Gail Simmons’ tips on hosting a cool, fresh summer party

Gail Simmons has some tips on keeping your cool while hosting your own summertime party. Credit: Estancia Wines
Gail Simmons has some tips on keeping your cool while hosting your own summertime party.
Credit: Estancia Wines

Summer is a great time to relax with friends, but nobody wants to be trapped in a sweltering kitchen preparing food for a summertime party. Hostess extraordinaire and “Top Chef” judge Gail Simmons advised us on how to avoid this sticky predicament, complete with a recipe for a fresh meal below.

Nobody wants to crank up the oven in the middle of a heat wave – what are some tips you have for sweat-free ways to assemble dishes that feed a crowd?

I like to prepare easy dishes, like fish tacos, so my guests can join in on the fun and creativity of cooking. I lay out an abundant display of toppings allowing guests to assemble their own. Because they’re so simple to prepare, it leaves me more time to enjoy with friends!

What are some of your favorite summer drinks?

I love serving Estancia wines – their portfolio includes a wide variety of delicious and well-balanced wines that are accessible enough to enjoy every day, yet sophisticated enough to hold their own with a gourmet meal.

How do you recommend organizing your time to organize a summer party?

When entertaining for a large group, especially in the summer, I make a point of setting my table and picking out all the platters, dishware, glassware and serving bowls I will need a day before the event. I place sticky notes on each, designating its purpose and required serving piece. This creates a mental checklist of every course and enables me to anticipate anything I may need to account for with ample time to problem solve.

Any additional tips for hosting a fun, delicious summer party?

I keep a simple colored or white wax pencil in my kitchen, which I buy at any art or office supply store. I use it to write each guest’s name on their red and/or white wine glasses as they arrive. This way everyone can easily keep track of which glass is theirs, even if moving from room to room or switching chairs through the evening in animated conversation.

Tacos are an cool, simple and fun way to feed your guests without breaking into a sweat. Credit: Estancia Wines
Fish tacos are an cool, simple and fun way to feed your guests without breaking into a sweat.
Credit: Estancia Wines

Grilled-Fish Tacos with Mango-Cucumber-Mint Salsa

Paired with Estancia Monterey County Chardonnay

Serves 4


3 tablespoons canola oil
2 limes, 1 zested and juiced, 1 quartered lengthwise
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 pound skinless halibut, sea bass or striped bass fillets
1 mango, diced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
3 tablespoons finely chopped mint
1 medium Serrano chili, seeded and diced
8 corn tortillas
1 avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and thinly sliced
4 radishes, halved if large, thinly sliced


1. Preheat grill to medium-high heat. In a medium dish, combine oil, zest and juice from 1 lime, cilantro and half of the shallot. Add fish; turn to coat. Let stand 15 minutes at room temperature.

2. Meanwhile, in a bowl, stir together remaining shallot, mango, cucumber, mint, half of the chili and generous pinch salt; stir to combine.

3. Remove fish from marinade. Grill flesh-side down, 4 minutes, then turn and cook until just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes more. Transfer fish to a plate; let rest 5 minutes, then flake with fork.

4. Grill tortillas 10 to 15 seconds per side; remove from grill. Divide fish among tortillas; top with salsa, avocado and radishes. Garnish with cilantro and remaining chili, if desired. Serve with lime wedges.


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