Where’s the buffet gone? It agitates me that we only really have them during the winter festive period. How did we get here? I guess we went through a stage of embracing formal dining. With the popularity of celebrity chefs and cooking shows on TV, people are bringing the things even I find ludicrous in restaurants into the home. Going to someone’s home and having canapés, then an amuse-bouche, then starters, a main course, dessert and petits fours is my idea of hell. Trust me when I tell you that a Michelin-starred chef does not cook like this at home. This is just showing off. Your guests don’t want it. They want to feel comfortable and have your focus. And don’t get me started on canapé parties, the ultimate way of “keeping up with the Joneses”. As a trainee chef I catered for so many events like this. The same vibe at each… starving people hovering close to the kitchen, never quite getting their fill, and a room filled with people who’ve drunk too much and not eaten enough. A frantic host (or head chef in my case) never quite being on top of anything… and food that’s not as good as proper cooking!
When in my home, I want to eat family-style. Big platters filled with food that you have to help your neighbours to. A vat of something delicious placed on the table for people to fill up on, with a few complementary sides. This is how I prefer to dine… but at Christmas, when I’m entertaining more than 10 people I want a buffet!
A buffet doesn’t have to be of the retro kind, with cheese-and-pineapple hedgehogs and depressing soggy sandwiches. I truly believe that laying on a fantastic spread means you can go to town with an opulent and varied array of food. This is a much more practical way to feed larger groups. One of the best weddings I ever went to offered guests a buffet instead of a formal meal. It was beautiful, with a suckling pig, a huge platter of seafood, amazing salads… There is something so celebratory about seeing a copious display of food in front of you, which you just don’t get with formal dining. Indeed, I believe that the secret to a buffet’s success lies in this very informality. People can take what they want, and there is something so convivial about helping to serve each other. In this way I really feel it can help create a festive atmosphere.
Also, there are loads of pragmatic advantages to serving a buffet. You will undoubtedly find it cheaper to prepare than a formal meal, as you will be able to feed more people with less food, (while giving you the opportunity to use up leftovers you might have). What’s more, much of the work can be done in advance – instead of being stuck in the kitchen between courses, once the buffet’s laid out you can be part of the party and relax and enjoy the food with everyone else.
This is not to say you shouldn’t try and WOW when doing a buffet by providing a wider variety of tastes while still showcasing great cooking. The key is to have one main focus. As it’s Christmas, I’m going to use the Spiced Pineapple Christmas Ham as the main attraction. It then needs a decent terrine – I give you The Creamiest & Lightest Chicken Liver Parfait. Some Quickest Pickled Pineapple to go with each, and a Seafood Platter with the Best Marie Rose Sauce You’ll Ever Eat over ice. I take on some buffet classics such as Curried Eggs, a few salads and some carbs in the form of potatoes or simply, good bread. A cheese plate, or charcuterie for the lazy? This is still glam eating, but it’s homely and most of all it’s FUN! What’s not to like? I hereby rest my case for the resurrection of the buffet: bring it out from the Dark Ages and into the modern-day party!
Extracted from Gizzi’s Season’s Eatings by Gizzi Erskine.