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Forking Fantastic: Put the Party Back in Dinner Party

Forking Fantastic: Put the Party Back in Dinner Party

by Zora O'Neill, Tamara Reynolds

The innovative hosts of a hot-ticket underground supper club invite you to crank up your oven, break out the vino, and save the dinner party from extinction 

Twice a month, two veterans of the New York food world prepare a big meal in a tiny kitchen, serving heaping plates of spectacular cuisine to twenty diverse people (or more). Friends old and new


The innovative hosts of a hot-ticket underground supper club invite you to crank up your oven, break out the vino, and save the dinner party from extinction 

Twice a month, two veterans of the New York food world prepare a big meal in a tiny kitchen, serving heaping plates of spectacular cuisine to twenty diverse people (or more). Friends old and new at their Sunday Night Dinners supper club make spirited conversation while feasting on sumptuous cooking. Never obsessed with perfect place settings or fussy details, Zora O'Neill and Tamara Reynolds instead focus on the practical joys of down-to-earth entertaining at home. In Forking Fantastic!, they showcase their very best recipes for making mouthwatering dinners-and for having the time of your life. 

With a healthy dose of irreverent attitude and infectious spirit, here Tamara and Zora take the pressure off and encourage us to reclaim the lost art of cooking delectable meals for the masses. Forking Fantastic! includes:

  • foolproof, party-tested, delicious menus that are easy to master, each with a "Plan of Attack" for preparing multiple recipes without panic.
  • practical tips on everything from shopping and stocking a kitchen to making creative vegetarian substitutions and trussing a whole lamb for spit-roasting
  • hard-won advice from the trenches and an inside look at Tamara and Zora's own cooking disasters
Food-forward but always realistic, Tamara and Zora celebrate seasonal, local ingredients while also extolling cornbread mix and the frozen pea. Quirky, funny and fresh, this book arms intimidated cooks everywhere with the courage, confidence and tools they need to have people over for the sake of food and community, not for the prize of being the best hostess on the block. A manifesto for bringing back a time-honored ritual one mind-blowing feast at a time, Forking Fantastic! makes dinner parties rock.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Dinner hosts sick of Martha Stewarts and Barefoot Contessas will have a field day with O'Neill and Reynolds's irreverent, compulsively readable entertaining guide. Veteran hostesses of an underground New York supper club, the two chefs share dinner party secrets emphasizing good times with a minimum of stress, and an informal, refreshingly profane tone that belies the genre's staid, prescriptive standard. In short, hosts are encouraged to make the party theirs, which means cooking what's comfortable, rather than catering to the diets of guests; not getting wound up over wine; and even playing the soundtrack you like, rather than worry about ambiance. Practical, empowering tips include hiring a dishwasher (cheaper than you think, especially if guests chip in) and skipping the intensive house-cleaning. Four seasonal menus, complete with timelines and wine tips, give hosts of all experience levels a number of entry points and techniques, including a Baby Step Dinner Party and a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Cassoulet, in which cooks are discouraged from scouring the earth for a particular sausage or bean. The affable, freewheeling spirit can backfire, however, as the authors frequently pause mid-recipe to offer an aside, anecdote or even a different recipe altogether. This volume will fit in nicely next to Amy Sedaris's I Like You, but even the Contessa would be impressed with these cookbook newcomers.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
7.40(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt


What kind of food do you cook? When people find out we run an underground supper club, that’s often the first question out of their mouths.

We usually eyeball whoever’s asking. If we’re feeling polite, we say something vague about Southern and French (Tamara) or Middle Eastern and Indian (Zora). But the honest answer is simply: fucking fantastic food.

The ones who laugh when we say that, and nod in understanding— they’d fit right in with everyone who has been coming to our Sunday Night Dinners in Astoria, Queens, since 2003. They get that food doesn’t have to be trendy, or authentic, or totally organic. They’re happy to eat a Turkish street snack along with something we just happened to find in the market in our fabulously diverse neighborhood. They try out recipes from whatever cookbook we’re reading, and from ex-mothers-in-law. They savor the best greens from the farmers’ market, but also anything that looks good at the corner grocer. All our guests—and we— care about is: Is it fucking fantastic?

