Cooking for a Crowd: A Master’s Tips
Top Chef Masters star Susan Feniger entertains 20 friends with astonishing ease, using delicious recipes inspired by global street food.
Growing up in Toledo, Ohio, in the 1960s and ’70s, chef Susan Feniger of Los Angeles’s Border Grill and Street learned the value of “Velveeta cheese dreams” (white toast rolled around Velveeta) and icebox cake. Feniger’s mother always kept a supply of these foods in the freezer for the impromptu parties the family seemed to host every Sunday. Even after becoming a chef, Feniger admired her mother’s easygoing entertaining style; she herself is now known for the casual parties she frequently throws with her partner, Liz Lachman. “What often happens is that I have a day off and go to the farmers’ market,” Feniger says. “After I buy way too much food, I’ll invite a few people over, and it inevitably becomes a crowd of 15 or 20. But whether I’m chopping one pound of carrots or five, it’s all the same to me.”
Her biggest trick for hosting so many people: Serve dishes that are delicious whether they’re hot, room temperature or even cold, so people can eat when they get hungry, in between Ping-Pong matches by the pool or games of Space Invaders (Lachman’s favorite). “I’d never do a plated dinner for a large group,” Feniger says.
Feniger is best known for the Mexican-inspired cuisine she and her business partner, Mary Sue Milliken, have cooked since the ’80s at Border Grill. But after years of traveling to places ranging from tiny villages in Turkey to cities like Saigon, Feniger became fascinated by global street food. This led her to open Street in 2009, and to write a new book, Street Food, with recipes and stories from her trips. “I love the bare-bones service at food stalls,” Feniger says. “You get something really delicious, eat it for five minutes, then move on to the next thing. I think this type of eating is also fantastic for a party.”
At a recent gathering for 20 at her mid-century house in L.A., Feniger serves a street-food menu mixing flavors from North Africa and Asia, including tender Tunisian-inspired chicken skewers marinated in a puree of dried currants and pickled peppers, and a grilled steak she serves with a Thai-style hot sauce flavored with coconut, chiles and tons of herbs. “I don’t really worry about putting together dishes from different parts of the world,” she says. “I like food that inspires conversation.”
Susan Feniger’s Tips on Cooking for a Crowd
Serve Food on Sticks
“This is a great example of why street food is good party food,” Susan Feniger says. “You just grab a skewer and walk away. The marinade doubles as a dipping sauce.”
Tip: Opt for Recipes that are Good Hot, Warm or Cold
This salad can be made ahead and pulled out of the refrigerator,” Feniger says. She serves the noodles in disposable cups lined with banana leaves.
Pour a Pitcher Cocktail
Says Feniger, “I love having this cucumber green tea to hand guests when they arrive instead of the usual wine.”