In her latest cookbook, “Nothing Fancy,” chef/author Alison Roman encourages people to think of entertaining as nothing more than “having people over.” Roman’s regular food columns for The New York Times and Bon Appetit focus on replacing the fussiness often associated with cooking for guests with a simpler approach.
Roman believes that a lot of people’s apprehension around entertaining is psychological.
“There is actual physical labor involved,” Roman says. “But people get so hung up on it that it stresses them out. Then they decide they can’t do it or that it’s gonna be hard. It doesn’t have to be.”
To simplify entertaining, Roman stresses straightforward recipes and easy-to-make snacks, like dips with fresh vegetables — she doesn’t say “crudite,” that’s fussy — or a cheese board, even if it’s just a hunk of good Parmesan.
She also acknowledges social media’s role in making entertaining seem more intimidating than it needs to be.
“If you think you have to buy something or have it look a certain way, you’re probably less inclined to do it,” Roman says. “Giving someone the permission to say ‘No, you don’t actually have to do that,’ is really empowering, freeing people up to make something of their own without feeling like it needs to be Instagram ready or impressive for somebody to post about.”
Asked if formal entertaining will decline like the practice of sending paper party invitations, Roman says that welcoming people into your home is about hospitality, not matching silverware.
“It can be your old couch and people sitting on the floor,” she says. “You don’t have to have candelabras, although I do like candelabras. Inviting people into your home is a really nice and intimate way to spend time together. That can be enough.”
Now in her mid-thirties, the self-described extroverted introvert prefers having people to her home over going out to dinner. She also favors quality over quantity when it comes to ingredients. For the bar, Roman recommends hosts have “one nice bottle of something — and it shouldn’t be something you’re going to make a mixed drink with.” In her home, that bottle often is mezcal, a versatile spirit she serves in cocktails and at the end of the evening as a “wind-down” beverage.
Another practice that can be anxiety-inducing for guests is selecting a host or hostess gift.
“I don’t feel like people should feel pressure to bring a gift, but I always appreciate it when they do because who doesn’t like a gift?”
Roman recommends small plants, such as succulents, or flowers or wine.
As the holidays approach, Roman looks forward to Thanksgiving leftovers as much as the main meal. She suggests a leftovers party as a low-pressure way to clean out the fridge.
“If you try to do it before Thanksgiving, it’s just gonna stress you out because the big day is looming.”