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  • The Chopping Blog

Make Space for Others: At the Heart of Hosting

Posted by Maren on Aug 3, 2015

After every meal at The Chopping Block when entree plates are cleared and dessert is dished, I can hear the intervals of conversation between family or friends and sometimes perfect strangers who have grown a little closer over a meal. I am reminded of the energy that a good meal can draw a sense of belonging and togetherness around a table starting from my own memories of Sunday suppers at my grandparents'. In my experience, where there is family, there is food. Until I was a teenager, some Sunday nights and certain occasions were reserved for dinner where a variation of pasta and protein was the main course with plenty of my grandma's soft homemade bread and a quick chopped salad. There was also conversation to carry us through the meal. Between the lulls of chatter and stories and sometimes debates, I can still gage the feeling of clenching my chair in order to avoid taking dishes back to the sink to begin cleaning up. Cleaning meant an end was near and why would anyone want to end a moment where everything felt so right in one place? There was a space for everybody who were more than welcome to seconds and thirds.

Last weekend, I exercised my inherited adult right to host a Sunday supper squeezing a collision of my Chicago worlds, about fifteen friends, into the square footage of my apartment with the commonality that a solid meal was to be had and not forgotten. I kept the promise to deliver a full vegetarian buffet with the exception of BYOB.

For about a month, I spent much of my free time choosing and revising a menu. Eventually, I committed to the art of taqueria flavor and fused it with some carribbean jerk spices including notes of nutmeg, clove, thyme, ginger, and orange. By the week of, I was focused entirely on recipes, resources and cost control.

With the help of my girlfriend, I only spent a day and a half in the triangle that catered to my sink, my stove, and my pantry. By my first guest's arrival, I had hot plates of cinnamon and honey soaked fried plantains and a spicier version topped with black refried beans (mashed in a few heaps of jalapeno, cumin, and garlic). From dips to chip, I stuck with sweet and spicy profiles, one being the taqueria styled spicy pickled carrots and the other, a salsa verde made with sweet green tomatoes and fire roasted poblano peppers. To tame the spice, I made (my favorite drink) a batch of brown rice horchata.


I felt the need to incorporate as many colors and patterns against the backdrop of my rustic dining table. From flatware to napkins, platters, and bowls, ideally I wanted the character of my food and presentation to bridge the separation of my different circles of friends. Incorporating themes also make planning less of a chore.

As the entrees came out, I was giddy to see people were introducing themselves over music and appetizers and eating, even returning for more. My kitchen table was complete buffet style providing several more options such as:

  • Roasted Red Pepper Gazpacho
  • Esquites (cousin to the Mexican street food favorite, Elotes)
  • Jamaican Jerk Rubbed Mushroom Tacos
  • Kale Salad with Queso Fresco (a mimic of the Antique Taco basket salad)
  • Spicy Refried Beans
  • Grilled Mango and Lime Pie Puffs
  • Mexican Chocolate Brownies


Taqueria Style Spicy Pickled Carrot


Esquites- Roasted corn with dried epazote, cotijo cheese, butter, garlic, and cilantro


Spicy Refired Beans with Queso Fresco


Grilled Mango and Lime Pie Puff


Mexican Chocolate Brownies

Crowded in a circle in my living room, with near empty glasses and crumbled napkins, there was a space made for everyone where I'm not sure would have been absolute without the restoration of a real meal. I took a mental shot of this feeling, the heart of hosting. I hope it's not long before the next Sunday.

Does throwing a dinner party like this sound overwhelming? Our cooking classes are designed to help you feel comfortable with menu planning and execution, while being aware of your timeline. If you want to have others do the planning for you, our Event Team is ready to handle every detail of your private cooking events. Of course, the best parties this time of year are being held outdoors, so don't miss our new guide to the perfect picnic.

Perfect Picnic Guide

Topics: dinner party, host, entertaining

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