When cookbook author Julia Turshen hosts her culinary podcast Keep Calm and Cook On, she has a relaxed, comfortable style that sets her guests at ease. She takes the same approach when she throws a party. Keep calm and host on with her top tips for entertaining.

By Jenny Comita Melanie Acevedo Nancy Hopkins Victoria Maiolo and Alison Attenborough
August 06, 2019

Julia Turshen started cooking at such a young age that her family nickname was "Julia the Child." Before she was old enough to hold a chef's knife, she was hosting parties. Her first, a Valentine's Day soiree for her grandparents and assorted relatives, had a strict black-tie dress code and featured little sandwiches that 6-year-old Julia fancied up with a heart-shape cookie cutter. "It was all very extra," Julia says with a laugh."My entertaining style has gotten a whole lot more relaxed."

These days, Julia—who writes best-selling cookbooks and runs Equity at the Table, a database connecting underrepresented minorities in the food world—is much more likely to greet her guests in an untucked shirt and jeans. Her enthusiasm for bringing people together, however, still burns. Most of Julia's gatherings are spontaneous and happen at the 150-year-old farmhouse in upstate New York she shares with wife Grace Bonney, founder of the blog DesignSponge. "Because we live in a rural area without many restaurants, I cook at home every day," Julia says. "That makes it really easy to text friends and say, 'Hey, I bought too much chicken. Do you want to come over?'"

Julia believes food doesn't have to be complicated to be good. She serves simple dishes that are delicious hot or at room temperature, eliminating the stress of last-minute cooking. "I don't want to be stuck in the kitchen wondering if everyone is talking out there." She also makes sure to prepare a meal that everyone will enjoy. So when inviting someone to her home for the first time, she asks about food restriction. "I don't want anyone to feel on the outside of my table, and that translates to what we're eating."

It's about more than delicious food, though. "What's most important to me is the quality of our time together," she says. "You want people to leave your home thinking, That was such a great night!" To that end, she loves bringing together friends from different circles whom she predicts will hit if off then encouraging them to get to know one another and hash out solutions to the dilemmas of the day. "I love that meaningful conversations start around my table, and my goal is to make sure they don't end there."

Julia's Top Tips for Being a Gracious Host

Set the Tone

"Think of yourself as the cruise director," Julia says. "I always make a toast at dinner to express how happy I am that each person is there."

Connect Your Guests

To help break the ice, Julia encourages guests to bring an object, a book, or a song that is meaningful to them.

A Relaxed Mix

As a youngster, Julia remembers her dad intentionally setting the table with mismatched plates and napkins. She finds the eclectic look relaxes her as a host, so she follows his lead, using her grandmother's plates and a mix of gifted handmade textiles.

Let the Table Talk

No topic is off-limits. "People say to avoid politics at the dinner table, but I think, What better place? One of the highest purposes that a meal can serve is to create a space that feels safe to talk about potentially uncomfortable things."

Cook a Summer Dinner Party Menu

Julia crafts a meal that minimizes kitchen time during the party, including easy drinks, appetizers, and dishes with unexpected (yet unfussy) twists.

Hibiscus Punch

A friend from the West Indies introduced Julia to this tea steeped with Caribbean spices—clove and ginger—then mixed with fresh citrus juices. It's a regular at her gatherings.

Get the Hibiscus Punch Recipe

Roasted Green Onion Dip and Old Bay Bagel Chips

Toasted bagels and cream cheese—Julia's favorite childhood snack—get a grown-up makeover. Two classics inspired the dip: green onion-cream cheese spread and French onion dip. The familiar seafood seasoning gives the bagels an intense heat.

Get the Bagel Chips Recipe Get the Green Onion Dip Recipe

Sheet-Pan Chicken With Peaches and Tomatoes

Late-summer peaches and tomatoes nearly melt into a sauce for Dijon chicken breasts. Julia slides this one-step dish into the oven about 30 minutes before guests arrive.

Get the Sheet-Pan Chicken Recipe

Aromatic Rice Pilaf

Julia says the trick to a simple side dish is to cook fragrant basmati rice with fresh aromatics like garlic, onion, and ginger. "It infuses the rice with so much more flavor."

Get the Rice Pilaf Recipe

Zucchini with Pistachios and Mint

Unexpected and memorable. That's how Julia describes what happens when she tosses humble zucchini with toasted pistachios and fresh mint.

Get the Zucchini Recipe
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