YONKERS, N.Y. -- Cooking for me has always been about making people happy.
Having grown up in a family with 11 siblings, some of my most vivid memories are centered around a dining room table. Whether it was the lasagna (made with American cheese) served when my oldest sister announced her engagement or the letter from my brother stationed in Vietnam that was read over pot roast and boiled potatoes or the canned ham and pineapple rings we were enjoying till another sibling announced his alternate lifestyle decision, food has always played a significant role.
I suppose it was only natural for me to head into the restaurant business because my house growing up always seemed to run like an eatery. Company was always visiting, from the school nuns who would drop by on Sunday afternoons to the priests who'd sing Irish ballads on Friday nights in front of our fireplace to the various sports teams that were a part of my siblings' lives to assorted aunts, uncles and cousins.
With 12 kids, there was always a celebration to commemorate, a baptism, a birthday, and so on.
How did my mother cater to everyone? To be sure she had help, my father often helped prepare the dinner, the kids would peel the potatoes, shuck the corn, pass the Ritz crackers, set the table and wash the dishes (under great duress).
This is much the same as a restaurant works. What is different is that when you entertain at home you don’t want to spend all your time in the kitchen. You want to greet your guests, enjoy cocktails and conversation, and most of all, create a memorable evening -- along with good food.
Entertaining requires you to think like a restaurateur. You want to be ready before your guests arrive. In the restaurant business this is referred to as “mise en place” or everything in its place. Always choose a menu or dish that can be prepared 90 percent in advance and the finishing touches or other 10 percent are performed at the last minute.
Next week: "Roast Pork"
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