The #1 Mistake You're Making When Hosting a Dinner Party, According to Ina Garten & Nigella Lawson

Of all the things discussed during the New York City stop on Lawson's book tour, the most intriguing was the duos take on the biggest mistake you're making when hosting a dinner party. Read on to learn what is it, plus 5+ other topics that caught our attention.

a collage of Nigella Lawson and Ina Garten beside each other
Photo: Lawson: Courtesy Photo. Garten: Patrick McMullan/Getty Images.

After their legions of fans—the line wrapped around the block of the Kings Theater in Brooklyn, New York—were all seated with wine in hand, Nigella Lawson and Ina Garten strode out onto the stage to rapturous applause. Lawson wore a fuchsia pantsuit, and Garten was in all-black with her collar popped, of course. That night in November was the first time the two had met in person. The meeting was arranged as part of Lawson's book tour for her latest cookbook, Cook, Eat, Repeat. The evening was billed as a "conversation" between the titans of home cooking, and, as it happens, Garten has a new book out as well: Go-To Dinners.

The two spoke for more than an hour and covered a wide range of subjects—the most intriguing of which was their take on the mistake you're making when hosting a dinner party. Read on to learn what is it, plus 5+ other topics that caught our attention.

The #1 Mistake You're Making When Hosting a Dinner Party

You're spending too much time cooking. "The host needs to be a part of the party," says Garten, and Nigella advises, "The mixture of people is most important. If the best thing you can talk about is the food, it's not a good evening. You want the food to be lovely, but it's there for everything else."

Lawson and Garten, who both got into the food media business at least in part because they love a good dinner party, suggest that you not aim to impress with the meal, but keep it simple and cook what you want to eat. And keep the courses to a minimum so you're not up and down clearing and resetting the table and cleaning all night long. "I hate clearing the table," says Ina, who likes to keep her dinner parties to just one course—the main course. She'll allow an additional course, like an easy salad or a cheese or dessert course, though.

"Doing the dishes is harder than cooking," Lawson says, and "the things that won't go in the dishwasher can wait. I can go to bed with a messy kitchen. I'm a great soaker of things." So, don't just cut down on the complexity of what you're cooking and the courses, but cut yourself some slack too and enjoy the time with your guests.

When coming up with a guest list, both women say to keep it to six to eight people, and, "pick people you know will enjoy each other's company," Garten says.

Lawson prefers a very casual dinner party: "PJs, slipper socks and no makeup: if you like that, come to my dinner party. I've barely moved beyond elasticated waistbands and Birkenstocks." We're in!

However, the two did disagree on whether or not to play music during a dinner party. Garten likes to have some music, but Lawson says, "I can't do music, except when cleaning up to disco." But they were both in agreement regarding cocktails. When Garten said that a dinner party needs "good cocktails," the audience cheered. Lawson suggested making the cocktails as easy as possible by making them ahead and using a jug or pitcher so guests may serve themselves.

5+ Other Things That Caught Our Attention

1. Lawson & Garten's perfect day, respectively

"I like alone days," says Lawson. A great day for her starts with a cup of tea and then she's straight back to bed, possibly to check Twitter. After that, she's ready to proof some bread. Then it's time for some exercise (via Zoom) with "Eric the Viking," her Swedish trainer. "I used to go to yoga, and I don't do jumping up and down, so now I do weights," Lawson says. Then she's back to the bread for its second rise, followed by a lay on the sofa with some more tea, deciding what to do next: "Read? Walk? No, I already exercised. You practically have to get me in a wheelbarrow to get me out of the house."

On the other hand, Ina says she is more of a morning person and likes to be "done" by 1 P.M. "I like to follow my nose and have nothing to do."

2. The go-to dish they have in common

Coincidentally, both Lawson and Garten have the same go-to dish that they turn to when they need a simple and satisfying dinner: chicken in a pot. Garten's version uses dill and saffron, whereas Lawson uses chile flakes, tarragon and lemon. Both use orzo that cooks in the same pot with the chicken. "Everything should be spritzed with chicken fat," says Lawson.

3. Lawson & Garten's all-time favorite desserts

Both of Garten's favorite desserts made it into her Go-To book. The chocolate tart was inspired by Chef Erin French's Maine restaurant and her Magnolia Network TV show of the same name, The Lost Kitchen. As you may know, she is also partial to pound cake, which she thinks is "really fantastic."

Lawson loves plain cakes, too, or what she calls "cut-and-come-again cakes," rather than flamboyant cakes. "I like quiet, comforting cakes with simple flavors like lemon zest and vanilla." As you might know if you have her book Feast, her absolute favorite cake in this style is lemon meringue.

4. A disagreement over Thanksgiving spreads

One comment that drew an audible level of shock from the crowd was Garten's statement that, "I don't like stuffing in the turkey; I make a savory bread pudding instead." Which is fine by us and Lawson too, but they disagreed over salad. "Salad is my least favorite for Thanksgiving," says Garten, while Lawson asserted that a salad of bitter greens provides a nice contrast to the usual dishes found on the holiday table, and we agree!

5+ other tidbits

Here are few more things that came up in the conversation that we thought you'd like to know:

  • The cocktail that Garten had never drunk before this year: A martini, which she had at 9 a.m. with Stanley Tucci for his show Searching for Italy.
  • The cooking task that Lawson cannot stand: Peeling garlic.
  • The best thing that Jeffrey cooks, according to Garten: Coffee.
  • What amuses Lawson the most about American cooking: Bacon as a side.
  • Technique you should never use, according to Garten: Drinking wine while using a mandoline.
  • Lawson's favorite midnight snack: Sourdough baguette oozing with blue cheese.
  • Favorite shows: Garten watches Borgen, The Lost Kitchen and The Crown. Lawson currently loves The Empress.
  • Favorite restaurants: Garten's favorite NYC restaurants are Laser Wolf, Lilia and Misi. Lawson's favorite restaurant in London is River Cafe.

And if you're wondering if the dynamic duo will ever be appearing on stage together again, there's a good chance the answer is yes. After Garten confirmed to the audience that it was their first time meeting in person, Lawson chimed in with, "You're stuck with me for life." Us too!

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