Table set for dinner party with turkey  and glasses of water

Cooking for a big crowd is something anyone can tackle, whether you’re a seasoned chef or just starting out in the kitchen. It’s a fun challenge that lets you wow and feed a bunch of people, all while making amazing food memories. Whether it’s a family reunion, a festive holiday meal, or a summer BBQ get-together, cooking for a crowd is all about planning ahead, getting creative, and keeping things organized. These tips from Hollyhock Cooks: Food to Nourish Body, Mind and Soil will help you to make your next big cooking adventure a delicious success!

Cooking for large numbers of people can be intimidating, exhilarating, and one of life’s greatest ways to nurture a lot of people at the same time. Hollyhock has twenty years of experience in this genre of meal preparation. Here are a few tricks we’ve picked up along the way to make cooking for large numbers a success.

Four people are raising their glasses in a toast over a beautifully decorated table, which is adorned with plates of vegetables, pie, and fruits.
  1. TAKE A MOMENT TO VISUALIZE THE MEAL. Visualize the complete array of colors, tastes and textures. 
  1. CHECK YOUR SERVING PLATTERS. Make sure you have the utensils and dishes to realize your vision. 
  1. GAUGE YOUR ENERGY. From that, plan the menu. If you have a lot of energy and can’t wait to dig your hands into something creative, you can choose a complex meal. If you’re feeling more like taking a nap in the hammock, keep it simple. 
A woman stirs a pot on the burner in her white kitchen.
  1. CONSIDER YOUR OVEN SPACE. How many items that you’re doing will need to be in the oven? Will they all need to be in the oven during the last hour? Can some dishes be cooked and kept at room temperature? If the oven space is taken, think of dishes that you can heat on the stove or that don’t need heating.

    If you are cooking any quickbread or cake, only make as much batter as your oven can hold. If you need more cake or quickbread than your oven can cook at once, bake in shifts, waiting to make the batter for the second shift until the first set of cakes are cooked. As soon as the wet ingredients are added to the dry, the baking soda or powder are activated, so you can have wet and dry ingredients separately prepared and waiting to be combined. 
A sink filled with dirty dishes and cutlery.
  1. EXPECT A CRISIS. Cooking for large numbers is intense, all-absorbing and can be wildly creative. Don’t be surprised if, as the time nears for your guests to arrive, you cook yourself into a frenzy and for a moment you think it’s not coming together. It probably will. That’s part of the creative process and what it often takes to get a big meal on the table.
  1. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT FOR LARGE NUMBERS. The Hollyhock kitchen has 15 big bins. When we’re making salad, we put it immediately into the bin and we know one bin will feed 60 people. Two heaping bins are going to feed 140. We have a mixer that mixes enough dough for 15 loaves of bread, batter for 9 cakes and whips cream for 120 cream puffs.

    You probably don’t own a comparable piece of equipment, but who does? A big stainless steel bowl can accomplish the same task, it just takes a little more muscle. But think about how many pots, pans and bowls you’ll need for the entire process. You may find yourself knocking on a neighbor’s door to borrow a few more cake pans. What a great way to build community while making a great meal. 
A pot and a sauce pan sit on a gas stove, and another pot sits off the burner.
  1. MULTIPLY QUANTITIES. Most of the recipes in this book can be sim- ply multiplied to feed a large crowd. Soups are practically foolproof when it comes to expanding numbers. Some breads and pastries won’t work this way, however. Be particularly cautious about simply multiplying salt quantities in all recipes. Consult your local chef for guidelines about how much yeast and salt to use when baking bread for large numbers. 
Six people gather around a kitchen island, smiling and prepping a past dinner while drinking wine.
  1. ENLIST HELP AND HAVE FUN. The Hollyhock kitchen thrives on good conversation, laughter and great music. In order to prepare meals for between 70 and 100 people, Hollyhock needs two cooks, a preparation person and someone just to do the dishes and clean up. Good company, space to work, having people around who are excited about food, and some great music, make it fun to feed large numbers. Get your hands into it. Food feels good.
  1. PACE YOURSELF. Plan a menu that includes items that can be prepared beforehand. We’re always working to deadlines to get the meals on the table. We’re seldom late. To keep stress levels down and spirits high, we keep things manageable. We know there’s going to be a main dish, a side dish, and sometimes two salads. It’s important that we have at least one cold salad done well ahead of time that can chill in the refrigerator. A cold noodle dish can also be done beforehand, as well as bread. That leaves the last minutes for freshly cooked items, entrées and especially seafood. But the trick is to pace the day. 
Beautifully garnished assortment of pasta dishes (lasagna, rigatoni, fettuccini pizza, salad, sandwiches and pastries)
  1. ALLOW TIME TO MAKE IT LOOK BEAUTIFUL. Be sure there’s adequate opportunity to put out flowers, sprinkle edible blossoms on dishes, and set the table in a visually wonderful way. We all love to eat beautiful food. 
  1. MAKE THE SPREAD LOOK ABUNDANT. It will seem like you’ve prepared a feast even if you’re short on some dishes. What strikes people first when they come to a meal is the look of the food on the table. After you’ve laid out the meal, accent the main dishes with bowls of olives, spreads and fresh loaves of bread.
Fresh baked bread cut and cooling on a cutting board.


  • Offer an entrée that is portioned in its serving tray, so people aren’t tempted to overindulge.
  • Increase the soup by adding whatever vegetables are left in the refrigerator and by putting in more broth.
  • Put on a pot of pasta and place the gourmet entrée at the end of the buffet. That way everyone will fill their plates with the more plentiful items and take delicate portions of what’s at the end.
  • Put out smaller plates, if possible. We all fill our plates, whatever their size when the food looks good.

About the Author

Linda Solomon is an award-winning journalist and freelancer whose work has been widely published; she is also a contributing editor to Body and Soul Magazine.

Moreka Jolar has been a chef at Hollyhock for 15 years. She is co-author of the bestselling cookbook, Hollyhock Cooks.

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