Is it possible to cook for 18 without missing the highlights of your own dinner? Soignée chef and farmer Phoebe Cole-Smith rolls out suppers in her Connecticut barn well into November, with her catering company, Picnic. Here she shows us how cooking for crowds at home can also be enjoyable for the host.
Photography by Kerry Michaels.
1. Delegate, even the greetings.
Phoebe’s two front-of-house regulars, Laura Mulligan and Nick DeBrock, are also staff farmers at nearby CSA farm The Hickories, “so they can comment on the food from that perspective—an added bonus for our guests.”
2. Have a sous-chef, with whom you get on.
3. Serve variations on a theme.
“The Honey Brunch was a collaboration with Marina Marchese of Red Bee Honey and involved using different varieties of honey in prepared drinks and dishes, as well as learning all about the honey bee,” says Phoebe.
4. Grow what you can.
5. Plan shortcuts.
The oysters (always from Copp’s Island) arrive freshly shucked, to save time; they are stored in their own liquor, with the shells in a separate bag. When it’s time to serve, the oysters are returned to the deeper bottom shells. More liquor is spooned over them before Phoebe and Kelly add the mignonette.
6. Ask about food issues.
7. Use free decorations…
8. … and best-quality produce.
9. You can’t go wrong with a twinkling room.
Linens are from local weaver and textile designer Elizabeth Eakins; ceramics are the work of Phoebe’s neighbor, Frances Palmer. “I love the place where we eat to be bountiful and beautiful but not fussy. It’s a barn after all.”
10. Document the event.
N.B.: See more of Phoebe’s garden in Homeward Bound: My Childhood Connecticut, Only Better, at Dirt Road Farm. And for more tips on easy entertaining, see Compost Dinner: A Zero-Waste Menu at Brooklyn Grange Farm and DIY: Instant Wine Bar.