At my first Thanksgiving dinner party nearly ten years ago in Milan, the turkey caught on blazing-fire inside my tiny 1950s oven. Last year, our 21st-century Gaggenhau short-circuited itself at 4pm, four hours before 45 people were descending on my home to be fed. Two years ago, our bartender got so drunk that he stumbled out of the party before it actually ended. This year, the frames and floor boarding of the five doors from our living and dining room to our terrace were completely ripped off (we were mid-house renovation), leaving jagged edged holes of exposed raw cement.
But you know what? Not a single one of these mishaps ruined the party. In fact, they not only became engrossing talking points for our fun-loving guests, but have also become part of the annual event’s legend, lore and reason to return. Our guests, who now number 50 people, like the casual, family-style vibe where the food is serious but the mood is not. No one cares that there are never enough chairs, or that all my napkins are different, or that the kitchen is a mess, or if someone arrives two hours late.
This laissez-faire attitude towards entertaining is a priceless nugget I learned a long time ago from the Italians: Yes, you should plan and carefully prepare your events, but then just relax, let go of trying to control it and let the beast unfold the way the universe wants it to. Everyone is happier for it, and major problems end up resolving themselves.
Preparing a dinner for 45 Italians is not as hard as it looks. Luckily, the Italians eat half as much as Americans do. I begin two weeks prior, hunting down exotic ingredients (like the turkeys, cranberries and sweet potatoes) that need to be special ordered. Around 10 days prior, I send out a save the date via email (Italians are also conveniently last-minute planners so no need to book anyone way in advance). A week prior I make desserts and freeze them. Three days prior I do all of the shopping and assign the housekeeper extra hours for chopping duty. When the turkeys come into the butcher shop Thursday morning, I drive over and leave a huge plastic bag of my home-made stuffing that they deliver, together with the birds, to Giacomo Bistrot. Since I have only a single oven, the restaurant cooks the turkeys and delivers them to our house during the Thanskgiving aperitivo hour. I hire two waiters, a bartender and the housekeeper and her cousin to do all the man power during the event.
When chaos strikes, and it inevitably does, friends can always come to the rescue. When your oven breaks down, for instance, call a catering friend (or look one up) and have them send over a rental oven that plugs into the wall. When the barman passes out in a nearby park, your guests will be more than happy to serve themselves. And when your home-renovation plans are two months delayed, leaving your house in a raw construction-zone state, do not cancel the party; simply smile on the chaos and your guests will too.
“This is totally cool,” said the architect Fabio Novembre, the first guest this year to arrive, as he glanced at our torn down wall. “I think you should keep it like this.”
– J.J. Martin