s dishing on all his favorite outdoor dining tips.
Setting the Table
There’s a lot of pressure surrounding the setting of one’s table. What do you use as a centerpiece? Should it change for indoor and outdoor settings? Chef Symon, who is also a gardener, believes it doesn’t need to be that difficult. “My centerpieces usually revolve around hand-cut flowers, herbs or other things from the garden. I like it to look natural and fuss-free,” he says. Natural centerpieces leveraging flowers or fruit are a great way to keep things simple while still looking fresh and seasonally appropriate.
Another aspect of Chef Symon’s tablescape is the food itself. Rather than stressing over the perfect plates and complementary napkins, Chef lets his food do the heavy lifting. One of his favorite tricks is to present his food on temperature-regulating serveware. This trick allows the party to stretch on without the worry of warm food losing heat or cold bites warming up. The right serveware can make second servings taste just as good as the original helping.
Serving a Crowd
It goes without saying that when Chef Symon invites his friends and family over for dinner, they come in droves. To feed a crowd, Chef Symon insists on everyone serving themselves. “Family style is always king. Outdoor dining is inherently casual, so playing into that and letting everyone help themselves is the way to go,” he says. This way, the host has one fewer task and can reap the benefits of their party. Allowing guests to serve themselves on their own timeline keeps things relaxed and avoids the dreaded dinner line.
Chef Symon is also a proponent of bar carts in another effort to cut back on the host’s duties. “A bar cart is key so people can grab drinks at their leisure,” he says. Keeping drinks and all necessities on display lets guests mix their own drinks, eliminating the need for the host to play bartender all night.
Have a Backup Plan
You can try to plan your outdoor party down to every last detail, but in the end, Mother Nature has plans of her own. “Have a covered area or umbrellas in case the weather doesn’t cooperate,” says Chef Symon. This backup plan will save the gathering from falling apart.
When we asked Chef Symon what detail takes his alfresco meals to the next level, he didn’t hesitate: “Van Halen’s Greatest Hits – it’s pretty much playing at all my gatherings.”