Holiday Help for the "Dears"

Helen Mitternight

By Helen Mitternight


So, apparently the key to a stress-free holiday dinner is one phrase: “Dear…” 

At least, that’s what culinary maven Nathalie Dupree told everyone at the first annual Culinary Academy hosted by the Charleston chapter of Les Dames d'Escoffier, the international group of women culinarians. 

Dupree spoke in the first workshop of an all-day event at the Culinary Institute of Charleston


The first step, she told everyone, lies in the invitation and the way it’s phrased. 

“Food is control,” she said, and a good hostess apparently holds onto that control with a grip stronger than the bourbon she pours in her coffee late at night. Forget eating somewhere in the late afternoon – tell people you’re eating at a mealtime, and stick to it. 

“Say something like, ‘Come at 12 to eat at 1. Say, we are eating at 1, or when the first child cries or your grandfather gets mean, because those are the two things that happen and it ruins Thanksgiving.”

The key to a stress-free dinner is organization and planning, including cooking an extra turkey in advance and slicing it up to lay out on the buffet. Cook a second turkey that day, and put the glorious roasted bird whole behind your sliced and re-heated turkey from the day before. 

“It’s just like going to a cafeteria,” she told attendees. “When you have a whole animal up there cooked, people think that’s what they’re eating. Don’t carve at the table. I don’t understand that, they did that when they had staff, I think.”

For the guests who whine that they want a particular recipe you have no intention of cooking, Dupree brings out the “dear.” 

“Say, ‘No, dear, I’m not cooking that, but why don’t I send you the recipe and you can make it this year so you can learn how’,” she advises. 

Hide the dish soap so the “dears” who want to clean while you want to sit and eat will be discouraged, and put pots and pans in a cooler filled with hot, soapy water out of sight until later so your sink isn’t filled with dirty dishes. 

“Every family has one person who wants to help, usually someone who doesn’t cook but wants to make it appear they have cooked,” Dupree said. “They will come in the kitchen and harass you the whole time.”

For these “dears,” Dupree recommends labeling each serving platter or bowl with exactly what will go in it and what time the food will get plated, which gives them something goof-proof to do and keeps them out of your hair. 

“It’s a very important word, ‘dear’,” Nathalie said. “All during prep time, say ‘dear.’ You can also say, ‘sweetie’ or ‘honey,’ but you can not clench your teeth, and if you’re organized enough, you don’t have to.”