Restaurateur Lou Lambert’s casual-cool dinner parties reflect true Southern hospitality and encourage ultimate unwinding among guests. His recipe for comfort? Simplicity and informality.
Here are his mantras:
1. Build an Easy Menu
Turn to tried-and-true recipes—even if it’s a basic roasted chicken or beef stew. Lambert often braises or roasts meat for easy reheating and to feed a crowd. He frequently hosts potlucks—and isn’t afraid to supplement with pre-made dishes.
On the menu with Lou Lambert:
- Wood-roasted chicken
- Fresh pasta with lemon, mint, parmesan, and sugar snap peas
- Grilled rapini drizzled with toasted garlic oil
- Chop salad of romaine, kale, radicchio, almond, avocado, and a creamy dijon lemon vinaigrette
- Crusty sourdough bread
- Apple and blackberry crostata with lemon curd whipped cream
Apple and Blackberry Crostata
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
10 tablespoons (5 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cubed
¼ cup ice water
3 McIntosh or Gala apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ½-inch wedges
1 cup (5 ounces) blackberries
Juice and zest of ½ lemon
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Egg wash & sugar for dusting
Directions for Crust
Place the flour, salt, and sugar in bowl of a food processor fitted with steel blade. Pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse until butter is pea-size. With motor running, add ¼ cup ice water through feed tube. Pulse to combine, but stop before dough comes together. Wrap dough in large sheet of plastic wrap, forming into a flat, round disk, and refrigerate for an hour. Preheat oven to 400°. Roll pastry into a 14-inch circle on floured surface. Move to baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Directions for Filling
Peel, core, and slice apples; toss with lemon juice and zest. Combine sugar, salt, flour, and cinnamon. Toss ¾ of sugar mixture with apples to coat. Arrange apple slices on dough, leaving a 2 ½-inch border. Toss blackberries with remaining mixture and arrange on top of apples. Sprinkle remaining sugar mixture on top of fruit. Cut tablespoon of butter in three pieces and place on fruit. Fold edges of dough up and over. Brush dough with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake in middle of oven, rotating every 30 minutes, until fruit syrup bubbles and crust is golden brown, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Allow crostata to slightly cool and serve with lemon curd whipped cream.
An unflustered host makes for relaxed guests. Lambert practices the chef’s mantra “mise en place,” or “everything in place,” which means thoughtfully planning every detail. He pre-chops veggies, makes sauces, and even halfway cooks butterflied chickens for easy day-of, on-the-grill crisping.
3. Invite Casual Mingling
Lambert serves pitchers with a signature cocktail in the kitchen, alongside beer and wine, to eliminate formality. And whether cooking outdoors or in, he invites guests to accompany him. “People like to see a little action in the kitchen—it gives the impression that you’ve slaved over the stove all day—so light your grill or finish something on the stovetop,” he says.
4. Skip the Tray Pass
“We always set out a charcuterie board with cheese, meats, and crudités on it, or if there are fewer guests, we will scatter bowls of mixed nuts,” Lambert says.
5. Create Understated Ambiance
Lambert often rents glassware, china, silver, and linens for larger parties and trades decadent arrangements for potted plants and candles.