Serving Dishes

December 24, 2012

Food52's Editorial Assistant (and college student) Brette Warshaw is curating her very own first kitchen -- and she needs your help. Today: what serving dishes does a First Kitchen need?

Serving dishes

Put me in front of a plate of food -- especially a good one -- and it’s clear: I’m an eater.

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But as I’ve gotten older, more mature, more self-aware, and more confident -- things that tend to happen when you go away to college -- I’ve found something I love just as much as eating. 

I found out that I’m a feeder.

I love feeding people. I love piling cookies into jars and distributing them in class. I love stirring giant vats of things that smell good, and then ladling them into bowls. I love walking into a room with a tray and watching faces light up. I love sending sheets of things into the oven, and knowing that when they emerge, my friends will start grabbing at them before they hit the counter. (And when I cook for myself, I cook triple, with hopes that my roommates come home hungry.)

I feed people the way I eat: heartily, generously, happily. With gusto. With a grin. 

And it’s hard to feed people without serving dishes. 


Which is why my First Kitchen needs them, lots of them, and ones that fit the food that will be served on them: quirky, mismatched, and functional. The whole plunking-the-cast-iron-pan-on-the-table-and-calling-it-dinner-thing is getting old. I’m growing up, and I need serving dishes to prove it.

My first thought: I need place settings, super-sized. I need a big serving bowl; I need a big serving plate. And since side dishes are usually served in bowls, and so are salads, and so are grains, I’ll probably need three or four. Maybe five. Maybe six.


I’ll also need serving dishes for hors d’oeuvres. I’m a fan of the board method: put a board of something on a table, and watch people gather around it. If the board can also function as a smaller cutting board, even better. This is a First Kitchen, scrappiness is encouraged.


And then there’s desserts. I have a vision of myself in a kitchen with a cake stand devoted to the beautiful-dessert-of-the-week: a layer cake, or a pile of scones, or a nubby, crumby coffee cake. That may stay a dream. Gorgeous cake stands usually don’t live in First Kitchens.

Luckily, I have you: you are seasoned hosts and hostesses. You serve things on platters, not in chipped pans. You are probably hosting a holiday party this season, or you’ve gone to ones that have served as inspiration. What kinds of serving dishes should a First Kitchen have? And what are you serving on them?

Email me at [email protected] with your First Kitchen recommendations -- your favorite tools, your favorite cookware. All wisdom is appreciated.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • JohnnyG
  • The Library Lady
    The Library Lady
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  • Zensister
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Brette Warshaw

Written by: Brette Warshaw

I'm a reader, eater, culinary thrill-seeker, and food nerd.


JohnnyG January 14, 2013
some color & natural products like wood, stone/slate are nice touches. make sure you have the basics covered in white. white is neutral, good any season, highlights the food, is usually priced right at places like SurLaT. Rachel Rays stuff is also more modern and reasonably priced at macys, etc.
The L. December 31, 2012
I don't own a cake stand, but have a lovely plate from a set of my grandmother's that has become "the" cake plate. It graces our table on birthdays and special occasions and doesn't match ANYTHING else in my closets. But the family connection is what matters and I think that what counts is not having Martha Stewart perfect stuff, but stuff that says who you are. Stuff that you accumulate as you need it.

Plea markets and thrift stores are great places to find fun pieces. Ethnic food stores can be a great place to get interesting and inexpensive stuff. We have lovely patterned rice bowls that are excellent for dips and sauces and they come in many sizes and patterns. And Chinese soup spoons make great serving pieces.

Think of re-purposing your cooking dishes as well. I have blue glass Pyrex baking dishes that look great on the table, simple Corningware casseroles and other stuff that works in my kitchen
and at the table.

The fun for me is that my collection of dishes/platters/bowls has grown over time as needed.Nothing is expensive, but it all holds memories.

Sewassbe December 28, 2012
One year, just after college, while browsing through the kitchen section of TJ Maxx, I saw a large white oval casserole, a large platter with rounded edges, and a pretty square cake stand with scalloped edges. All for $10 each! Needless to say, I invested the $30 in new serving dishes. I like to do buffet style parties a lot (too many people to fit around my little 6 person table), and that cake stand gets used for a lot more than just cakes! Plus it adds nice height. I'm a big proponent of using vintage dishes and love the warm patina of my vintage platters (in cream, pale green, and butter yellow) and bowls. Platters aren't just for roasted veggies and meats either - I love putting salads on them - that way the ingredients don't all sink to the bottom!

