Open House Survival Guide: Tips from the Experts

parksidefluke[Jump right to the recipe: Tiny Twice-Baked Potatoes with Chorizo and Manchego]

Recently I’ve had two opportunities to connect with some amazing Austin chefs: the Hill Country Wine and Food Festival VIP lounge at the Stars Across Texas event and a recent blogger happy hour event at the acclaimed Parkside restaurant. Beyond experiencing some absolutely amazing food, I wanted to take the opportunity to get some insight from the chefs on how they select dishes for events like these. Tastings are very much like open houses and other nibbly-bits parties that home cooks throw, so I was pretty sure that I would walk away with some useful tips on how to select food for a crowd that I could use at when prepping for my next big party. The chefs didn’t disappoint. It turns out they face some of the same dilemmas I do when prepping for a party including:

  • Managing the food preparation along with other responsibilities. Every chef I talked to was working the tasting on a busy night at their restaurant so they were juggling resources at both locations and having to work the prep for the party into their standard dinner service activities. Funny, I run into similar issues when I’m throwing a party. While I might take a day off to cook for a fairly large party, typically I’m managing preparation for it along with every other day-to-day responsibility.
  • Restrictions on preparation and service space. At the wine and food festival event, each chef had four long tables on which to work and serve. They had to bring chafing dishes to keep food warm if necessary and coolers to keep food cold. Their plating and serving areas were small and crowded with people. Think back on your last party – didn’t you experience the same issues? At the Parkside event the chef had access to his own kitchen, just as I do at a party, but he wasn’t serving food in the standard ways or times as he typically does, just as happens to me when I throw a party.
  • Satisfying guests’ pallets. Each chef had to think carefully about how to create an amazing one-bite experience for tasters in a way that both represented their restaurant’s style and catered to the pallets of those at the tasting. At the Parkside tasking the chef had to do that 8 times to show the breadth-and-depth of his menu. When I plan a menu for a finger-food party, I too want to create great one-bite experiences that my guests will enjoy and that fit within their overall taste preferences, and the combine all of those one-bites into a menu that works well together. I want to reflect well on my own skills but ultimately the goal is to make the taster’s happy.

So given that professional chefs run into the same sorts of issues that home cooks do when it’s time to feed a crowd, what can we learn from their years of experience with such things?

  • Make everything one bite. This simple but key advice comes from chefs Stewart Scruggs and Mark Paul of Zoot. What makes this particularly interesting is their offering that night was fried wonton wrapper filled with cabbage and topped with a marinated slice of beef tenderloin. It was exceptionally tasty but actually larger than one bite and I heard more than one person comment that it was bigger than they would have liked. When I talked with the chefs, they admitted were they to make the dish again they would make it smaller so it would be easier to eat. This doesn’t mean that you have to turn out thousands of mini-dishes for a party. Bread slices, dips, cheese, fruits and veggies, and a variety of other foods can all be managed in a single bite as long as you prepare them the right way. A previous blog post I put together on a holiday party menu shows this philosophy in action.
  • Choose food that is easy to eat and prepare. Chefs Teresa Wilson and Robert Brady from Aquarelle provided this advice that is in line with the recommendations from the Zoot crew but also adds the element of easy preparation. Keeping with this philosophy, the chefs offered new potatoes topped with shrimp and drizzled with a blue cheese sauce. For the Stars Across Texas event each restaurant only had to prepare one item, but when I’m throwing the party I’m on the hook for almost all of the food so ease of preparation is even more important. To me, an easy-to-prepare recipes has a manageable ingredient list (say no more than 7 or 8 ingredients), includes prep-ahead elements, and doesn’t require extensive plating or assembly. My recipe at the end of this post, Tiny Twice-Baked Chorizo and Manchego Potatoes meets all of these criteria.
  • Focus on what’s fresh and available. Chef Tristan White from Asti offers this advice which is particularly important if you’re interested in avoiding processed food and supporting local and sustainable agriculture. His offering at Stars Across Texas was the epitome of this advice: bruschetta with fava bean puree, ramps, and crispy guanciale. The fava beans and ramps were a beautiful green and just screamed “spring” to the eyes and taste buds. While I can’t base every single dish at a party on fresh and local ingredients – budget and time are at issues as well – I do try to include them were practical and in at least one or two star dishes.
  • Be ready to be flexible. At the Parkside tasting, chef Shawn Cirkiel reminded me that flexibility has to be part of your vocabulary if you’re planning to feed a slew o’ people. The night of the blogger party he was short staffed and having to serve a full restaurant along with the blogging hoard. If he hadn’t told us though, we never would have known. His menu was expertly executed because he adjusted to circumstances by tweaking dishes and preparation approaches. In the end, guests are there for whatever great food you serve them, not the great food you’d planned to serve them.
  • Make what you like. Every chef I talked to at the Stars Across Texas Event and at the Parkside tasting offered this pearl of wisdom in some form or another. In the end, cooking and entertaining are a creative expression of the chef’s passion. While I always try to keep my party guests’ likes (and dislikes) firmly in mind, in the end I cook food that I like for parties because I want to share what I enjoy with others.

