Feed a crowd with recipes from some of our favorite chefs
Potlucks have an unfortunate association with the 1970s and seven-layer dip. Though many palates have matured, potlucks are still a hodgepodge gamble that challenges the control freak in every host or hostess. One person, asked to bring a salad, may arrive with bottled poppy seed dressing and out-of-season strawberries, while another will bring sliced fennel, radicchio, and blood oranges garnished with edible flowers.
We wanted to know what a professional might do when faced with a potluck request. So we asked chefs from a few of our favorite restaurants what they would feed to a crowd, and they gave us some great ideas. And if somebody brings seven-layer dip, it’s not that big a deal—your other guests won’t hold it against you.
Our Table Manners columnist has a few things to say on potluck etiquette.
Maverick, San Francisco, California
For a less messy take on the classic dude food, wings, Maverick’s Scott Youkilis pairs these pleasantly hot, tangy chicken fingers with blue cheese coleslaw. Cook the tenders ahead of time, loosely cover them with foil so they don’t get soggy, then toss them with the sauce when you get to the party. At Maverick, Youkilis keeps it real with elevated American regional classics. Buttermilk fried chicken is a staple, alongside ginger-marinated beet salad, Appalachian pork shoulder stew with potato dumplings, and pumpkin and chocolate bread pudding.
Peasant, New York, New York
Potlucks in small-town New Jersey, where Peasant’s Frank De Carlo grew up, meant six-foot subs, tube pasta with meatballs and sausages, meatloaf, and “white-trash football-party food” like chips and hot dogs. His more sophisticated take wouldn’t be out of place on Peasant’s menu, with pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven, roasted meats, pastas, and risottos. Make the gnocchi yourself for a genuine contribution. “Otherwise,” he says, “you may as well bring the onion dip with the carrots.”
The Kitchen, Boulder, Colorado
This upscale mac ’n’ cheese is popular in the Kitchen’s more casual upstairs wine bar, which is known for crowd-pleasing, European-influenced dishes like mussels with garlic, thyme, and chorizo, and wood-fired flatbreads. The restaurant also has a reputation for environmentally sound business practices—it runs on wind power, composts its kitchen scraps, and uses biodegradable paper products. Matheson, born and raised in England, has embraced the potluck idea at the Kitchen’s annual fall pig roast. Staff members rear and slaughter the porkers themselves, and friends of the restaurant bring dishes like apple crisp and brownies.
Ford’s Filling Station, Los Angeles, California
Since opening his Southern California gastropub two years ago, Chef Benjamin Ford has been moving away from fine dining toward “heartwarming,” with dishes such as polenta cake, braised Kobe cheeks, and fish and chips. You can’t get this baked chicken and artichoke casserole at Ford’s yet, but you might soon. “I love the fact that you can put something on the menu now and call it casserole, rather than gratin,” says Ford.
Nopa, San Francisco, California
When Laurence Jossel’s family moved from South Africa to Texas when he was in his early teens, his mother got invited to a potluck and was told to bring a “covered dish.” She literally brought a covered dish—with nothing in it—and cried with embarrassment when she realized her mistake. Jossel suggests filling the dish with lamb riblets, which he serves as an appetizer at Nopa. “I wouldn’t say they’re easy, because it’s a commitment of time,” says Jossel of the riblets, which must braise for three to four hours. “But if done right, they’re moist and falling-off-the-bone delicious. Everybody loves them.”
Barrio Café, Phoenix, Arizona
Chef Esparza chose this Mayan dish from the Yucatán peninsula for our potluck because it’s easy to put together (just stick it in the oven and slow-roast for eight hours), and it feeds massive numbers of people. Growing up in a Mexican family in Central California, Esparza went to plenty of potlucks. Only they were called tardeadas, or “afternoons,” and occurred late in the day on Sundays. The hosts provided the meat: carne asada or carnitas if they hailed from northern Mexico, chicherones (fried pork skin) if they originally lived in the Michoacán/Jalisco area. Guests brought cut radishes and cucumbers, beans, rice, tortillas, fresh farmer’s cheese, and, yes, the Zelig of potlucks, Jell-O. “They do translucent Jell-Os, layered cream Jell-Os, and Jell-Os with rose petals inside. Mexicans love Jell-O.”
La Brea Bakery, Los Angeles, California
When we emailed Nancy Silverton to ask whether chefs get invited to potlucks, she assured us they do. And they bring good stuff, even at the risk of making everybody else look lame. “Great cooks are always generous,” wrote back Silverton, whose artisanal bakery and cookbook series have earned her international fame. But not so generous that they want to be working in the kitchen when a party’s going on. A kind of fancy bread pudding, this chocolate brioche club sandwich can be almost totally prepared a whole five days ahead of time, and it is an unusual departure from the overly sweet desserts people usually bring.
Butter, New York, New York
Alexandra Guarnaschelli’s mother made this knockout pie every Thanksgiving, but the Butter chef thinks it’s great for a potluck. First, it seems quintessentially American, just like potlucks. “It makes me feel like I’m coming over on the Mayflower.” And second, it’s a little edgy, like the foie gras and brioche toasts that her mom, a Manhattan cookbook editor, used to bring to potlucks. “Let’s face facts: There’s no chance anybody else is going to bring a cranberry pie.” You won’t see pie at Butter, however, where haute dishes include grilled prime New York strip steak with stuffed white mushrooms, and grilled halibut with roasted asparagus and squash emulsion. “Pie is not dainty. It’s better eaten at home,” says Guarnaschelli.