The Easiest Way To Cook For A Crowd, According To Chef Andre Rush

If anyone knows the ins and outs of cooking for large crowds, it would be former White House Executive Chef Andre Rush. The executive mansion is home to three kitchens, the Daily Meal notes, and the kitchen staff can whip up full meals to up to 140 guests, or hors d'oeuvres for over 1,000 (via The White House).

While most normal home chefs are unlikely to host dinner parties for anywhere near that many people, cooking for a crowd can still pose big challenges. Rush recently pointed out to Insider some of the biggest mistakes home cooks make when planning and cooking large meals for family and friends.

His biggest tip is just for people to put together a comprehensive plan for the entire meal beforehand, knowing exactly how many guests, any food allergies/preferences, and taking the time to break down serving sizes, down to the amount of ingredients per person. It's particularly important, he told Insider, if you're on a budget. "You can make the most expensive-tasting and -looking dish with the least amount of money if you only do your research." All that planning will allow you to determine exactly how much you need to shop for, as Rush noted that overbuying is one of the most common mistakes home chefs make when cooking for large groups. Similarly, he highlighted the need to plan beverages, particularly alcohol like wine and beer, and make sure you have enough per person for the entire evening.

Prepare as much as you can ahead of time

Most home chefs have only so many burners and oven space available in their kitchen, so once you know what's on your menu, you can also plan if there are any items that you can make ahead of time and reheat or finish cooking on the day of the event. But even on the big day, Rush suggests that you arrange all your ingredients before you start cooking. "I tell people go ahead and get your 'mise en place,' get everything together, know ... what you have, and then also prep days ahead of time," he told Insider.

"Mise-en-place," NPR notes, means "to put in place" and is a French cooking term referring to the process of preparing your ingredients — and your kitchen equipment, bowls, and other tools — before you start cooking so you can easily find what you need. Doing grunt work like chopping vegetables and pre-measuring ingredients ahead of time streamlines the cooking process. It's such a fundamental aspect of professional cooking that celebrity chef Alton Brown even wrote a song about it, set to the tune of "Edelweiss" which he performed on his "Eat Your Science" tour (via NJ Arts).

Avoid over-seasoning and under-practicing

One of the biggest mistakes home chefs consistently make is using too much seasoning — particularly salt — on their food when cooking. Andre Rush told Insider, "Another big thing people do is they over-season their food. That's the worst, worst, worst possible thing they could possibly do. I tell people you can always add to, but you can't take away."

But Rush's most important tip of all is to know your abilities and plan a menu that matches your own skill set. Preparing to host a large meal is not the time to try to learn new techniques in the kitchen or experiment with recipes or ingredients. He noted to Insider, "I make things look simple all the time ... It's simple to me because I've done it a lot of times," he said. 

But unless you've worked on learning the skills ahead of time, the chef notes, you're setting yourself up for failure. "You're trying to chop the same way I'm chopping, or you're trying to tie the same way I'm tying, but you didn't practice on it." Without the correct technique, particularly in regard to knife work, things can really go awry. "[People] don't know how to hold their blades when they're cutting things," he stated, or "They don't know how to claw it." (Presumably, "claw it" refers to the gripping technique to keep their knife aligned correctly, per the Wüsthof website). Not knowing how safely grip a knife can lead to injury.