A Recipe for Dinner Party Success

There’s an exclusive, luxury side to Disney and no one knows more about it than Chef Philip Ponticelli, who relies on more than 30 years of culinary expertise to create gourmet dining experiences as chef de cuisine of Markham’s, a private, full-service restaurant for Golden Oak residents. His skillful training also comes in handy when he’s hosting his own soiree for friends and family. On that topic, we sat down with the chef and asked him to share his expert tips for hosting a memorable—and delicious—dinner party at home.

How would you describe the dining experience at Markham’s?

When our residents dine at Markham’s, we want the restaurant to be an extension of their own dining room table. We deliver a farm-to-table menu that’s changing all the time. We take special requests from residents and can create personalized dishes using seasonal fresh ingredients.

Do you have any go-to dishes that you like to serve either at the restaurant or when you’re hosting a dinner party?

I like to cook from my family’s recipes—things that come from my heart and are steeped in family traditions. I always resort to comfort foods that my parents and grandparents cooked. There’s a hot pepper relish that my dad used to put on everything—he would even carry a little jar of it with him everywhere he went. We serve that relish on one of our pizzas, and it’s one of the most popular items at Markham’s.

What is your philosophy when it comes to flavor and presentation?

Presentation is definitely important—you look first before you eat. I would never compromise flavor for presentation. For me, it’s about fresh, crisp flavors and clean lines on a plate. It’s not always necessary to bring in 20 ingredients. Often it’s best to just keep it simple and avoid masking natural flavors, like showcasing the nutty flavors of arugula or letting the brightness come out of a sweet tomato. If you have beautiful carrots, why not just roast them? Sometimes less is definitely more.

Is there any one thing that you do for all the dinner parties that you host?

I always start out with an amuse bouche. It’s a good conversation starter and it gives guests something to nibble on at the beginning of the meal. It’s also gives them time to finish that cocktail in their hand.

What advice can you offer to anyone planning to host a dinner party of their own?

First, take time to practice and experiment with new tools or recipes ahead of time. That will make your job easier while preparing dishes prior to or during your event. Also, use things in moderation and try to source the freshest ingredients possible. Finally, be familiar with the taste of your dishes before you put them on the plate. I don’t let anything out of the kitchen until I’ve tasted it.

Speaking of fresh ingredients, tell us about the herb garden that you have at Golden Oak.

At Markham’s, we’re very fortunate to have a wonderful garden located just outside the Golden Oak clubhouse. It’s full of vegetables and herbs that we use every day, and we have a full-time horticulturist that assists us. There’s nothing better than using fresh-picked herbs. The smell of the oils coming from fresh basil fills our kitchen. You can’t get any better than that.

What other products should home cooks incorporate into their meals?

Great vinegars, olive oils, and finishing salts—these are things you can find in specialty stores quite easily, and things that you can keep in your pantry. These easy-to-use ingredients can often take a dish to the next level.

Are there any more tips that you can share that will help readers who may be planning to host an elaborate dinner party of their own?

Plan, plan and plan some more. The more preparation you do in advance the better you’re going to feel. And you should create a menu that makes you happy and will resonate with the guests you have invited into your home. If you enjoy what you’re cooking, that translates through your food.




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