How Stephanie Izard Puts Together a Cocktail Party in Just One Hour

Big, flavor-packed pantry ingredients are the secret to throwing a party even the host can enjoy.

Chef Stephanie Izard
Photo: John Lamparski / Getty Images

We've all been there — you try to get a little too ambitious with your party menu and then regret it when it's ten minutes before guests arrive, your kitchen is trashed, and you have given up on setting up a pretty platter of snacks or mixing a pitcher of your house cocktail. Or, you blurt out a last-minute invitation for everyone to come over for drinks and snacks after a game or event, and then instantly wonder what in the world you were thinking.

Top Chef winner, chef, and restaurant owner Stephanie Izard knows her way around throwing a party. She says the keys to a great party are keeping things simple and casual, while, of course, making sure everything is delicious.

"Keep it simple, spread it all on a platter, and let everyone load up on one plate," she advises. "It's more fun for them, and fewer dishes for you!"

Izard's secret to pulling off great party snacks can be found in her pantry. She says her collection of sauces and spice blends are key to adding extra flavor and texture to simple drinks, dips, and other snacks. Here's how she does it.

Izard starts with dips — she says they are essential for any party. Dips come together in just minutes, are easy to eat, and can be prepared in advance. Having a few tasty dips ready for guests to snack on immediately is key to the first few minutes of a party, when you are trying to say hello to everyone, take their coats, and get them drinks. Izard turns even the simplest dips into memorable bites by blending pantry staples into the mix, and then spooning more on top. She creates a veggie platter centered around a dip made with dill, tahini, and Greek yogurt — a few dashes of soy sauce and harissa add complex flavors to this simple mixture. For another easy snack, she blends tahini, roasted garlic, lemon juice, and tofu in a food processor, and tops it with chili crunch for a final flourish. The chili crunch is what sets this dip apart, adding pops of flavor and texture at the same time. Add some toasted bread, crackers, and fresh carrots, radishes, and cucumber, and you have a platter ready for your party.

Another favorite pantry ingredient is sambal oelek, which Izard mixes with mayonnaise, fish sauce, and sesame oil for an aïoli that packs a punch when drizzled on top of homemade shrimp toast. "Just a small amount adds the right kick of heat," she advises.

Izard's pantry comes in handy even for the drinks; she adds some of her Moroccan spice blend to her hot buttered rum, letting the mixture of hibiscus, coriander, citrus, cardamom, and cinnamon meld into the creamy, buttery rum concoction. It's unexpected, until you learn to look in your pantry for ingredients like these that inspire new dishes while creating easy shortcuts.

"Ultimately, you want to have fun while making something tasty to eat," she notes. "It's easier for you, and more enjoyable for your guests."

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