Q: Entertaining 1-2-3, this newest sequel of your three-ingredient cookbooks, comes to us at an ideal time of year for the winter holidays and the upcoming millennium! Would you, however, recommend using this books' lessons throughout the year for any occasion simple or grand?
A: Yes, without a doubt. My mantra is "the more you do it, the easier it gets." People are entertaining more frequently in recent years and it looks like this trend will continue well after the New Year. I want to give people the confidence that large amounts of time and money are not necessities when preparing to entertain. There are no boundaries when it comes to inventing reasons to have a party!
Q: Since great food and entertaining do not always go hand in hand, do you think that this book will appeal not only to home cooks but to professionals as well?
A: This book is for people of all levels of skill and experience. I suggest so many interesting ideas and flavor combinations that my book appeals to the well-trained palettes of professional chefs. However, the trend in cooking is moving towards keeping it simple, so my book acknowledges the significance of this new philosophy and gives people permission to live by it.
Q: In your introduction, you give a "1-2-3 timeline". Does this simple breakdown apply to the most casual gatherings as well as to a more elaborate event?
A: A timeline is both basic and crucial to planning any party or event. I propose a three-step outline beginning with developing the actual concept and ending with the post-party clean up. No matter the scale of the event, everything you need to do is on this timeline.
Q: What is your advice to those whose talents lie less in the food department and more in the decorating and planning arenas? Is this book the answer to their prayers?
A: Each person has his own idiosyncrasies and strengths. In addition to 300 recipes, Entertaining 1-2-3 offers 100 ideas from which my readers can create their own combinations. Serve food that you feel comfortable making and focus on what you know how to do best. Although I give menu ideas, you can mix and match my dishes according to your tastes and you don't have to feel as though you have to make every course: For example, you can buy the dessert or for an appetizer serve sliced smoked salmon with toasts and any one of my inventive spreads.
Q: Can you recommend a few kitchen gadgets/pieces of equipment that are essential to easy cooking?
A: My kitchen at home is very low-tech. I use most frequently a blender or food processor and my set of enamel Le Creuset pots and pans is essential.
Q: What key item do we need to have in stock to be spontaneous entertainers?
A: I always need to have a bottle of excellent olive oil. I have recently discovered a Middle Eastern spice mix called za'atar: "It looks like marijuana and smells like Jerusalem." I like to make a pesto with olive oil, za'atar and Parmesan cheese and use it for bruschetta, or as a dip. This is a perfect example of the simple and unique recipes in my book that can be made on the fly!
Q: This New Year's Eve, if you are entertaining, what will you offer as the quintessential cocktail and hors d'oeuvre?
A: Before midnight, I recommend serving the traditional luxuries i.e. foie gras, caviar and you know the restŠ. No cocktails, bubbly only (which I buy by the case.) My first round of hors d'oeuvres I would serve Osetra caviar on a mother-of-pearl spoon, and that's only one ingredient! On New Year's Day, I would serve lentils for good luck!
Q: What is the role of carefully paired wine selections during the meal?
A: I think it's really important to match the flavors, texture and weight of the wines with those of the food. This does not mean that you can't play around with the flavors: I am a big fan of offering a well-picked red and white wine to go with the same dish. The balance between the food and the wine can translate into many different but equally fitting choices.
Q: In addition to your three-ingredient philosophy, what is essential for all party-givers to keep in mind?
A: We have to remember that the focus is not on being the flawless host, but on keeping our guests happy and involved. The element of surprise and a change of pace give guests the incentive to be lively participants! For example, I like to alternate desserts between men and women: It's also fun to serve part of the dinner sit-down and another part buffet-style, or to have one course in one setting and another in the next room. There are endless ideas: any number of games, live music, or something different like a wine bar. These options don't require a lot of money. You can even get your community members involved by hiring students from local music or acting schools.