“I try to talk people off the ledge,” Chef Coleman says. “Holiday entertaining shouldn’t be that different than other entertaining.”
Planning and prep work, Chef Coleman says, are key to dialing down the stress. “For me, there’s very little winging it the day of the meal,” he says with a laugh. “It’s good to try things before the big night.”
First, he suggests, learn what special features your appliance might offer that could make cooking easier and guarantee great results.
“I love convection cooking,” says the chef, who calls on a Wolf convection steam oven. “It’s quicker, and it cooks more evenly. I love being able to bake three trays of cookies at a time.”
Automated modes also can be helpful, especially for people who are nervous about how to cook something or how to get the timing right. “You can tell my convection steam oven when you want to slice something, and it will tell you what time to put it in,” Chef Coleman says.
In addition to exploring helpful features that your appliances might offer, he suggests trying recipes ahead of time. “Practice on your family,” he says.
“Planning ahead and writing lists also really saves me,” Chef Coleman says.
He makes a prep list and a shopping list, along with a plan that outlines when he will do certain tasks. For example, he shops for shelf-stable items a week or two ahead of the dinner. If soup or stew is on the menu, he’ll prepare it days ahead of time and freeze it. And he slices and dices veggies the day before the meal, keeping them fresh in plastic bags. Shopping for fresh goods is completed a couple of days pre-dinner.
When dinner day is here, Chef Coleman leaves nothing to chance. “I always work off a printed piece of paper rather than reading the recipe in a cookbook or digitally,” he says. “That allows me to cross off things when they’re done. It’s saved me so many times from forgetting an ingredient or a step.”
The chef also doesn’t hesitate to ask for help prior to the big event. “Ask people to bring something, but be specific,” he says. “Don’t just say bring a dessert or bring an appetizer. You want to know exactly what they’re bring so you know if they need oven or burner space.”
Or ask a friend or family member for help in the kitchen. Can they come over at 2 o’clock—or the day before the meal—to do a specific task? “Asking for help is not a bad thing,” he says.
“And if you want to be a great guest, step in and do dishes,” he says. “If someone can hand-wash dishes during prep, it makes cleanup after the meal so much easier.”
Chef Coleman and his extended family cook together every day during a two-week holiday vacation in Vermont. “Everyone might be off doing their own thing during the day, but even the nieces and nephews come back for dinner,” he says. “Cooking and eating together keeps a family together.”
Want to try one of Chef Coleman's delicious sides? Click here for his recipe for Brussels Sprouts with Caramelized Shallots and Bacon. Recipe courtesy of Sub-Zero, Wolf, and Cove.