My best advice is to pick a color scheme (can't go wrong with white), and hunt discount stores and thrift stores for things that catch your eye. No need to spend $75 on a department store platter. Although I still don't have any ceramic serving bowls - I make due with my vintage pyrex mixing bowls and round baking dishes in a variety of colors.
Zensister December 26, 2012
The funny thing is, I love my white Pyrex casserole set. It's an oval and a round. I think I use them more often for serving than I do actually making casseroles. A bit plebeian, perhaps, but they are sturdy if you need to take them somewhere, have lids to keep food warm while plating other stuff. We have limited cabinet space, so anything that I can cook and/or serve in gets a lot of use in my kitchen.
smslaw December 26, 2012
small ramekins (2, 4, 6 ounce)-the fluted, white ones, come in handy for serving all sorts of condiments and individual servings of sauces. Another thing I can't live without is a really nice wooden salad bowl-wherever you live, there are people who turn beautiful bowls. Get one, help out a local craftsperson and they last forever.
AgathaX December 26, 2012
I second the oval gratin dishes. I have a beautiful set of progressively sized ones that I picked up at an estate sale. For Christmas I used the largest one to roast potatoes, so they are clearly not limited to just gratin style foods. It's narrow so it can share an oven rack, and it allows things to go from oven to table in style. I recommend keeping in mind the weight of whatever dishes you select. Heavy dishes may look great and hold heat, but they don't move around the table easily. I personally like hunting for serving dishes at thrift stores and estate sales. It's fun, I get some really nice stuff, and if I get something that I end up not using, I don't have a big investment in it and readily donate it to a thrift store. This way through trial and error you can figure out what works for you. One dish I use a lot is a ceramic 9x12 or 10x13 pan for lasagna, mixed roast vegetables, dressing etc. Looks a lot better than a metal or pyrex roasting pan going from oven to table. Finally, unless you are a fan of washing dishes, avoid dishes-no matter how attractive-that don't go through the dish washer. Sure, dish washers fill up and some things will always be washed by hand, but the less the better in my opinion.
jamcook December 25, 2012
I am a big fan of oval gratin dishes 2-3 quarts. They can be used to cook and serve many things from potato gratins to apple crisp and they always look a little more special than a bowl.
witloof December 25, 2012
I have one of these:
and couldn't live without it. I love mine so much I went off the registry to buy it for my friend's daughter when she got married in August and she tells me how much she uses it every time she sees me.

If you live in NYC I strongly recommend you troll HousingWorks for serving trays and dishes. I have found all kinds of beautiful things: antique British ceramic platters, cake stands, bowls, dishes, tea sets, Spode double handled bouillon cups and saucers, etc. for very little money. You have to keep going back but it's totally worth it.

If you
aussiefoodie December 25, 2012
I like to have several big platters on hand - in clean simple colors - maybe a large white square platter, and a round glass platter for serving everything from sliced roast meats, to cocktail party canapes, or a simple salad. Then pair it with some smaller decorative bowls as accompaniments - such as dipping sauces, dressings, or even for simple things such as nuts at parties.
Brette W. December 25, 2012
Great idea! Thanks, aussiefoodie.
creamtea December 24, 2012
Tea pot, creamer and sugar!
I also like to buy 2 of some items if I can. One for each end of the dinner table. I like symmetry. Also, it mean I don't have to be wait for the platter to finally get to me (and I might not have to politely remind people to continue passing it 'round when they are deep in discussion).
Brette W. December 25, 2012
Never thought about that. What a great call!
ATG117 December 24, 2012
can we get a source for that wood bowl pictured above?
Kristen M. December 25, 2012
We'll ask Amanda where she got it!
ATG117 December 26, 2012
Tit P. December 24, 2012
It's priceless to have smaller bowls at hand to use for things like ingredients for DIY wraps, sauces, hummus, chutneys... they can even be ramekins which can be also used as baking vessels for souffles, creme brulees and alike.
Brette W. December 25, 2012
And mise en place too! Thanks Tit Petric!
TobiT December 24, 2012
I think a colorful, enameled dutch oven that can go from stovetop to oven to table would be a good investment (and not even so much of an investment if you can find a good one used).
Brette W. December 25, 2012
For sure!