Cooking up the Best Appetizers on Any Budget

By Lisa Iannucci.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and that means it’s time to celebrate with get togethers, family and of course, food. Looking to put out the perfect appetizers to serve before the main course? Ryan Rondeno, a private chef who has cooked for such stars as Ashton Kutcher, Diddy, Ben Affleck, Common, and more has the low-down on these tasty morsels.

“Appetizers are a one or two-bite accompaniment to get you started before your dinner comes,” said Rondeno. “What makes a good appetizer? It should be fun, filled with flavor, and compacted into one bite. Then you’re ready for a good party.”

If money is tight, don’t worry. Rondeno says that there are great options to make your appetizers stand out and still be budget friendly. “I love crostini because you can go any way you want. You can go with the more traditional crostini with balsamic, tomato, and mozzarella or you can spread blue cheese on it, or plums or apples with it. You can make potato croquettes with a romanesco (tomato-based sauce), or mini meatballs. I love to make Indian-style meatballs with vindaloo sauce on top of polenta cakes. All of these are budget friendly.”

If you have a larger budget for more decadent appetizers, Rondeno suggests that you consider top-of-the-line caviar. “Osetra or beluga is first on the list. “That’s my favorite.” 

His other suggestions are a small slice of wagyu beef with horseradish cream or jumbo lump crab meat that you can serve as a cake or a soup.

How do you figure out if you have the right amount of food? “There’s a formula,” said Rondeno. “The normal cocktail hour is an hour to an hour-and-a-half, and the average person has two to three bites per person. A longer cocktail hour would be a bit more. You also need to know if they will go to cocktails or food first. You must gauge the crowd.”

What about putting out a trendy charcuterie board? Would they make a great plate of appetizers? “It makes people feel comfortable so they can grab a cocktail or glass of wine and make a cheese plate; it’s easy,” said Rondeno.

If the holiday time brings thoughts of comfort food, serve it for the main course, not the appetizers. “You’re building the meal, so you don’t want to go into comfort food right away and then they aren’t ready for dinner,” said Rondeno. “Start with a small bite and then work your way up, building flavors and really telling a story about what you’re doing for the evening.”