Were you asked to bring a dish to the big family gathering this year? Or were you invited to contribute to the office/church potluck? By now, everyone should know that these requests are more than just a way to source food for a holiday shindig—they are unofficial declarations of culinary war. And when it comes to competition, your goal should always be to win. So if you have yet to establish your legacy worthy dish, we’ve tracked down some of the region’s best caterers and private chefs to give you inspiration. Not only do they throw down at their own personal gatherings, they’re the ones hired to spin their magic professionally for top-notch holiday parties, too. They gifted us with their tips, insight and potluck-winning recipes to help you shine at your next event.
The Baltimore-based caterer and personal chef picked up his love for cooking from his dad and grandmother. Combining his natural creativity as an artist, the influence from his father’s Dominican Republic heritage and the American food traditions he learned from his grandmother, Perez eventually found his professional calling in the kitchen. Now five years in business, Papi’s Cuisine, which specializes in global fusion, is one of the most sought-after catering companies in the area.
What’s your favorite holiday food memory?
My favorite holiday food memory would be eating twice-baked cheddar potatoes at my grandmother’s house. She would always make sure she prepared them on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
If we were invited to your house for a holiday gathering, what should we expect?
If readers were invited to my home for a holiday meal, I would be doing the most…in the most calm, cocky, humble way possible. I love to cook, and I’ve learned so much over the years. I would show that growth off.
What are the tricks to creating a standout dish?
Concentrate on having the best flavor and presentation, and don’t overdo it. For example, a traditional pan of mac and cheese done to perfection in every aspect (taste, flavor profile, presentation, etc.) will stand out more and win the crowd over better than mac and cheese with beets and raisins plated inside of a carved watermelon.
Alex Perez’s Seafood Twice-Baked Potatoes
(Yields 6 servings)
• 6 large russet potatoes
• 1 tablespoon of olive oil
• 1 tablespoon pink sea salt
• 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese
• ½ pound lump crab meat
• ¼ cup sour cream
• 1 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1 tablespoon onion powder
• 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
• ¼ cup butter, softened
• 1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
• 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tail on
• 1 teaspoon of blackened seasoning
• 2 tablespoons chopped scallions
Preheat oven to 400°F. Wash potatoes. Poke holes into potatoes with fork, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with ½ tablespoon sea salt. Bake 80 minutes. After potatoes have cooled for 5 minutes, cut off the top layer of skin on potatoes, exposing the inside of potatoes (potato should look like a bowl). Scoop out potato into a separate bowl, leaving potato shell intact and setting aside. Lightly smash potato meat, folding in ½ cup cheese, ¼ cup crab, sour cream, garlic powder, onion powder, ½ tablespoon parsley, butter, black pepper and remaining sea salt. Place mashed mixture back into the hollowed potato shells; set aside. Toss shrimp in blackened seasoning. Pan sear shrimp over medium-high heat for 45 seconds on each side. Dress potatoes with shrimp, scallions and remaining crab meat, cheddar cheese and parsley. Bake on 400°F for additional 7 to 12 minutes. Serve.