Along with this basic principle, we’re convinced that lounging around a big table after a multicourse feast, with the wine bottles nearly empty and the candles burning low, is one of the finer pleasures in life. All the work we’ve put into teaching ourselves to cook over the years culminates in this simple yet infinitely variable—and always satisfying—activity. Sunday Night Dinner began as a group of friends sitting around watching Sunday night TV. It has expanded into a twice-a-month supper club that’s open to friends and friends-we-haven’t-met-yet alike. Although we may cook dinner for twenty any day of the week, we still call it Sunday Night Dinner, because that’s the spirit every event shares: a chance to sit together around a table, regroup, restore, debate and generally enjoy our free time.

The Sunday Night Dinner story

We met in 2002, after several years in New York with virtually no money. As an actress, Tamara opened off-off-Broadway plays, but had spent even more time as a server at new restaurants like Mario Batali’s Babbo and Rocco DiSpirito’s Union Pacific. Then she took a far less stuffy gig waiting tables at Prune. Zora was considering a career change from freelance writer to café proprietor and talked her way into a line-cook job at Prune, a restaurant whose chef-owner, Gabrielle Hamilton, she admired for both her food and her writing. At the Prune Christmas party, Zora overheard Tamara talking about grabbing a souvlaki in her neighborhood and correctly surmised that Tamara also lived in predominantly Greek Astoria, Queens. We promptly bonded over countless drinks, shared a cab home and woke up and couldn’t remember any of the details of why we liked each other—just like a good first date.

No matter: We gradually pieced together that first conversation and very soon started cooking dinner together. Initially, the Sunday afternoon phone call from Tamara went something like this:

“Hey, wanna come over and slow-cook a pork roast and some cranberry beans?”

Who says no to a suggestion like that? Zora hopped on her bike with a few ingredients from her corner greengrocer and invited her old college friend and new neighbor, Peter (fresh off a job as a police officer, finishing grad school and getting down with his Greek roots in Astoria), and his girlfriend, Amy. Tamara called her opera-singing pals, Victoria the Sicilian and the lovely Mary Ann, as well as Val, a fellow server at Prune and a Greek who also appreciated Astoria.

After a few months, that evolved into:

“It’s the Sopranos season premiere! Let’s have a good old-fashioned red-checked-tablecloth dinner, with linguine with clams, bacalao fritters, Caesar salad and garlic bread!”

Hell, yes! By then, Tamara had had the pleasure of meeting Nicole (aka Golden), another neighbor, while doing a gay play involving lots of nudity and sacrilege—a bonding experience like no other. And Peter’s friend Katie now lived nearby—and she could totally understand the logic of the casual dinner party, because she’d done the same thing when she lived up in Boston, except on Wednesdays. She brought her hot-pink pants and some tasty blueberry pies, along with Boston veteran Joel and his girlfriend, Deb.

Not too long after, things started to snowball. Tamara would call Zora in a panic:

“Holy shit! Golden wants to bring her other friend too, so I have to go back to the butcher before he closes! Do you think I can drink my gin and tonic on my way there if I leave it in the Mason jar? The cops won’t arrest me or anything, will they? Ask Peter. And can you pick up some extra shallots on your way over?”

We rose to the occasion every weekend, no matter who showed up. It’s not like we set out to do anything big. We just started cooking together on Sunday nights because Tamara had a TV and there was good programming on, and everyone had to eat. When Tamara got TiVo, we no longer had to hustle to sit down in front of the TV—though we still tried to get an early start for the sake of regulars like Zora’s college friend Karine, a high school teacher with brutally early mornings. We started to spend the whole day on ridiculous projects—such as when Tamara’s friend Heather (better known as Mr. Shit) brought over some vintage Southern layer cake recipes. No watching TV meant Nicole could get the after- dinner dance party going in the kitchen, to entertain whoever was washing dishes. Now and then Tamara would invite a date.

