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Learn how to throw the perfect dinner party with Tasting Table tips

Co-founder Geoff Bartakovics shares his hosting advice in the food website's new cookbook.

The new cookbook "Tasting Table Cooking with Friends"

The new cookbook "Tasting Table Cooking with Friends" features group-friendly recipes like spicy watermelon skewers. Photo Credit: Todd Coleman

The release of Tasting Table’s first-ever cookbook — more than a decade after the popular food newsletter and website launched — offers an update on hosting a dinner party loosely riffing on the late-great Julia Child’s “Julia’s Delicious Little Dinners” and Gourmet magazine. Tasting Table co-founder and co-author Geoff Bartakovics shares his pro-tips from “Tasting Table Cooking With Friends,” out Tuesday, which turns preparing a meal into a collaborative experience bringing people together.

What inspired the cookbook?

Part of why I launched Tasting Table originally in 2008 was because after Gourmet folded, I missed its elaborate menus. This cookbook is like that, but different. Those recipes were from a showier age; the ingredients were a bit more exotic. This is a modern version of a dinner party for how we live now. Today everyone wants experiences. They want to be part of what’s happening.

How do you involve your friends in hosting a dinner party?

There are two formats: You can have a few friends come over to make the dinner together or you can outsource the recipes and have friends bring the dishes over — but this is not a potluck, or rather, it’s a potluck for control freaks. There’s a game plan at the beginning of each menu that outlines what you’ll need to do and advice on how to divide up responsibilities.

Do you have any advice for hosts?

The book has 12 complete menus that cover a range of occasions, from Friendsgiving to a picnic, and each one has an appetizer, main, dessert and cocktail and wine suggestions. We’ve carefully orchestrated them to make them doable even in small kitchens, but as the host you still need to take ownership of your event. Having people over is fun, but it’s your responsibility to make sure it goes smoothly and do some prep ahead of time.

How do you get your space ready to have other people cooking in it?

Our goal was to make it easier to host a party instead of doing it all yourself. Definitely do all of the grocery shopping the day before and when you put things away, make sure they’ll be easy to find in your fridge or cupboards for guests. Also set up work stations before people arrive to help.

Do you have a favorite menu in the book?

They’re all great and they’re based on the way I actually entertain in real life. But my favorite is probably the heavy apps before a big night out. It’s basically a pregame cocktail party for when you’re going out at 11 p.m. and not going to have a sit-down dinner. It ends with boozy espresso milkshakes with tequila for right before you jump in cabs and head to the club.

Any tips for taking the stress out of hosting a formal dinner?

The great thing about having a formal affair is it’s an excuse to pull out all the stuff you never use from your wedding registry, like nice linens, and actually use them. But another thing to keep in mind is hosting isn’t just about the food. It’s about bringing people together. Have a plan on how you’ll seat people and place potential matches next to each other, while avoiding co-locating exes or enemies.

For your next outdoor gathering

It’s the season for outdoor seafood feasts. From the cookbook’s “A Backyard Shrimp Boil” menu comes this easy recipe for spicy watermelon skewers. (Each recipe has a skill level so that friends can work on tasks they feel comfortable handling.)

Spicy watermelon skewers

Serves 6 to 8

Skill level: 1

  • 1 small, 7- to 8-pound seedless watermelon
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp. ancho chile pepper

1. Remove the rind from the watermelon. Cut the flesh of the melon into 4-inch batons. Thread each baton onto a skewer.

2. Squeeze the lime juice over the batons. Combine the lime zest, salt, and chile powder in a small bowl. Sprinkle spice mixture over the skewered melon right before serving.

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