Ps&Qs: Guest Chef?

Today’s very good question comes from a very funny comedian friend of mine. I’m sure he smoothed over this situation with lots of humor, but I’ve added a few ideas too per his request.

Q: My old friends P & T live in upstate New York in a big house in the Catskills. They gave me and my fiance an open invitation to visit anytime to get a break from the city.  My good friends G & D had also been wanting to leave the city, so I asked P if we could bring them along.

It was a great trip and we all got along––but there was a small hiccup. On Saturday afternoon G (who has restaurant experience as a sous chef) insisted upon handling the shopping and cooking dinner on Saturday night as a thank you to P & T.  While well intentioned, I could sense that P didn’t like being strong armed by G and essentially booted out of her own kitchen.  She relented graciously and let her guest cook. Thoughts? Advice for the next time this happens?  Good ways to handle this?

A: I try to tread lightly when first navigating in someone else’s kitchen. For some this territory is more personal than the bedroom. You know the type: they bristle as you search their drawers, tense up at your technique and can be absolutely pushed over the brink when the dishwasher is loaded the “wrong” way. For as generous as my mom is, she was the “everyone out of my kitchen” type cook. With three kids underfoot I can’t blame her for staking claim to at least one area of the house, and because of this I have sympathy for P.

However, I also applaud G’s efforts to make a big show of appreciation for P’s generosity. Perhaps next time G could still cook, but make a meal that is less the main event than dinner. Ease in with breakfast, brunch or a generous cocktail hour spread (complete with  cocktails that only a bartender with a vest and waxed moustache seems to build). For very low-impact kitchen use, offer to pack a creative picnic lunch (and gift a multipurpose market basket like the one shown above) for a group hike or day trip.

Or, avoid your host’s kitchen entirely by showing up with a few things you made at home. A coffee cake, nuts, granola or some other treat that can be enjoyed during the weekend by everyone. It’s a guaranteed way to impress without the mess or power struggle.


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