David Zilber knows that guests arrive to his parties expecting sensational food. “I don’t disappoint them,” laughs the former head of Noma’s Fermentation Lab. “I know how to cook – it’s going to be tasty.”
In the 16 years since the Toronto-born Zilber embarked on his culinary career, he has worked at some of the world’s most prestigious restaurants. From acting as sous chef at the acclaimed Hawksworth in Vancouver, to overseeing wild experimentation in Noma’s lab that ranged from pickling partridge eggs to fermenting truffles, Zilber is not one to shy from risk. Despite this, he deploys a different tactic when devising a menu at home.
“There’s a maxim that I use from my father, who used to be an aircraft engineer: KISS – or, ‘Keep it simple, stupid,’” he says. “Don’t try to do so much that you’re going to fail.”
In practical terms, this translates to delicious finger foods, free-flowing natural wine, and a killer playlist to kick off the party. To keep time in the kitchen to a minimum, Zilber advises preparing a selection of cold dishes “that allow your personality or palette to shine through” in advance. Couple them with one hot dish and voilà – there’s a feast without much fuss.
Last Christmas, Zilber joined his girlfriend’s family in Sweden for a traditional smörgåsbord that included pickled herring, potatoes, and rye bread. He recalls the coziness of the evening, as the family gathered in the kitchen to serve themselves from platters. Ultimately, he believes that’s what defines a successful evening: fellowship, good food, and the simple act of being together.
“You go to family or friends for a dinner party and you just want to be washed in this haze of love and deliciousness,” he says. “A good party shines when you focus on the companionship of eating together rather than the showmanship.”