Belleau Kitchen: Top 5 tips for hosting a VSN at home

Anyone who’s even attempted to throw a special night at home knows it can be a stressful affair, as well as making all the food I always feel responsible for creating the right atmosphere by styling the house a little , making sure the lighting is right, ensuring there’s plenty of comfy furniture (even though everyone inevitably always ends up perched somewhere in the kitchen and that the music is the right balance of happy tunes over volume.

Over the years, and yes, it has taken years to learn this stuff, I’ve realised that it’s my controlling nature in the kitchen that makes it so stressful and what I now try really hard to do is let go a little, if people offer help, don’t turn them away. Enjoy the ‘everybody mucks in’ attitude, in fact, as my first tip advises…

1. Embrace the help of others… don’t be the control freak. We’ve all reached the stage in our lives where we know who our friends are and which of them are best at what, so make your special nights ‘all involving’… I always find that the best parties are when everyone one brings something, whether it’s a dish or the music, let them in!

2. Be prepared… like every good scout or girl-guide knows, preparation is the key to success and this can’t be more prevalent than at a special night. All the dishes I’ve suggested for my Very Special Night can be made in advance and then simply pulled together on the night. Food should be a communal experience so I try not to have to make food that leaves me stuck in the kitchen all night or that I have to plate up, make look pretty and serve. I prefer the type of food that goes onto the table and everyone constructs their own plates… I always think this is more special in a way.

3. Don’t sweat the small stuff… I’m a food writer and people always expect me to have made all the teeniest details in my food from scratch and mostly I do, I find pastry really simple to make but if I’m cooking in volume or time is not on my side then I’ll purchase ready rolled pastry and I don’t sweat it. It’s the stuff that’s going into the pastry that matters and quite frankly, who needs to know?

4. Share the music… I learnt a long time ago that not everyone likes Kylie blaring at full whack whilst tucking into a bowl of penne arrabiata but there’s no accounting for taste! The best nights have a rhythm of their own so instead of going crazy worrying what kind of music to bring together for the perfect night what I now do is ask everyone who’s coming to suggest 3 songs to add to the play list for the evening. It’s always fun to find out who’s suggested what and then everyone is happy and you don’t have to take the slack for one too many ‘un-cool’ tunes!

5. Take a moment for yourself… try, if you can, to take a quiet moment to yourself before the night begins. I always find that if I've been cooking all day then I'm not hungry when the food is served and I want to enjoy the night along with all my guests. What I like to do is 'reset' my own party clock. I know it's hard to squeeze this in but I always like to take myself off to a quiet corner of the house or garden and just breathe for 5 minutes, and then maybe enjoy a little drop of one of the cocktails, so when that doorbell rings it feels like you're not just the host but one of the guests too!

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