Entertaining like the pros is easier than you think.
Photos by Steve Legato Published
When Bruce Cooper says his favorite restaurant is home, he’s not claiming to be the best cook in town. It’s just that, as a busy restaurateur, going out is the last thing on his mind. Playing in his own kitchen—possibly with leftover ingredients from his two successful Manayunk ventures, Jake’s and Cooper’s Wine Bar—is how he unwinds. And he likes to do that in the company of his wine and foodie peers.
More health-conscious than most, Cooper is adamant about not overdoing the food. If he’s hosting a sit-down dinner, he keeps appetizers to a minimum, generally opting for one or two small plates of finger foods or cheeses that often become part of the main meal. And he doesn’t stray far from the action in the kitchen. “I hate even walking into the living room,” he admits.
Cooper is a list fanatic. It keeps him organized and allows him to prep hours ahead of time, so that when his guests arrive, he’s relaxed and ready to enjoy the evening. For entertaining on a larger scale, Cooper suggests getting help with the bar or offering just one specialty cocktail before moving to wine with the meal.
Everything is laid out on Cooper’s sizable kitchen counter, so there’s no going back and forth from room to room. Cooper avoids too many heavy, high-carb dishes to make room for all of that great wine he and his buddies like to share and comment on. He prefers lots of warm or chilled greens tossed with light, herb- and garlic-infused vinaigrettes.
Cooper’s favorite resources are the Ardmore Farmers Market and his own restaurants. He favors soup (“It’s do-ahead, so it makes the meal easier to pull off,” he says), mini-crabcakes (“People never get tired of them”) and grilled shrimp salad (“It feels luxurious, feeds a crowd and is simple to prepare”). For dessert, he’ll typically go with sautéed seasonal fruit served warm in simple syrup (“It’s like pie without the shell”) or strawberry shortcake—he makes the biscuits from scratch.
Another piece of advice Cooper is more than happy to share: Get your roast done early. “I see people waiting for them to finish all the time,” he says. “It can be room temperature, though—so there’s no reason to push it to the last minute. It’s the sauce that should be hot; the meat doesn’t have to be.”
Roast or not, Cooper urges anyone who actually wants to enjoy their dinner party to follow this five-P mantra: Proper planning prevents poor performance. “Make your lists. Get your shopping done. Prep your table and service pieces the night before,” he says. “And stick with tried-and-true dishes that won’t leave you frantic at the last minute—or asking your guests, ‘Did it come out OK? Do you like it?’”