Let's Eat

10 Holiday Hosting Tips From TikTok’s Favorite Private Chefs

Including a budget-friendly tablecloth alternative that's actually more fun than the original.

The Joy Of The Holidays

One day, you’re a kid — wide-eyed and pouty-cheeked opening up your new toy kitchen — and the next day you’re preparing an entire holiday meal in your actual kitchen. Being the host is not a simple job. There’s a lot to do between sending out the invites, badgering cousins for RSVPs, and making sure every corner of your house is tidied up (even though there’s a low probability your mom will actually peek into your sock drawer).

With thoughtful planning, you can ensure hosting the holidays — whether it’s for your entire extended family or your chosen fam — goes off without a hitch. Just ask some of TikTok’s favorite private chefs, who have to host special occasion-caliber dinner parties all the time — it really can be done without breaking the bank or your brain. Below, read on for their best advice for saving money at the grocery store, putting together glam place settings, and making sure even your gluten-free, vegan brother-in-law can enjoy the holiday. And ensuring you do, too.

Shop Smart & Seasonally

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“What grows together, goes together,” Brooke Baevsky, known as @chefbae to her followers, tells Bustle. “Around the holidays, you have the gorgeous autumn and early winter produce in season.”

Leaning into fruits and veggies that are grown in your area during that time of year will lighten your grocery bill since those products aren’t imported. They’ll taste fresher, too. Apples, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, pears, kale, and sweet potatoes are all in season in the fall and winter and can be great jumping-off points to inspire your holiday menu.

Don’t Knock Frozen Ingredients

You can’t assume every aspect of your meal can be made with seasonal ingredients. Don’t be afraid to lean into frozen produce, says Elena Besser, who has worked in restaurants, private chef settings, and as a food host for the Today show.

“Frozen fruits and vegetables are picked and frozen at peak freshness, which allows them to be more affordable and makes sure that they taste delicious,” she says. Besser suggests using frozen berries to make compotes or jams for dessert dishes.

A Little Garnish Goes A Long Way

Simple dishes can look restaurant quality with the right garnish. Maybe it’s a fresh herb that brings out some of the seasoning of the food or even an edible flower that brightens up the plate.

“I think there’s beauty in simplicity. Micro greens add such a nutrient-dense addition to a dish but also a beautiful, aesthetically pleasing aspect,” Baevsky says. “Edible flowers you can even grow yourself, as long as they’re organic. And violas, marigolds, nasturtiums, those are all beautiful flowers that make a dish pop.”

Don’t Bat An Eye At Dietary Accommodations

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It might take some flexibility, but it’s ultimately the host’s job to ensure everyone can enjoy themselves. Karen Rosenbloom, who shares her chef vlogs at @karens_cooking on TikTok, emphasizes the importance of making your guests feel welcome. “If that means they want something different or separated, if that’s going to make them happy, that’s the job of the host to put their guests’ preferences first and make sure they feel comfortable.”

Ashley Cunningham, who cooks for athletes and other private clients in Los Angeles, says allergen-free dishes don’t have to be boring.

“Make a salad and a soup with nothing that would jeopardize anyone. For salads, I keep my vinaigrette without any dairy in it or anything creamy. And I love to add a vegetable in there,” Cunningham says. “You want something that’s pretty hearty that’ll satisfy someone if they were to not eat meat, so you could bulk their salad up. Same thing with soup; choose something that could substitute as an entree if needed and is just as appealing as something meaty or cheesy.” Soups made with butternut squash or leek and potato soup are filling options.

Besser says it’s easy to be extra courteous to guests with allergies. “Have a little version [of the main dish prepared without the allergen] so they don’t feel like you went totally out of your way to make a specific thing for them because that can be vulnerable and embarrassing.” For example, you could have each guest personally serve their cheese and nuts on a salad to let the person with the dietary restriction enjoy the food without feeling like a burden.

Secondhand Table Settings

“The tablescape is key to any dinner party,” says Faith Christensen of @faithsfresh on TikTok.

Going to vintage shops or fabric stores is a great way to find cool plates, glassware, and table linens to use for a put-together table look. Add plants, candles, and any cute knickknacks you have around the house, and you’re set.

“Tablecloths can be expensive because the fabric has been sewn so there isn’t a raw edge, but there are materials that you can cut raw and they will look nice, like a linen,” says Besser. You can even use butcher paper. “Then when you’re cleaning everything up, all you have to do is crumple it up and throw it away. You can also color on it for place settings or if you’re doing a grazing table, you could write on the paper itself.”

Lighten Up (But Not Too Much)

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“If you have your overhead lights on, it immediately turns [the room] into an office or hospital,” Besser says. Instead, dim the overhead lights and turn on any funky lamps you have around your space. To automatically take your holiday party from oversaturated to ultra-cool, light votive or pillar candles around your food spread, too.

Phone A Friend

Hosting a holiday can quickly go from being a festive fete to a full-on nightmare if you feel like you’re doing it all on your own. Don’t be afraid to lean on your guests: Ask the token bartender of your group to bring wine or a prebatched cocktail; ask your cheese-board-obsessed bestie to bring something everyone can pick on to start the night — like bread and butter or charcuterie.

Besser also says you can give your guests some sous chef work like washing and picking off fresh herbs that will be used to garnish a dish. These details make a plate feel put together but can take up unnecessary time if you try to do it all on your own.

Music Can Take Things From Good To Great

“[Music is] what gets you through the long arduous hours of prep work,” Cunningham says. While she prefers Renaissance for her chopping and washing before the big day, you can task your music buff friend with curating a playlist.

Alternatively, use a feature like Spotify’s Friend Mix to get all of your guests’ faves in one queue.

Leftovers Are A Love Language

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Nothing hits like holiday leftovers and as a host, you can give your guests the pleasure of next-day noshes as long as you prepare for it. After all, “It makes them feel like they went home with a little souvenir,” says Cunningham. Deli containers, plastic takeout containers, and paper food boxes can all be ordered in bulk on Amazon for less than $25 and make it easy to give away your food without giving away all of your nice glass meal prep containers with it.

Timing Is Everything

Even the most highly trained chefs struggle with timing a meal. While proteins should be cooked the day of to avoid toughness, and pasta should be cooked and served within the hour, per Rosenbloom, there are several things you can do in advance.

Cunningham suggests grocery shopping (with a detailed list!) up to three days before the occasion.

Foods like meatballs and casseroles can be prepped a week in advance and frozen until it’s time to reheat them. Anything that should wait until the day of, like dressing a salad or roasting meat, can have its ingredients measured out or cut ahead of time.

But even if something goes wrong despite all of the planning, making your grocery list and checking it twice, and meal prepping, find solace in the fact that your friends and family are simply grateful you opened up your home and kitchen to them during this special time of year.

“You shouldn’t obsess over making sure that everything’s perfect because — newsflash — it’s not going to be and it’s never going to be,” says Besser. “People are just happy to be there.”

Experts:

Brooke Baevsky, private chef and recipe developer known as @chefbae

Elena Besser, private chef, host

Faith Christensen, private chef known as @faithsfresh

Ashley Cunningham, private chef

Karen Rosenbloom, private chef known as @karens_cooking