Looking back, the real turning point was when Tamara invited Dapper Dan (his parents named him Michael Johnson). He was a regular at Prune who was far too well dressed for his surroundings, and he earned Tamara’s respect by eating everything in sight, often with his fingers. And even though she didn’t know him too well, and didn’t want to date him, she figured he was just the kind of person who’d enjoy our little Sunday gatherings.

He did. And he started inviting some of his friends. We went out and bought a few more folding chairs. And we carried on, spending the week scheming, planning bigger and more elaborate projects for ourselves. It was gratifying to read some intriguing recipe on Wednesday, then serve it to friends—and a few strangers—on Sunday. Zora had started writing travel guides, so she’d often come back with great ideas for dinner based on the tacos she’d eaten in Puerto Morelos or the greens she’d tasted in Aleppo. Tamara was still working as a waitress, so she got lots of ideas from fancy New York City chefs and her new Edna Lewis cookbook, a gift from Mr. Shit.

But then we noticed that we were both broke at the end of the month. Sunday Night Dinner was obviously the culprit. We tentatively asked for a donation— twenty bucks, maybe, if you’ve got it? Zora, who’d run a supper club before she met Tamara, knew they’d be lucky to break even, and didn’t want to earn money off the project, lest it start feeling like a pain-in-the-ass job. But at least this step kept us from resenting all our hungry friends when it came time to write the rent check.

As it turned out, not only were people happy to donate, but this meant they could now invite their friends with impunity because it no longer cost anyone but the diner any money. The last-minute repeat runs to the butcher increased, and, as if the New York City government were smiling down on us, the liquor laws were relaxed, so guests could buy booze on Sundays, on the way over—thus the “. . . and a bottle of wine” phrase got added to the suggested donation. Sunday Night Dinner was officially born—although by that time we were having the party on Saturdays just as often.

Now we have an e-mail list of more than four hundred names and regularly cook for twenty people every couple of weeks. It’s still not a job for either of us, and it’s a surprise and a challenge every time we do it.

It’s a surprise for everyone who comes as well—we rarely cook the same thing twice, nor is the guest list ever duplicated. It all starts with an e-mail invitation describing what we’ve decided to cook—sort of an extended explanation of “fucking fantastic food!”


What People are Saying About This

Ana Sortun
"In Forking Fantastic, Tamara and Zora share their gift of creating easy and delicious meals with wonderful stories, tips, and recipes-reminding us all that good food is about sitting around a table and eating, drinking, talking, and laughing."--(Ana Sortun, chef/owner of Oleana Restaurant and author of Spice)
Jamie Oliver
"I love these girls and their tasty, delicious, no-nonsense cooking."
Naomi Pomeroy
"We all know that something special happens when a bunch of people sit down together to share a meal and for some reason there are too few family suppers happening. This book will help you relax, remind you to slug some wine for courage, and inspire you to corral some friends and friendly strangers. Like the best hosts, their book is full of great stories and is generous with advice and encouragement. Cheers to more Sunday night suppers-on any day, at any hour!"--(Naomi Pomeroy, chef and co-founder of Ripe Family Supper; Chef/Owner, Beast)
Anthony Bourdain
"This eccentrically enjoyable book by two strange and wonderful women may well be the cookbook America needs right now. Fun, deliberately unintimidating and filled with interesting-even ingenious-recipes, it inspires the non-professional to raise their game-and have a good time while doing so. Both book and authors are clearly good for the world."
Michael Recchiuti
"Ah yes-peek, and much more . . . ..into what these gals get excited about, and share in delicious bites. You too, will discover your inner chef, I know I have."--(Michael Recchiuti, author of Chocolate Obsession)

Meet the Author

Zora O’Neill runs a “NYC Survival Cooking” class and has done her time as a line cook, in such places as Prune in the East Village. She has written for eGullet.org and Gastronomica, and also writes travel guides for Lonely Planet, Moon and Rough Guides. She relates her eating adventures abroad at the long-running blog Roving Gastronome (www.rovinggastronome.com).
Tamara Reynolds (left) is co-author of Forking Fantastic!

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