Photo: Travel Channel.
Even though 2016 was a dumpster fire of a year, New Year’s Eve still has a certain cachet surrounding it. If you’re hosting a party to bid the past farewell and usher in a fresh start, do it with aplomb. Chef, author, and TV personality Adam Richman (perhaps best known for the Man v. Food series on the Travel Channel) answered our questions about how to host a stress-free yet classy New Year’s Eve party, from stocking the bar to selecting appetizers to what to feed your drunk friends before they drive home.
Crave: New Year’s Eve parties tend to have a sophisticated air about them. Does the food have to be sophisticated, though? Or can you go with a more casual, comfort food menu?
Adam Richman: Of course you can. I think that maybe because champagne is involved, it’s kind of synonymous with black-tie. The thing for me is: it still has to be a good time. You can’t overlook the importance of keeping the enjoyment as the most paramount thing at your party. I think there’s a real respectable poetry to buffalo wings and champagne. It’s about knowing your crowd.
What are your favorite party appetizer recipes?
I do a wild mushroom tart that I make from phyllo dough. It’s handheld, it’s not too greasy, it’s not too heavy. It’s stuff that people can mingle and talk and have a little bite. I do a baked Gouda with sun-dried tomato pesto inside of a crust. It’s something fun to pull apart. Another thing I think is really great is a tray of cocktail shrimp or crudité. Those things can’t be overlooked in terms of the simplicity and their crowd-pleasing ability. Even a good charcuterie plate. That’s the trick, of course: you have to kind of play curator. You can do all goat’s milk cheeses, all sheep’s milk cheeses, all Italian, all Spanish meats and cheeses. You can have fun and play with it and cater to your crowd.
Are there any appetizers that a host should avoid serving?
I would say any appetizer that necessitates a lot of utensils. Stuff that keeps you, as host, in the kitchen. You want to be part of the party. If it’s a labor-intensive thing, that’s a little bit of a drag. Stuff that’s not going to be extraordinarily messy. So as much as I said that there’s an appeal to buffalo wings and champagne, aesthetically or maybe experientially, if people are wearing suits and nice clothing, something super saucy or drippy or melty may not necessarily be the way. Something that’s not super procedure heavy. Fondue is a nice idea, but, again, it requires you standing over this little kiln.
The other thing is, as much as I love something crunchy and delicious and fried, if you’re going to have a fried appetizer, have it have some personality. You’d be surprised how often people go to the frozen food section and throw something in a broiler.
If the host wants to keep food prep to a minimum on the day of the party, what are your suggestions for recipes that can be made ahead of time?
That baked Gouda, you can set that whole thing up and then right before your guests come, you can throw it in the oven and you can time it so you’re pulling it out once they arrive. A charcuterie plate can be done even the night before and covered loosely with Saran Wrap on the top shelf of your refrigerator. Trays of olives, sun-dried tomatoes, Peppadew peppers—they now have olives stuffed with everything from Marcona almonds to Bleu cheese—things like that could be put in bowls well in advance. A dip can be made in advance. If you spend the money, you can get wild-caught seafood at a place like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or get the plate of cocktail shrimp that you just have to thaw and throw over some ice.
What is the ideal ratio of sweet to savory foods at a New Year’s Eve party?
I would say, generally speaking, 2/3 to 4/5 of whatever you’re going to put out should be savory. I’m a big proponent of the savory. Any good dish—even a passed hors d’oeuvre —is going to have elements of all tastes in it. My pulled pork egg rolls, they have a very sweet coleslaw but a very spicy barbecue sauce and then they’re fried and served with a dipping sauce that’s honey and Sriracha and garlic. If you’re creating these big flavor bombs, they’re going to have an element of sweet, an element of savory, an element of spicy, an element of umami. The straight-ahead sweets, for me, that’s the coda of the meal.
What is the rule of thumb for how much alcohol to have on hand per person at a New Year’s Eve party?
This is again one of those “know thy crowd” kind of things. If we’re talking a gathering of six couples, I might have on hand at least three bottles of champagne and, depending upon what people drink, I might do two to three bottles each of red and white. You don’t want to do too many whites because you have champagne. I would say you’re usually good with at least two beers per person if you have other drinks. Vodka is sort of the lowest common denominator. Most people will go for it. I collect bourbon, so I always have bourbon on hand. Having an assessment of who you’re throwing the party for is going to be a big help. Most people will put down three to four glasses of alcohol that night, bare minimum.
What kind of a late-night snack should the host serve to help guests sober up before they drive home?
I’m going to go on record and say I’m well aware of the fact that no food will sober you up. It is a medical fact that putting starchy food in a drunk person’s stomach does nothing to change what the person’s blood alcohol content is. I don’t want to seem as though I’m endorsing the idea that if you’re fucked up, you can just eat a dinner roll and you’re good to go.
[That said] it’s kind of what you’re going to be craving after drinking anyway. I’ve had bagels and cream cheese and tomatoes. That could also be prepared in advance: just mandolin a bunch of tomatoes, get one thing of capers and throw it in a bowl, and have a bunch of bagels with cream cheese. Something starchy and substantial.
What’s the proper response if you see a guest double-dipping? Ignore or bring out a fresh bowl of dip?
That is a very good question. I’m of split-mind on this one. I think it depends on the guest and your relationship with them. If it’s my cousin or my buddy, it’s “What’re you doing?!”
If I have extra dip, yeah, I’m going to try to put some out there. But that’s not always the case that you have dip on hand. If you can replace it, fine. But let’s be honest: people are talking over that bowl, gesticulating over that bowl, reaching for it. I think that some people get a little OCD about that.
If you’re concerned about it—and I’ve done this when I know I have notorious double-dippers—you put a little sign next to the guacamole that says “No double-dipping.” The other thing is there are those chips like Scoops! that are too small to make that conducive.
As long as people are being cool and kind and respectful towards one another, and no one’s getting too rowdy or disrespecting your home, I think that double-dipping is a pretty minor offense.