Idea Lab


First we feast, the chefs will declare, and preparing for a spirited crowd only pumps up the creative juices in these professional hosts. Here are our chefs’ ‘go-to’ tactics for creating a high-energy party zone without disappearing into the kitchen, or losing your mind.

Lay out an array of foods, most chefs advise, so every guest will find their favorites

  • Lidia Bastianich

    We always start with an endless antipasto spread with assorted prosciutto, Italian salumi, cheeses, olives and other favorite Italian holiday dishes like Shrimp and Mixed Bean Salad for our family Christmas dinner. Dessert also consists of a spread of traditional Italian desserts like zeppole, tiramisu, torrone, and panettone. We also always have fresh seasonal fruits like mandarins, blood oranges, quince, pomegranate and roasted chestnuts on our holiday table.

Chefs have a thing for truffles and foie gras, especially in this celebratory season

  • Guy Fieri

    Anyone who spends time around me knows that I’m slightly obsessed with truffles, specifically white truffles. I’m so interested in them that two years ago I went truffle hunting in Tuscany, a once in a lifetime experience. But since most people haven’t ever seen a white truffle or have any idea of the flavor profile, I think the crescendo of a dinner party would be bringing out the white truffles with some fresh handmade pasta and artisan butter, then lightly shaving them over the dish. That would really get the conversation going!

The holiday season can be memorably enriched with traditions from other lands

  • Marcus Samuelsson

    It was only after I moved to the U.S. that I began thinking about how powerful and exciting it was that there was a day when everyone was eating the same dish. For me, Thanksgiving points to our spiritual compass. I didn't grow up in America, so Thanksgiving wasn't part of our tradition, but we always had turkey at Christmas in Sweden, so it makes me think of home and the holidays no matter when I eat it.

  • Nicolas Abello

    My mother makes a very special Foie Gras Terrine that's she serves at every Christmas family dinner. Her recipe, below, is deceptively simple.

  • Vanessa Robledo

    My holiday memories as a child of Mexican immigrants explode with tradition, assimilation, and celebration for our ancestors' contributions to the wine industry. It all began with my mother Maria de la Luz who left her pueblo in Mexico during the early 1970's to follow my father, a descendant of master wine grape grafters in wine country. My mother, still in her teens, became the cook for her family and vineyard laborers.

    My mother, an alchemist in the kitchen, learned to combine her traditional cuisine with American staple dishes during the holiday season. My favorite has always been our Thanksgiving dinner. Although not a holiday in Mexico, my mother learned to bake a juicy turkey filled with traditional corn bread stuffing and an innovation of combined spicy chorizo and sausage, bacon, olives, celery, carrots, scallions, red and green cabbage, spices, and shredded turkey neck. After stuffing and buttering the turkey, she pours on Sauvignon Blanc before baking it.

    What makes our holiday dinner so unforgettable is that instead of gravy, my mother drenches the turkey with mole when served. Mole is a Mexican medium thick sauce made of chocolate, dry red peppers, and twenty other secret ingredients. Although there are peppers in the Mole the spice is not overwhelming. Instead there is a sweetness to the sauce that balances beautifully with the flavorful turkey and stuffing.

Chefs love seasonal foods

  • Marcus Samuelsson

    I think stews are my favorite fall dish; they set you up to make a winner. I love being able to move away from tomatoes and corn into something a little bit heavier with apples and Brussels sprouts and fall mushrooms.

Then some toss in a hefty dose of sin

  • Todd English

    Where my mother lives in Maine, most of our ingredients come from right nearby. I’m a huge lover of local seasonal foods like Blue Hubbard squash and giant white Macomber Turnips, which I roast with maple syrup and inject with black truffles. I cook it slowly, on low heat for about three hours, add rosemary and a little bit of truffle juice, which I use to baste as they cook. When you open them there’s this explosive aroma of sweet lusciousness that comes from the combination of maple syrup and truffles.

    I also love to do egg dishes on the holidays: five-minute eggs and very thin waffles, which I make in the fireplace with this old-fashioned waffle iron. On top of that I put wild mushroom Parmesan cream showered with shaved truffles. More sin. My, that’s a crowd pleaser.

Some chefs go hyper-local: We’re talking about weeds from the garden

  • Tama Matsuoka Wong

    This year I am very excited to serve wild cranberry jam and pickled wild unripe cranberries, which taste like little green apples.

At chefs’ parties food in the center ring will have a decided twist

  • David Burke

    I cook in the dishwasher when I have guests over. They’re always curious as to why the oven isn’t on, but it really helps to keep the house/apartment cool once guests start to arrive.