The Setup

Stella Celentano

My friends and I decided to host a dinner party for some of our mentors at church. They have poured so much into us and we decided, what better way to thank them than with a home-cooked meal! We told them all to dress in semi-formal attire but gave them few other details of the evening’s events.

They were definitely surprised when we invited them in through the front door all wearing professional waiter outfits (black pants, white button-downs, and slicked-back hair), and walked them to their seats arm-in-arm. We set the mood by burning a candle, playing jazz music, and setting up name cards at all of their place settings. We also set up a QR code for them to access the menu. Their favorite detail was the “kitchen sounds ASMR” we had playing from the kitchen to mimic a hectic Michelin kitchen. They could tell we had been watching too much of The Bear when they heard us echo “Yes, chef” at our friend Logan, the assigned head chef for the evening.

Stella Celentano

We had five guests over to our house for dinner, however all seven of us servers and chefs also ate the full meal, so I am considering this a dinner party of twelve. As college students, it was important to us to keep this meal low-budget while still impressing our grown-up guests. We did this by sticking with water as our only beverage, buying the majority of our ingredients from Aldi, and relying on pasta as our cheap and filling main course. In the end, it came out to $77 total, so each of us only had to contribute $11.

The Menu

Stella Celentano

We crafted a three-course meal for our guests, plus garlic bread to start. First, they had the option of a spring mix salad or a Caesar salad. To save money, we bought bagged Caesar salads and for the spring mix, we just added nuts and a homemade dressing.

Stella Celentano

The second course was a build-your-own pasta where the guests had the choice of cacio e pepe, cajun, or alfredo with either chicken or shrimp. All three sauces were homemade and delicious. The cacio e pepe was served with spaghetti, the cajun with rigatoni, and the alfredo with fettuccine. Everyone also got a serving of oven-roasted asparagus.

The final course was dessert. We bought four different kinds of premade desserts from Trader Joe’s and served each guest a sampler plate with one small piece of each. Each dessert represented one of our guests and we came to the table to explain why it reminded us of them. We had a chocolate babka for Zach, a chantilly cream vanilla bean cake for Raychel and Austin, a brookie for Riley, and a maple coffee cake for Rachael. This added a personal touch to the meal that made our guests feel appreciated and loved.

Stella Celentano

No Michelin Star Quite Yet

The biggest problem we ran into was our timing. We decided to cook all of the meals once our guests had already arrived and “ordered” for maximum freshness. Because our petite kitchen only has two burners, we had to cook each pasta individually and couldn’t work on all three at once. The three dishes were done at varying times and we ended up serving some to our guests 15 minutes before the others were even ready so that they wouldn’t get cold. 

We should have prepped the chicken and maybe the cajun and alfredo sauces in advance. Or if we want to do made-to-order again in the future, we should keep the plates in the kitchen until all of them are done by reheat whatever needs to be reheated so that all of the guests get to eat at the same time. We took advantage of delay time in between courses by providing live entertainment like skits, musical numbers, and an interactive haiku writing activity.

As every good dinner party does, the night ended with a sentimental toast thanking our guests for their investment in us as creatives, musicians, and people. The next time you want to show appreciation for your loved ones, consider serving them a meal and enjoying time together around the dining room table.