Los Angeles Times

L.A. locavore dinner party: Fresh ideas beyond the farmers market

Throwing a dinner party at home is a great way to entertain friends, for a lot less than you’d spend at a swank Los Angeles restaurant.

And, by getting your guests involved in some fun prep work, sharing the meal is that much more gratifying. With a little planning – and tips from Napa Valley celebrity chef Joey Altman – the preparation can be simple and fun, the food just as good, and the atmosphere even more welcoming. Here are three tips for pulling this off.

First, choose simple recipes that showcase quality, seasonal food from Southern California farmers markets. It’s key because it means you have to do less in the way of preparation, and the flavors are better.

Second, choose as many make-ahead dishes as possible, and for the items that are assembled at the last minute, do most of your prep work in advance.

Third, give yourself time to straighten up and unwind before guests arrive – they’ll feel at ease if you are. For the few last minute tasks that remain, get your guests involved – and have fun! If you’re having fun, your guests will too, and your party will be a great success.

Setting Up

For tips on when and how to choose your menu, see our timeline for planning a dinner party.

Joey Altman’s book Without Reservations is the perfect guide for planning a dinner party. Several tools are built into the book to make your cooking more delicious, less work and more fun. There’s a simple icon for “make-ahead” dishes, and one for “easy-prep” items. The book is also sprinkled with “chef’s tips” that let you in on those little tricks restaurant chefs know and love, and that you can use at home.

Mise-en-place (the French culinary concept of having your ingredients in order) is important for easy preparation. Take your cue from television chefs and do as much of the prep work in advance as possible, storing pre-measured spices and chopped herbs in prep bowls. The theme of the event, “Cooking with Your Guests,” allows guests to help out, but a little prep work means no one is actually working too hard – just enjoying the process of cooking together.

Make sure your dining table can comfortably accommodate the number of guests you expect.

For parties of 6–8, our Benchwright Table is not only comfortable and casual, it has a real presence in the dining room. With absolutely no effort on your part, a table like this brings a real sense of occasion to any dinner party. And, comfortable seating – like our Grayson Dining Chair – encourages guests to linger long into the evening.

Choose a single specialty cocktail to get the evening off to a special start. Have alcohol, mixers, garnishes and glassware ready to go. Print the evening’s signature drink recipe on 4 x 6″ cardstock and display at your bar. This can be the perfect task for a guest to take on while you’re doing last-minute prep.

Create a music playlist ahead of time that will help set the mood during the party, or use ours!

Set the table in advance with simple dishware, glasses and linens. We love to use our Great White Dinner Plates, layering colorful salad plates like our Sunflower Plates on to the table for a little fun and color. Watch our video with tips from Joey Altman on setting and serving.

Mini paper chef’s hats can be transformed into whimsical place cards to mark each seat at the table. It’s the perfect way to acknowledge that each guest has played a part – acting as sous chef for the night.

In that same spirit of creating a meal with friends, decorate the table with potted herbs like lavender, rosemary, basil and lemon thyme. Not only will they add a pleasant aroma to the room, guests can help themselves to fresh sprigs right at the table, adding them to their dishes at will. Place a pair of Japanese bonsai scissors in a glass for snipping.


Have glassware appropriate for your signature drink of the evening on hand and set aside for the occasion.

Have stemware – like our practically unbreakable Schott Zwiesel Collection – for red and white wine. Having glassware that resists breakage is ideal for a dinner party, especially when you’re expecting lots of guests.

Large cake stands and 3 tier cake stands can be used to serve simple appetizers like panino or cheeses, crackers and fruit.

A table runner is perfect for dinner parties, keeping the look casually pulled together. Have plenty of linen napkins on hand for dinner and dessert.

Our PB White Serving Platter is ideal for showcasing simple appetizers or dishes served family style.

Our Great White Dinnerware provides a simple canvas for presentation of restaurant-style food at home. And because the collection comes in a variety of styles – traditional, coupe and square – you can get creative and still have consistency in the overall composition of your table.

Our Montana Footed Bowl is ideal for serving a show-stopping dessert like Joey Altman’s Black-and-White Tiramisù.

The key to throwing a great dinner party with friends is keeping everything simple. With a little prep work, plus great serving pieces and comfortable furnishings, your meal will come together easily, your friends will be at ease – and your party is sure to cook!


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