Most aptly known for his roles on Broadway and How I Met Your Mother, David Burtka is also the owner of catering company Gourmet M.D., so we met with him to talk stress-free holiday entertaining. From prep to the table to after-dinner drinks, we’ve got the inspiration you need so you can be sure that each guest leaves with a smile on their face and a full stomach.
As the owner of a catering company, you’ve had to host a lot of big private functions. If you had to give one piece of advice about cooking for a crowd, what would it be?
How would you plan a buffet menu 15+ people and what would you serve?
I would definitely have a few snacks out first, maybe at the bar —- homemade preferably. Then I’d do some light appetizers paired with a cocktail, maybe a chili-rubbed lamb chop or something light. Depending on what the holiday or occasion is, I like to have a wide variety — I like to do at least two different kinds of protein, and then dessert. I’d serve both a warm and a cold dessert. Something fruity or something chocolatey. At the end of the meal you’d have your different alcohols, your whipped cream and crushed candy canes. You can get your guests involved and have them decide what they want.
With so many dishes to cook, it can seem daunting. Do you have any tips on how to pull off that juggling act?
Be organized and know what you’re cooking. If you have four burners, don’t overcrowd. If you want to do your main in the oven, like roasting a turkey, prime rib or a piece of beef, make sure to leave room for something roasted — maybe some carrots or potatoes. Use every piece of equipment that you can. If you have a grill, use it. Even in the dead of winter, you can put a coat and some boots on. You can also use a Crockpot to keep sauces and chili or soup hot and ready. Make it ahead and then just keep it in a Crockpot.
Thinking about make-ahead dishes, what holiday foods would you prep ahead of time?
I think a lot of people don’t realize that they can make side dishes and just keep them out. In fact, if you make it the day before, most of the time it tastes better the next day because the flavours have melded together. Sauces and soups are great that way. Make those a couple of days ahead. As for your desserts — your cakes, pies, cupcakes or anything like that — make them ahead as well and keep in an airtight container or freeze it. Chocolate, fruit and nuts — all of those things freeze so well.
You can freeze cake as well?
Oh yeah! The kids’ leftover birthday cake, I put it all in the freezer. Then I took it out for Halloween and made 300 cake balls — great use for leftover birthday cake.
When it comes to a buffet-style food presentation, what do you suggest?
For buffet style, I would have your appetizers completely separate. Put them on a card table with a tablecloth, and do some cheese, some crudités, chips and pretzels. When it’s time for dinner, take that away. For mains, I usually go light to heavy. And I always like to dress my salad with dressing; I like it all incorporated as opposed to having a side dish of salad dressing with a spoon, because it never gets evenly coated. Always dress your salad about five minutes before you serve it.
Do you have any tips on keeping foods heated on the table (such as a roast or casserole) if it’s a lengthier event?
Chafing dishes aren’t that expensive and you could keep it in your garage. Crockpots are really great for sauces and gravy and things like that, but you don’t want to keep a lot of food out. I think it’s better to have your set time for dinner and then take it away.
What selection of drinks would you serve?
I’d start with a cocktail, maybe something effervescent and bubbly. Maybe something with Campari in it — Campari is a great way to open the palate. Then I usually do one cocktail and then switch to wine. I love to pair wine with the meal that I’m serving, but it depends on the protein. There’s a great book called What to Drink with What to Eat — it’s a great beverage bible. It gives you every type of food and what wines pair well with each cuisine, specific proteins, side dishes or anything. Then of course after dinner, if there’s entertainment or you’re playing a game, you always want to do something really special with coffee.
What do you plan on serving for dinner this Christmas?
I’ve done different themes in the past. I’ve done an old English type Christmas with Yorkshire pudding and fig pudding and sorts of old fare. I tend to like to keep it traditional. I like to serve a goose or a standing rib roast or both. For Thanksgiving, I had two turkeys from Stone Barns from upstate New York. I’ve got a heritage turkey and a broad breasted turkey, so we had two different turkeys that everyone could sample and a bunch of different sides.
Two turkeys. That’s a great idea.
When we did Thanksgiving, my catering company did three different types of turkeys for big groups of people. We did a traditional roast turkey, we would do a fried turkey in a deep fryer, and then we would do a smoked turkey. It was great because people got to say what their favourite one was — it gave them a chance to taste test.
What’s your favourite of the three?
I like traditional roast turkey with just salt and pepper, let the skin get really crispy and don’t shove a lot of stuff in the cavity. Allow the turkey to just be on its own and let it speak for itself. A lot of people try herb butter and bacon and porcini mushrooms under the skin, it’s great but in my opinion, just get the best ingredients you can. It’s a special occasion so go to a nice butcher or go to a place where you can get a great piece of meat so you know it’s coming from somewhere close by. That makes the biggest difference with produce and meats.
David Burtka is a spokesperson for NESPRESSO Canada.
This interview has been edited and condensed.