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When it comes to hosting friends and family in the summertime, Kristen Kish doesn't feel the need for an over-the-top approach. As the Bravo's Top Chef alum told BravoTV.com, "simplicity" is key: "It’s about things you can do ahead of time that don’t take a lot of time to get onto the table [and] having a variety, but not having too much stuff."
Because "efficiency is the running theme" of her life, Kristen declared, "I find simple things oftentimes more beautiful than the showy elaborate stuff." With that in mind, she aims to strike the perfect balance between easy and elevated. "I love a formal dining experience, but I love a casual dining experience even more," she explained. "If you can mix the casual with elegant, I think it's a home run."
Here, Kristen shares her top summer entertaining tips including plating, tablescapes, and more.
1. Choose Ingredients Wisely
"Everything in regards to the meal is all about flavor," Kristen said. "Simple things can have a lot of flavor if you choose the right ingredients. Amazing fresh herbs, a bunch of zest, roasted garlic, vinegars, gorgeous olive oils, things that can sit out."
Being mindful of the summer sun is also crucial when preparing food. "I think we’ve all been at that picnic where there’s that potato salad that has film on it," Kristen said. "No one should be eating that."
2. Get Creative & Fancy with Drinks
When it comes to a summer bash, Kristen recommended making "gorgeous pitchers of freshly-brewed ice tea or iced coffee." As for alcoholic drinks, she suggested serving a "batched cocktail without the alcohol" and allowing guests to add their own liquor of choice.
For another upgraded beverage experience, Kristen serves sparkling water when entertaining. "The only fizzy water I really drink and have in my cabinet right now is S.Pellegrino," she said. "I think it’s because, personally, S.Pellegrino is the only sparkling water I would see in nice restaurants when I would go."
Sparkling water also "has a purpose not only by itself but also to lend itself to food," Kristen explained. "Sparkling water has a little bit of sodium, it has that little something that sits on your palate slightly differently. It cuts through fat, it cuts through fried chicken on a summer barbecue table, it cuts through great olive oil, it cleanses the palate. It kind of keeps things moving and refreshed through your mouth, which I think is also very necessary during summer entertaining."
3. Add Small, Elegant Touches to Your Table
While Kristen serves guests S.Pellegrino because "it just feels fancier," she has a few other simple ways to elevate a table." A linen napkin is something I will always preach about," she said. "I don’t care if you’re ripping open a bag of tacos that you bought down the street, give me a real napkin and that just elevates things so much."
Not only is it "better for the environment," but "you feel fancy" using it, Kristen said. "You can dress up [a table] and have pops of patterns and color just through your napkins, which I think is really cool."
If you have unique glassware or barware, those "can act as those beautiful accent pieces on a table," Kristen noted. "Like gorgeous water glasses that kind of reflect the sun or cutlery or silverware that has interesting character to it. I like a dual-purpose thing."
4. Make Ahead
"I like to make things ahead of time that actually benefit from making them ahead of time, things that take time to marinate or to develop flavor," Kristen explained. "I love a chilled pasta salad, and that really benefits from making ahead. I try to choose things that need the time as opposed to just doing them just because."
5. Plate with Purpose
When it comes to creating a gorgeous plate, Kristen suggested using ingredients that are not only beautiful but also have a ton of flavor. "I like a garnish that has purpose," she said. "You garnish with things that pack a punch, so lemon zest or gorgeous summer mint leaves, torn fresh basil over a salad. That not only adds to the flavor, but it also adds that pretty factor on top of your food."
6. Use Food & Understated Flowers for Your Decor
When Kristen sets a table, she explained, "I think the food will always remain the focal point because I want to make it look beautiful and I want it to be part of the table." Her centerpiece suggestion: "A big bowl of fresh figs... or berries that you put out onto the table that not only look gorgeous but are also wonderful to eat after the end of the meal."
Rather than using large floral arrangements, Kristen suggested highlighting "tiny flowers in a gorgeous vase." Additionally, she adorns her tables with "small tea candles."
7. Turn Simple Ingredients Into an Elevated Dish
"One of the greatest, most memorable 'desserts' I ever had was when I was in Greece," Kristen recalled. "All they did was serve slices of fresh watermelon on crushed ice and just brought it out at the end of the meal and it was absolutely perfect. It’s just watermelon, but you’re like, 'Dang let’s put it on some crushed ice and bring it out right after you’re done having savory and go to town on this chilled, gorgeous watermelon.' It can’t get any simpler than that."
8. Keep It Clean
Kristen opts to serve food on carefully chosen platters that minimize drips and other messes. "I always tend to lean heavily towards bowls or plate-bowls. Something with an edge," she explained. "Keeping things simple also means keeping it efficient so you can wrap up with your guests and you're not left there cleaning up a big mess."
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