Feel fancy and not-so-fancy all at once.

By Stacey Ballis
December 19, 2019

Over the years I have always struggled with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. On the one hand, I love to eat and drink them. On the other hand, they can be tough. Usually they are preceding a dinner that you have also worked very hard to put together, and it would be preferable for your guests to arrive at the table both hungry and sober. 

Plus guests coming to dinner have likely been somewhat moderate in their eating earlier in the day in anticipation, if not downright deprived, so they are arriving both hungry and thirsty and it is very difficult to be in any way moderate during the cocktail hour. For years as a host, I watched platters of canapes empty and pitchers of drinks evaporate and then sat at table with guests who are already buzzy and sated, and ended the evening with piles of leftovers and half-finished bottles of open wine.

So, we made a decision. We would either have cocktail parties, with heavy hors d’oeuvres and festive drinks, or we would have dinner parties, but we would no longer try to combine them both. And since we would almost always rather host a sit-down dinner, for the conversation and laughter and connection that they engender, we made a serious shift in our pre-dinner program. We serve champagne and potato chips. Full stop.

Champagne and potato chips are best, best friends. They are a match made in heaven. And not just Champagne, but prosecco and other kinds of sparkling wine that leans to the drier side. We stick to thin, crispy, lightly salted chips, no fancy flavor. Our favorite brand is Old Dutch, a company based out of Minnesota, that makes a lovely thin chip that is not greasy, has great potato flavor and not too much salt. Utz out of Pennsylvania is also a good choice, but your basic Lay’s original works just fine. They are naturally dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan, so unless you have a guest who has a potato allergy, you are good to go for anyone who is attending your fete.

This is especially a great trick for holiday entertaining, when our impulse is to put out three meals worth of appetizers before the main event. But whether you are headed for a Thanksgiving Turkey, or a Christmas Ham, or a New Year’s prime rib, champagne and potato chips are the perfect starter.

We put them out in small bowls where everyone can reach them but no one would feel like grabbing a huge handful. This is our go-to move whether we have one couple coming over for a weeknight supper, or the fanciest of Saturday night dinner parties. Our friends have come to expect it, it is our signature, and many have adopted the practice for themselves. It helps make you a much more relaxed host, knowing that when the guests arrive, all you need are some bowls and a bag of chips and a bottle or two of bubbly, and the party is officially started.

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