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Ali Wentworth: A Comedian's Semi-Serious Guide to Parties

In the new memoir Ali in Wonderland, comedian Ali Wentworth shares hilarious stories about growing up as the daughter of the White House social secretary. Here, she tells F&W’s Christine Quinlan how she and husband George Stephanopoulos entertain.

Ali Wentworth on Setting the Scene

How would you describe your entertaining style?

I aim for casual elegance with whimsy. No matter the group—and we’ve run the gamut, from family to people who require Secret Service protection—my husband and I entertain the same way. We always cook, and we serve family-style at a long table—the more crowded, the better. At one point, we lived in a Georgetown brownstone and had 100 guests for a buffet dinner. Obviously, we couldn’t seat everybody at our table, so we had people hunkered down on pillows on the floor by the fire, and sitting on the stairs, which was a lot of fun.

What about table decorations?

I’m big on presentation; I can be excessive with decoration. In the summer, I use seashells and wildflowers; winter is mercury-glass votives and pinecones; spring is anything from tulips to baby nests with chocolate eggs. My kids love making place cards.

What kind of music do you play?

Usually classical or jazz. I really like Rachmaninoff, but that can get a little weird at parties. Occasionally, in the summer, I try the Grateful Dead, but that never works. Sometimes my kids have their music in the CD player, so in the middle of a party, we’ll suddenly get a blast of Lady Gaga.

Ali Wentworth on Cooking, Seating and More

Do you and George cook together?

Either George cooks or I do. We don’t cook together, because we both have a tendency to become very alpha in the kitchen. He’ll change the temperature of the oven on me, or I’ll tell him that he’s cutting the onions too thick.

What do you usually serve?

We don’t do heavy hors d’oeuvres. We just put out Moroccan-spiced nuts or crudités. We usually have both cocktails and wine; George is a big wine person. I like to serve beef bourguignon or chicken Marbella. I use the Silver Palate recipe for the chicken, but I’ve made it my own over the years by using fewer capers and a lot more wine. When it’s a small group, like just my girlfriends, I’ll do a pepper steak that takes only three minutes on each side in a skillet.

Who are your toughest guests?

Not family, because you basically get a free pass with them. If we have a group of people who don’t know each other, that can be tough. But we try to introduce guests who have things in common: “Oh, you both care about orphans…” It’s the opposite of when I have a bunch of my girlfriends over and there’s a lot of red wine, and we laugh hysterically and get into trouble.

What about seating assignments?

When George and I got married, his side was all political people and Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters. My side was Hollywood people, like Marisa Tomei. I remember arranging the seating to mix up the sides, which I thought would be more interesting for everybody. I sat Mike Nichols next to a Greek nun.

Ali Wentworth’s Inspiration

"When I was five years old, I did a tap dance for Henry Kissinger at one of my mother’s parties. I remember feeling, Ooh, I like performing."

Ali Wentworth’s Party Must-Haves

Ali Wentworth:
Courtesy of Molton Brown

Hostess Gifts

“I like to give a huge block of really good Parmesan cheese or, if I’ve stayed for the weekend, a basket with hand towels and Molton Brown soap or lotion.” moltonbrown.com.


Ali Wentworth:
Courtesy of www.farfetch.com

Party Attire

“I’m very Waspy. I’m so happy in jeans and a Ralph Lauren blazer. I’ve tried to be hip, but it goes against my nature.”

Ali Wentworth:
Courtesy of West Elm

Decoration

“I use a lot of votive candles, because tapers block people’s view. I try to keep everything, even flowers, very low.” $5; westelm.com.

Video Party Recipes: Hors D’Oeuvres

Published February 2012
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