How to put on a party with pizazz: Famous New York caterer spills all his secrets, from fancy to family style

Read this cookbook: “Peter Callahan’s Party Food” by Peter Callahan (Clarkson Potter, $35)  

By Wendell Brock

With Labor Day approaching, I was happy to have a book on party food fall into my lap. I was thinking tailgate fare, picnics, barbecues, fast and efficient ways to feed a crowd.

Turns out Peter Callahan is New York’s “king of hors d’oeuvres,” the go-to caterer for celebrity clients like Vera Wang, Tony Bennett, Al Gore and Martha Stewart.

Callahan and his 30-member team work out of a 7,000-square-foot former recording studio in Chelsea. Caviar, truffles, rack of lamb, lobster: The sky’s the limit.

If you’re looking to throw a lavish cocktail party, serve a seated dinner in multiple courses, entertain family and friends, he’s got you covered. The book has been styled and photographed to the nines, so even if you never cook a darn thing from its pages, it’s fun to fantasize.

But not everything’s over-the-top glitz and glamour.

This caterer extraordinaire offers sensible advice on how to keep food cool, put on a kosher spread, and be considerate of vegetarians. (As one essay puts it: “Vegetarian Should Not Be An Afterthought.”)

So if you aren’t inclined to whip up 25 Wasabi Macarons With Smoked Salmon or 36 Peking Duck Steamed Buns to be passed on silver trays, you might be inspired to pair Maker’s Mark mini bottles with strips of bacon (that’s two ingredients) or set up a corn-on-the-cob station or strawberry buffet.

Recipes in the seated-dinner and family-style sections are for portions of four, so if you are just browsing for good food to make at home, there’s Caprese salad, Seared Crispy Halibut, Ginger-Scented Roasted Cauliflower, Strawberry Shortcake, and so on.

Now back to Labor Day: I think it would be awesome to adapt Callahan’s Taco Night, Picnic on the Lawn, or Family-Style Clambake menus for your soiree. Set up a Bloody Mary or Margarita bar. Send out for ice.

With a little help from a pro, you can make it elegant, or make it homey. Either way, it’s Martha Stewart and Kate Spade approved.


Wendell Brock is an Atlanta food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock) .



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