Preparing to Cook for 80

This weekend I’ve been scrambling to prepare for a dinner on Tuesday night, at which I will cook for up to 80 people.  This will be the largest group I’ve ever cooked for by a factor of three, and I’m excited to take on the challenge.  Oh, and an added challenge: I’m working on a budget of 80 baht (US$2.63) per head.  How did I get roped into this?


Two months ago, my friend Doug, an expat American to whom I was introduced by a friend from the San Francisco Int’l Asian American Film Festival, invited me to an event called the “River Space Dinner Party and Talk”.

The dinners are inspired by Jim Haynes and his famous Paris dinners which have lasted for more than 30 years. Jim’s son, Jesper, helped launch the Bangkok dinners at the River Space a few months ago.  Jim described his dinners during a piece on NPR’s All Things Considered:

Every week for the past 30 years, I’ve hosted a Sunday dinner in my home in Paris. People, including total strangers, call or e-mail to book a spot. I hold the salon in my atelier, which used to be a sculpture studio. The first 50 or 60 people who call may come, and twice that many when the weather is nice and we can overflow into the garden.

Every Sunday a different friend prepares a feast. Last week it was a philosophy student from Lisbon, and next week a dear friend from London will cook.

People from all corners of the world come to break bread together, to meet, to talk, connect and often become friends. All ages, nationalities, races, professions gather here, and since there is no organized seating, the opportunity for mingling couldn’t be better. I love the randomness.

I believe in introducing people to people.

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Here in Bangkok, the dinners are held twice a month in a second floor flat on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, immediately next to the Millenium Hilton hotel.  The space is used for various arts events and is mostly just a large, open space.


The space is spectacularly situated, though, just above a small market and adjacent to the local ferry pier.  The reflection of the setting sun bathes the banks of the river in shades of purple and pink as residents who live on the west side of the river commute home.


The dinners are cooked by volunteers in a kitchen that is, to be generous, under-equipped.  But there are plenty of hands willing to pitch in, which is the important thing.  As I’m preparing to cook on Tuesday, most of my thoughts are about the strategy of how I’m going to do this in the most organized manner.  What tools will I need, what equipment, what supplies?

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The meal served when I attended in April.  Potato salad, green salad, quiches (made at home by the head chef), and a wonderful strawberry triffle.  One of the things I’ve realized is that to cook effectively in this space requires a lot of advance cooking at home.

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When I say “under-equipped”, you get the idea when you watch Doug contorting himself as he tries to make garlic bread for what was about 50 people using only a tiny toaster oven.  Needless to say, I was dragooned into the kitchen, willingly, and helped prepare the garlic bread.

So that’s the challenge I’m facing.  Having given a lot of thought to the meal, I’ve adapted, updated, and revised my proposed menu several times.  Finally, Friday night I cooked a “proof of concept” meal, to make sure the recipes worked (at a small scale) and would be on-budget.

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The menu as it stands today: Mixed grains and vegetable salad with a sherry vinaigrette; stir-fried chicken marinated in green curry; and a yogurt relish with cucumbers and tomatoes.  The homemade bread and hummus will not make the cut.  Instead, the garlic bread and a green salad will be provided by another person.  And for dessert?  Saturday night I did another “proof of concept” and served homemade buttermilk shortcake with mangoes and ginger whipped cream. 

Stay tuned to heard how it all turns out!


0 thoughts on “Preparing to Cook for 80

  1. Oh, my goodness — it all sounds delicious — wish I could be there!  Yikes, though — cooking all of that for 80 people — glad there’s some cold food in there that can be done the day before and served when you’re ready for it!

  2. If I give you 80 baht a night, will you cook for me? The setting is gorgeous. I want to convert that into a loft like condo. Good luck with the dinner. I wish I could help somehow.

  3. Oh my… O.O That’s… intense!! Good luck to you sir. I wish you all the best. ^o^BTW, what a cooool idea!! I luv it. Note to self, be sure to be in Paris on a Sunday. Haha.

  4. wow, sounds challenging, but it looks like your menu is doable. i guess you are planning to prep mostly everything beforehand, since it doesn’t like like there’s much equipment or space in that kitchen area. i can’t imagine cooking for that many people… i’d be exhausted. good luck!

  5. Always challenging to cook for a crowd. That prep are is even more of a challenge. Caution… Stir fry can be very hard to pull off if you don’t have the proper equipment. It has to be crisp and hot or it will fall flat. Literally. Good luck to ya. Let me know if you could use any help with recipes. Cooking for crowds is what I do. [giggle]

  6. Followed a rec although I’ve heard wonderful things about you from Janet. I’m Lyne (extends virtual hand)  I’ve worked in catering for a long time. Planning is everything. We have many venues here on the central coast with no kitchen, so you have to get the food there, keep it warm and serve it with a smile, no matter what happens. It’s a great challenge and the caterers I work for are spot on most of the time.  The people who help make it happen are vital. It sounds like a wonderful way to bring people together. Best of luck and enjoy the flow.

  7. @ZSA_MD – Oh, thank you for the recommendation.  If I had had an oven handy, I think I would have used your recipe for chicken biryani instead!@Jaynebug – Thank you for followeing the recommendation.  I’m glad Janet said such nice words.  (blushing)  Yes, throughout this event I’ve been thinking a lot about what caterers must have to deal with.  I suppose if I had the right equipment for catering, I might find this a bit less of a challenge!@nicolthepickle – Let’s see how I respond to the pressure!  Ha!@stebow – All I need now is a campfire and then I could put your greatest cooking hits to the test.  Makes me think of the breakfast you made while Tawn and I were camping with you in Half Moon Bay.  Loads of bacon in that pot, but boy were the potatoes good!@awoolham – @everyday_yogi – @Fatcat723 – @yang1815 – @murisopsis – @Passionflwr86 – Thank you.  Stay tuned!@slmret – The space actually just received a three-burner stove and oven yesterday (donation?) and so it seems I could have done something baked after all.  Oh, well…@stevew918 – Oh, I’ve never seen the show.  Too bad I don’t have cable here, maybe I could have learned some lessons from the show!@ClimbUpTreesToLookForFish – Pumpkins are easy to cook.  Should have included them in my menu.@The_Eyes_Of_A_Painter – And as I’ve finished calculating my shopping list, I’m about 12% over budget.  At the same time, there are already 77 people confirmed for dinner with 44 maybes and may more yet to respond, so maybe I need to buy some more food!@CurryPuffy – Not exactly a lecture, but a presentation by the artists.  They’ve also blown up pictures from the book (on sacred Thai style tattoos) and have actually “tattoo’d” one wall.@kunhuo42 – Am alrady exhausted.  =(  Yes, I’m doing as much prep as possible here at home and then bring only ingredients to be assembled by many helpful hands.@Heather_Also – After reading about the Paris meals I’m thinking another trip there on a Sunday is a must.@agmhkg – Oh, no you can’t!  I know enough not to do this professionally!  =D@ElusiveWords – If you fly here, Matt, I’ll cook for you for 80 baht a night.  Might be a good way to lose weight, if that’s what you’re looking to do!  Ha ha…@LoBornlytesThoughtPalace – Thank you for your subscription.  We’ll see how the meal goes. 

  8. You are right, the place looked quite well situated from the picture! And I believe this is the first time I’ve ever seen someone on xanga use the word “dragoon”. Good stuff man! Haha!

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