DISH | Food Revolution Day 2014: How to host a potluck

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Well, we went and did it. We hosted an incredible potluck with fellow bloggers and friends for Sobey’s Canada’s Biggest Potluck in support of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day. It was nothing short of spectacular. But before we hear how it went, let’s shed a little light on the making of a potluck. So with that: action! 

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The Menu

When planning your potluck dish, I happen to believe anything goes. It’s not just those crock pots full of simmering meatballs that are right at home on the potluck table. Big crunchy salads, warm pasta bakes, cheese and charcuterie boards, dips, appetizers, desserts, even pizza. It all works. Obviously dishes that can be ready beforehand will work best since you don’t want to be in the throws of cooking as guests arrive. When it comes to the guests, I love the surprise that comes with simply telling friends and family to bring what they wish. Lately we have taken to having potlucks in an attempt to bring back the tradition of Sunday dinner. We rarely assign courses or coordinate dishes and luckily it always works out. If you have a bunch of baking friends, maybe you want to assign dishes unless of course a dessert potluck is what you’re aiming for. If so, can I get an invite? Themes will also work out great. I love the idea of a brunch potluck mostly because I can’t think of anything better than a table full of egg bakes, French toasts and warm scones. You could also choose a particular ethnic food or country. We’ve even hosted an International Small Plates night and, while it wasn’t a potluck per se, it was a fantastic way to try new dishes and get people out of their culinary comfort zone. Lastly, it’s always a good idea to check with guests concerning any dietary concerns or allergies. 

The Plan

The more you can do to prepare beforehand, the smoother your potluck will go. Get all those supplies the day before and prep what you need early in the day. Give yourself enough time to get everything ready including yourself. I don’t know how many times I’ve been upstairs getting dressed as friends are arriving! Hey, they’re friends; they don’t care. Also, I clean the house a couple days before then give it a quick once over before anyone arrives. I’m not saying make your place spotless, just tidy. You want to spend your time enjoying the company of friends and family not stressing over whether there’s toilet paper in the washroom. 

To set up your potluck, arrange your table so that the plates, cutlery and napkins are at the beginning. Then let guests place their dishes around the table. I also love a table that guests can walk around. If guests don’t bring serving utensils, place some out so they can easily grab the most appropriate. You can even go so far so to set out paper and pens for guests to make signs. Again, it’s nice but not necessary. Having to ask friends and family about their dish will only serve to invite conversation.  

The Drinks

We’re not a pop household and honestly it’s not something I serve to friends. A carafe of cold water all jazzed up with lemon slices or cucumber is a great start. My favourite is adding fresh herbs and fruit to soda or sparkling water. It makes for an impressive punch that is both sugar free and delicious. Think cranberry and orange or grapefruit and mint. I’ve wowed many a guest with this simple trick. Other great options are natural (no sugar added) juices, homemade iced tea and lemonade. Coffee and tea aren’t always necessities but it’s a nice touch. I like to set up my drink station on the bar, allowing for more room for the food. Easy access to glasses and beverages will encourage guests to help themselves and leave you free to mingle.  

The Presentation

I’m a fan of food that looks like food so you really don’t need to do spend time platting a dish perfectly. That being said, there are a few easy things you can do to give your dish that extra pop. A few herbs can add both colour and a brightness to dishes when added at the last minute. Micro greens, sprouts or baby arugula always look great when heaped on top of a salad, pizza or pasta. Remember, however, the garnish should always be edible and compliment the dish. In addition, you don’t have to go out and buy fancy serving dishes. I love the look of old boards or big bowls heaped with food. Even that splattered Dutch oven looks great taken directly to the table. 

The Clean Up

For the easiest clean up, you could always opt for compostable plates and cutlery. We simply work with what we have – plates, saucers, bowls, all of it. People will not care what they are eating on, simply that they are eating. You could also ask friends and family to bring their own dishes. It’s totally acceptable. I will say, however, a potluck’s best friend is a dishwasher. I feel grateful for that dishwasher every time we have friends over for dinner. Make sure it’s empty and as dirty dishes pile up, they’re easily hidden away and off your counter. Encouraging guests to bring take home containers or having some paper plates on hand will also help take care of those leftovers after you stash some away of course. 

The Big Picture

Most importably, don’t stress. Hosting a potluck isn’t about the perfectly crafted DIY centrepiece or the 18 piece formal wear. Some of my plates are cracked, there will most certainly be folks drinking out of jars and my table sits but 4. None of that matters. Potlucks are informal occasions where standing and mingling as you eat is perfectly acceptable. In fact, it’s encouraged. It’s the perfect opportunity to share your love of cooking with others. 

Remember also you can even help raise funds for the Children’s Aid Society Toward Independence Project (which I explained in my last post) by tweeting or instagramming with the hasttags #potluckchallence and #frd2014 right up until Friday. Every dollar toward ensuring a generation of youth has cooking skills and access to healthy food is a dollar well spent. 

Food Revolution Day 2014 will be celebrated around the world this Friday as a call to action, a call to get kids excited about food and to keep cooking skills alive. Whether you decide to throw a potluck as part of Canada’s Biggest Potluck, invite friends over to cook together or simply gather your family around the table, make real food and cooking from scratch the star. 

According to the Food Revolution Day website, the time for change is now. “Cooking skills used to be passed down from generation to generation, but now millions of people lack even the most basic knowledge to make a simple meal from scratch or have simply lost the confidence to try. We need to get back to basics: to cook and eat fresh local produce; to share cooking skills and food knowledge; to join forces within communities and get as many people involved as possible. Food Revolution Day is our opportunity to get the world to focus on the importance of keeping cooking skills alive for generations to come.”  

So, this Food Revolution Day let’s get cooking shall we?

Disclaimer: I was compensated for promoting Sobey’s Canada’s Biggest Potluck. Spreading the joy of cooking is something I am honoured to be part of. 

2 Comments

  • May 16, 2014

    movita beaucoup

    I loves potlocks. Especially when there’s a screwup and EVERYONE brings cake.

    • May 16, 2014

      Kathy Jollimore

      I call that a well executed potluck!