Host Christmas Day Like A Pro With Alex Head of Social Pantry

Alex Head, founder of London's Social Pantry shares her expert tips on how to host Christmas like a pro

If you’re in charge of the turkey this year then you may well be feeling the pressure, but fear not! Chef, hostess with the mostest and founder of one of London’s coolest catering companies Alex Head is here to give us her expert advice on how to entertain like a pro this Christmas, and how to master the art of cooking lunch on the all-important day.

Considering it’s just one single day out of the 365 in the year, there is an immense amount of pressure surrounding Christmas. Now don’t get me wrong – I also believe it to be the very best time of year; friends, family, presents, plenty of delicious food and maybe just a splash of wine (ahem), but if you’re the one hosting, it can be very daunting and somewhat stressful. Luckily, Alex Head - talented chef, expert host and founder of super cool catering company Social Pantry - is on hand to divulge her infinite expertise and indispensable advice on how to entertain like a pro come December 25th.  

“It’s hard not to feel a sense of dread when it comes to entertaining at Christmas, whatever the size! And I think so much pressure and emphasis are placed on the meals, particularly on Christmas Day” she explains.

“But I love Christmas time! And this year has been a really busy one for me so, I’m can’t wait to head home and spend some quality time with my family.”

When Alex says that this year has been a ‘really busy’ one – she’s not exaggerating. Her cool catering company Social Pantry has expanded enormously with multiple sites across London, the biggest one being their very own 100-seater restaurant Soane’s Kitchen in Ealing, situated within the walled garden which once belonged to Sir John Soanes’ former home, Pitzhanger Manor. Social Pantry has also recently become the sole catering partner for the next five years at Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery.

“This is an exciting step for Social Pantry  and a reflection of my amazing team and their hard work” Alex explains proudly. “And on a personal note I got a puppy!” she beams.

“Her name is Waffle. Full name - Waffle Head! She is gorgeous, and we go visit all the sites together, so she’s a popular face amongst staff members and our regulars!”

After an action-packed 2018, Christmas seems to have arrived in record time, and whilst it may come just once a year, we all still feel the pressure. There’s present planning, Christmas shopping (and not to mention spending…), writing cards, orchestrating the office secret Santa, juggling social engagements and then of course there is the actual day itself to consider.

In reality, Christmas is just another day same as any other; there is little difference between hosting lunch on Christmas Day and your normal roast with friends and family at home on a Sunday, yet still there are countless of tales of burnt turkeys, undercooked sprouts, flaming Christmas puddings (and not in a good way) and various other Christmas-specific kitchen nightmares that we’ve all heard about, or even experienced first-hand. 

“Everyone always feels the pressure on the 25th but they really shouldn’t! Everyone should enjoy being cooked for and should be forgiving, especially at Christmas time” says Alex.

“I think the pressure that comes with Christmas Day entertaining often involves feeding a larger group and wider family, and in addition there are lots of timings to remember and numerous elements which need to come together at once for the main meal” she adds.

“I’ve hosted Christmas Day a few times before and there was definitely a sense of pressure to perform and make sure everything looked bang on, but I now have a few key tips up my sleeve which never fail me, and it means I can relax and enjoy the day!”

And like the arrival of an early Christmas present, seasoned pro Alex has kindly divulged these expert tips with Toast.life for you feast your eyes on, so that you can plan and host with ease this season, and enjoy a happy, delicious and stress-free Christmas Day this year. Hooray!


Keep Calm and Christmas On 

My three top tips for entertaining on Christmas Day which I swear by are;

  • Keep It Simple. This means less time in the kitchen, there’s no one waiting for you to join them at the table and you can relax and enjoy the day with everyone else. 
  • Prepare The Day Before. I always prepare as much as I can before the big day.
  • Keep It Fool Proof (this means I can keep drinking throughout the day!) 

The Power Of Prep 

My fridge and freezer become my best friend when it comes to entertaining. I’ll always make my dips, stuffing and sauces ahead. And the day before I’ll prepare the vegetables so that on Christmas Day, there’s minimal time spent prepping or locked away in the kitchen.

Crowd Pleasing Canapé

My big Christmas canapé hit is a fail-safe smoked trout pâté, which can be kept in the freezer and is always the first dish in my house to get eaten. Another crowd pleaser and a great one for the kids to get involved with is to make homemade sausage rolls – there’s nothing better than warm pastry! 
Social Pantry Canapes

Simple Starters

I either do a simple pâté as a starter with lovely bread, or if I’m not doing starters then I opt for make-ahead dips, simple fillings and snacks which guests can enjoy with a cocktail or glass of wine in hand, whilst being able to move around and relax. I often make cheese straws with my nephew a few days before and pop them into the freezer (uncooked) and then cook them on the day. 
Social Pantry Dips
Social Pantry Menu Design
Social Pantry Christmas Menu

Magic Mains

For the main course I’m all about big sharing dishes placed along the table so that everyone can help themselves, but again keeping it simple. My focus would be on serving up a crowd-pleasing centre piece with lots of sides that everyone can tuck into throughout the meal. 
Social Pantry Sharing
Social Pantry Sharing Menu

Perfect Puds 

For pudding I always have a fridge or freezer friendly option which requires minimal prep ahead of serving. Just remember to take it out to soften before serving! Cheese is another great pudding, I always ask everyone to bring their favourite cheese and I provide the crackers and chutneys. 
Social Pantry Dessert

Vegan Treats

When cooking for vegans I always do a whole roasted cauliflower, cover it in harissa or rub with spices, then roast like you would turkey and serve with a cumin yogurt. This can be enjoyed with all the other sides, so rather than trying to cook lots of different dishes to suit everyone, I would create one meal that everyone can tuck into as this reduces time spent in the kitchen and potentially getting things wrong, which instead means you can relax and enjoy the day! 
Social Pantry Menu Design
Social Pantry Sharing Salad

Serve In Style

I’m a big believer in sharing dishes so I love using long shallow platters which make it easy for everyone to tuck into and, if there’s a lot of us around the table, I’ll have a few of the same dish down the table so there doesn’t have to be lots of passing around of plates. I love adding a splash of colour to my dishes at Christmas which make them more festive, such as pomegranate seeds and blood orange segments in my salad. 
Social Pantry Salad

Delightful Decor 

I’m all about simplicity, so opting for a few key features on my table that don’t get in the way of people talking or big sharing dishes is what I aim for. I’ll always lay the table on Christmas Eve so it’s one less thing to worry about the next day, and I usually opt for some natural foliage. Ivy works well and lots of pretty tea lights down the table and obviously, Christmas isn’t Christmas without the crackers! (You can find Toast’s Pick of Best crackers for this year over on TheEdit now). 
Social Pantry Alex Head Styling
Table Styling Alex Head

Don't Blow Away the Budget

By planning and preparing ahead, it means you’ll have a good idea of what you’ll be feeding your guests on the day so won’t be panic buying and spending unnecessarily. Buy a few good quality products like your meat and dairy so you don’t need to dress it up with lots of other bits and bobs. 

Finishing Touches

Name places are a great finishing touch, I always use a gold or silver pen to write name places on leaves - it’s fun, cheap and easy. Putting a spring of rosemary through the napkin holder is another affordable and simple trick that adds an extra touch.  
Social Pantry Setting Tables

Social Pantry Place Setting

And Finally…

Stay calm and enjoy it - you’ve got this! 

If you’d like to work with Alex and Social Pantry on your next event you can find more information and contact details on their page in Toast.Life’s Little Black Book.


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