Fall is a great time to curl up with a book on entertaining. After all, at some point in the next few months, you'll be entertaining whether it's for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, or New Year's. I just got through reading a really great book that gives the reader a behind the scenes look at how some of Manhattan's tastemakers entertain. New York Parties: Private Views by Jamee Gregory profiles parties and dinners held at the homes of Tory Burch, Michael Kors, Jamie Drake, and others. Jamee is the perfect person to pen such a book. She knows a lot about entertaining, she's a popular guest at said parties and dinners (no surprise as she's incredibly nice and down to earth), and she knows how to write a great book. Her first book, New York Apartments, is a favorite of mine.
Jamee was kind enough to chat with me last week about her book and the subject of entertaining. When asked why write a book on entertaining, Jamee responded that she wanted to document all of the great parties that she was attending. Parties by their nature are ephemeral, so she wanted to be able to give them some sense of permanency. And when asked why New York, she replied that New York hosts and hostesses often pull out all of the stops. Thank goodness there are still people who have the time, energy, and desire (and, okay, the means) to entertain at home.
Food, of course, is one of the most important components to successful entertaining, but Jamee stressed in both the book and in our interview that it does not have to be elaborate. Case in point? Tory Burch hosted a luncheon for her staff in which she served Greek take-out. And Michael Kors ordered lobster rolls from a neighborhood restaurant for his outdoor summer party. That said, Jamee also feels that it helps to know something about food. Even if you're not cooking the meal, you'll have an easier job of planning the menu if you have some epicurean knowledge.
Now on to tablesettings. Again, Jamee says there is no one way to do it. Mix and match your china. Use high and low. Yes, there is a lot of amazing tableware in this book: Herend, antique Sevres, Christofle. But you'll also see a few things from CB2 and Pier 1. There is even a Hunt Breakfast featured in which, because it's outdoors, the napkins are paper and the glassware is plastic. That's the ultimate high and low, and it totally works.
I asked Jamee if she had a signature dish that she enjoyed serving. It's a dessert prepared by Glorious Foods, and, according to Jamee, it's gaspingly beautiful. Around the edge of a large silver platter are dark chocolate dipped strawberries that rest in pink spun sugar, and in the middle is a meringue nest with both peppermint and chocolate sorbets. A chocolate sauce is served on the side. I'm dying to see this for myself because it sounds pretty magnificent. Jamee made sure to say, though, that a dessert like this needs to be served where appropriate, i.e. the city. In the country, one would want to serve a dessert that is more, well, country. She suggested a strawberry rhubarb cobbler with frozen vanilla yogurt. For those of us who want to try our hands at the city version of the dessert, Jamee thought that meringue molds (which can be bought at bakeries and grocery stores) piled with strawberries, mint, whip cream, and sorbet (with Hershey's chocolate sauce on the side) would be a great substitution.
For those people who don't entertain often or who are just starting out, Jamee recommends serving something fun like Chicken Curry that can be prepared ahead of time and served in a pretty casserole. (Preparing dishes ahead of time is a true life-saver.) You could then serve all of the appropriate accompaniments- coconut, chutnies, etc.- in small dishes. Sounds good to me.
Finally, for a few of Jamee's no-no's. Don't experiment with a new dish the night of a party. (You'd be amazed at how many people do this. Rarely does it turn out well.) No scented candles on the dining table. Unscented votive candles on the table or buffet, though, cast a nice glow. And if you have a few guests who stay beyond the witching hour and who don't seem to want to leave, you should yawn to give guests the hint. If that doesn't work, plan B is to say, politely of course, that it's getting late and you have an early morning to face.
So, if you'll excuse me (yawn), I have an early morning to face.
(All photos courtesy of New York Parties: Private Views by Jamee Gregory; Eric Striffler photographer; Rizzoli, October 2010)