How to serve up a great outdoor meal
Not too long ago, my wife, Adrienne, and I did a wine tasting with some folks from the Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley areas. They were so passionate about food and wine pairings that it inspired me to host a dinner party and create my own menu, complete with wine and beer pairings. My menu, table setting, colors, all the details tied back to a Napa Valley theme.
I had two main goals for this meal: to gather good friends around the table and to serve food and drinks that highlighted the season. And after going through the process, I came up with a few tips for planning a really great outdoor meal:
It’s a good idea to start making plans at least a couple of weeks before the party. Adrienne loves getting people together and throwing parties, so in talking with her, I’ve gained a lot of insight into how much impact the small details can have. If you’re into Pinterest, make a new board to gather all your inspiration—invitations, recipes, décor, the whole nine yards. Maybe you have a theme or a color scheme in mind. Or maybe you start out with a specific food or drink. Whatever your initial inspiration, build out your meal from there.
Do your research.
I really enjoy learning about beer and wine, so I did some research on seasonal varieties of beer and different wines pairings that would complement the food I planned to serve. Dive into what you’re interested in and do a little research to learn more, get inspired and find new ideas. And I’m not talking about boring research like you might have done in school—this is your chance to have fun with it!
When it comes to outdoor meals, the season is a big part of the experience. Keeping the spring season in mind, I knew I wanted to serve food that was at its peak during this time—vegetables, fruits, and an incredible main course of lamb shanks. Light, fresh foods and crisp wines would be a great way to celebrate the renewal of nature, the great outdoors and all that spring has to offer.
Try something new.
A special meal or party is the perfect time to think outside your usual rotation of foods. You can really make it memorable by preparing or presenting the food in a unique way or by serving a new type of dish or drink. I like to work with my chef to experiment, sample new dishes ahead of time and make any necessary adjustments. That way, I can feel confident that everything will turn out just right the day of the party.
Create an experience.
You know that experience you have when you eat at a restaurant with inventive chefs and knowledgeable sommeliers? I like to get ideas from places I’ve been—restaurants, different cities and countries—and bring that type of gourmet experience to my home. Consider some of your favorite or most memorable meals and use details from those times to inspire your own spread.
With all my plans set, the dinner party turned out even better than I envisioned. The Napa Valley theme ran through every aspect of the meal, and we could all enjoy the good weather, good food and good company. I hope these tips can help you create an outstanding outdoor meal of your own.