Cooking for a Crowd: The 5 P’s You Need to Invite

by Chef Lou Smith
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Every coach needs a team to set the bar. Every chief needs a tribe to spread the word. And every chef needs a crew to keep those bellies full. I wouldn’t be anywhere without my people. They keep this ship afloat, and believe me, the waters get pretty rough. We laugh. We yell. (Actually, I’m told I yell the loudest.) And we sweat (winner again).  But we love it, or else we wouldn’t stand so close to the fire.

No matter what day of the week it is, I always open the doors to Blend with the same intention: Cook to Make People Happy.


I’ve been doing that since I was a kid, but the stakes are a little higher when you have 1,000 hungry people to feed vs. a table full of your Italian relatives who will love you no matter what. Unlike the old days, I now have an awesome crew to help me out. Not only do they have my back, but they love food as much as I do. And it shows. It has to. But having a great team isn’t the only reason behind a successful kitchen. Why does anyone always go back to the same place? Consistency. They want to know they’re going to get what they came for every single time. If they don’t, it gets crossed off the list of “Favorites.” Anyone who works with me knows that consistency is everything. My kitchen needs to put out amazing food, not just sometimes but ALL the time. How do you ask? You create a plan. And then get everyone to follow 🙂

So, what’s the plan? I call mine the 5 P’s:

Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. 

Don’t laugh. This simple phrase has saved me over the years. Someone recently asked me to describe how I plan for a major holiday or big event. How do I know how much food to order? How do I prevent unnecessary waste? When do I start getting ready? How can I make sure everyone is happy? These may seem like variables, but when you combine basic math with instinct, it becomes a simple equation known as the 5 P’s. I break it down into 3 simple parts.

Part 1: Create. Spread. Fill. 

Despite the above instructions, I’m actually not referring to one of our signature desserts. I’m talking about how to create the menu for a holiday or special event. Many things are considered here, such as time of year, available inventory, equipment, and prep/finish time for each item. With all the pre-prepared ingredients in place, or what’s called the Mise en place, each course shouldn’t take more than six minutes to fire. Anything that takes longer than that doesn’t make the cut.

Once you know WHAT you’re cooking, determine WHO you’re cooking for. Spread the word far and wide. Then fill those chairs. Chefs love reservations. They love advance orders even more. This enables them to predict the order volume without having to use their crystal ball, prepare the Mise en place without much fuss, and devote their efforts to cooking the dishes to perfection.

Part 2: It Doesn’t Matter If You Dice It, Chop It, or Peel It, Just PREP It.

Typically, I won’t start prepping until the week of the event. By this time, all food is ordered, seats are booked, staff is scheduled , and we have a good idea which way the current will flow. I can breathe, sort of. The last job on the kitchen staff’s list is to cut, dice, slice, peel, arrange, organize, defrost, and tenderize as much as they can.

Part 3: Showtime

Finally, the grand finale, the moment we have all been working toward and waiting for. I think most chefs would agree that this is the best part. Yes, it takes a lot of work and endless sacrifice, but knowing your food makes people happy is amazing. My only regret is that I don’t get enough time out of the kitchen to enjoy meeting my guests and hearing what they liked about their meals.

But then again, with a plan like this and a crew like mine, what else does this chef need?

~Chef Lou

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