One of the real joys of settling into a cozy new home? Opening it up to your family and friends, and for those of us who like to cook, that means feeding people—all the people.
If you like to cook big (or go home), the great thing about condo kitchens is they’re usually state-of-the-art: Big fridges, solid appliances, a double sink to soak your sticky pans in while still being able to wash that extra fork. But the less-great thing is that compact condo kitchens, not often designed with much counter space, mean using a little strategy to pull off that epic dinner.
So from someone who cooked everything for a 55-guest wedding in their condo (and cooked it well, thank you), here are some tips on how to entertain in style with your condo kitchen.
Set a smart menu, time-wise
Ask any small restaurant and you will hear this universal truth: The best way to make the most of a smaller kitchen space is to plan your timelines wisely—and that means setting your menu smart. Think about what you’d like to whip up for your guests and then check that menu for a good balance between things you can make ahead of time and dishes you’ll have to serve right out of the oven (or steamer, or pan).
What dishes can you prep ahead? What can you get done while that duck’s in the oven that doesn’t need the oven? What needs which appliances or spaces when, and can you make the most of those overlaps—for example, cook everything that needs a 350-degree oven at the same time?
Yes, you can pull seven courses out of a small kitchen with two people at the stove—but only if you think smart about cooking ahead, storing well, and making the most of the resources you’ve got.
Know your workflow
How does your kitchen work? Are there spaces you use where two people will get hopelessly tangled, or pieces of prep it’s better to do ahead of time, so you aren’t back and forth from the fridge?
Knowing your kitchen’s physical workflow helps you set up in a way that’ll make it easier to get your chopping and frying done without a side of frustration. If you’ve got a kitchen island, section it off for prep or tasks that don’t need a stove or sink; if not, consider what you can do at the kitchen table. Even though condo kitchens aren’t infamous for having lots of counter space, even the most compact one can have room for a few organized work stations if you look at the space you have elsewhere and pull it in.
Quality over quantity
While it’s tempting to lay out a dinner bigger than the Mandarin buffet, if you’re strapped for time or hands, it can be a better strategy to focus on a few really, really good dishes rather than a lot of dishes. If you’re cooking solo, pressed for time, or worried a really big do is beyond what you can pull off this week, a few very simple dishes with high-quality, fresh ingredients can cut down on the time you’ll spend in the kitchen and be a feature rather than a bug.
Sometimes less is more, because it lets what you have there really shine. A really good cheese, really fresh tomatoes, or strawberries just in season often don’t need the work to make a meal great.
Do the dishes as you go
Seriously. It saves so much pain. Even if you have the sink or dishwasher space to spare to let them pile up—and in many condo kitchens, it becomes obvious fast when you don’t—nothing caps off a great night with people you like better than not having to stay up another hour with the dishes.
Don’t be afraid to draft people
If you find yourself irrevocably behind schedule? Just remember: Your friends probably don’t actually care.
Getting asked over for a home-cooked meal—especially an elaborate one—is a great, fantastic gift all by itself. Most people won’t even bat an eyelash at being asked to pour a glass of wine, pull up a chair, and grate a little cheese for me, please, while you tell me how your day went? Part of the fun of communal dining is making something great together, and as long as you aren’t springing an hour’s work on anyone without notice or consent, a little help here and there while you catch up on what’s up in your lives isn’t likely to be an imposition.