More About These Great Foodie Events

Before I jump into one of my tried-and-true entertaining recipes, here are some links to other articles and posts about both the Stars Across Texas event.

If you’re in Austin as a local or just as a visitor, you really should make a point to visit Parkside. The restaurant is bright and comfortable, and the food is just incredible. The chef’s focus on fresh ingredients, particularly raw seafood, shows in every dish. I’ve reviewed a few of my favorite offerings from the tasting and a previous visit on Dishola, and my fellow bloggers have some nice things to say as well.

Recipe: Tiny Twice-Baked Chorizo and Manchego Potatoes

Stuffed single-bite potatoes are great for any party because they hold well, can be made ahead of time, and the basic recipe is really a blank slate for just about any savory flavor combination you can come up with. My favorite is Spanish-inspired chorizo and manchego, but you could be more traditional with cheddar, bacon, and chives or even think ballpark with chile and cheese. Really, if you would put it on a baked potato, you can put it in this twice-baked potato recipe.


  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Serves: Makes 30
  • Active Prep Time: 45 min
  • Inactive Prep Time: 45 min
  • Cook Time: 20 min


  • 30 small red or white potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 8 oz. good quality manchego cheese, shredded
  • 5 oz. Spanish chorizo, diced
  • 1 c. crème fraiche
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Chives for garnish


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Toss the potatoes with olive oil then sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. Spread the potatoes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 40 – 45 minutes or until cooked through.
  4. Cool the potatoes until you can easily handle them.
  5. Cut the top ¼ off of each potato and discard. Use a small spoon or tiny melon-baller to scoop the flesh from each potato, leaving the skin as a “bowl” to refill later.
  6. Put the potato flesh in a mixing bowl and return the skins to the baking sheet.
  7. Combine the potato flesh, shredded cheese, chorizo, and crème fraiche in the mixing bowl and stir until smooth(ish). Taste and add salt and pepper as needed for seasoning.
  8. Stuff each skin with the potato mixture, mounding the mixture on top of each skin.
  9. Return the potatoes to the oven and bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until heated through.
  10. Snip chives over the potatoes for a pretty garnish.

Recipe for Success

  • You can make the potatoes through step 8 up to 24 hours in advance. Cover the potatoes on the baking sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Set out about 20 minutes before baking to allow the potatoes to come to room temperature before you put them in the oven.
  • These potatoes hold their heat well for a party, but if you can, serve them in a warming dish so the cheese stays gooey and melty.

Manchego on Foodista Learn more about manchego cheese


  1. Great post, great blog! So very glad you wrote about this, such great insight.

  2. Terrific info! These are certainly all issues that we have to deal with when throwing a party, professional chef or not.