With so many invites going to guests this time of year, how can hosts make their parties stand out?
It sounds old-school, but I’m a big proponent of theme parties. People get a kick out of them, whether you’re supposed to wear red and green or be prepared to eat a certain type of cuisine. And it helps you get creative with the menu. We did an outdoor Christmas garden for a client with a great terrace; we put out space heaters, served hot toddies and raclette. It looked beautiful, and everyone was huddled close and had a blast. It’s all about making memories.
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What’s cutting-edge in party foods right now? What’s the new soup shooter?
Anything interactive goes over well because it’s part of the theater, and there’s only so much you can do with music and decoration. We look to restaurants, always. And it has to strike a balance of being elegant and fun. We just did a profiteroles station, where guests chose their own fillings. Or we’ll create a place where people can talk to others and learn, like a caviar tasting. And I love a rolling cheese cart.
Any go-to finger foods that are inevitable crowd-pleasers?
You can’t go wrong with little fried things: mini grilled cheeses, crab cakes. You can make 4,000 variations on pigs in a blanket, and they’ll eat every last one. Foods that sop up alcohol and that are really simple to eat and satisfying—and don’t get stuck in your teeth.
Passed or plated?
Either, depending on the vibe. The important thing is to set out just enough so it looks bountiful yet still beautiful. Once you pile on too much, it looks unappetizing. Replenish constantly so nobody feels like he or she is taking the last bite.
"Go interactive with the food. It’s part of the theater, and there’s only so much you can do with music and decor.”
What’s your rule for how much to serve?
I do two of each hors d’oeuvre per woman and three for men. Same for drinks, but it’s important they’re not made to kill. I really like a signature drink that’s well balanced and goes with the food, made beforehand in big batches—and I print the recipe on coasters.
What’s the worst mistake hosts make?
Not delivering enough info about the food being served. Recently, for Savannah James, LeBron’s wife, we did a great American Horror Story–themed party; Michael Symon, Nobu Matsuhisa and Dena Marino each did clever stations. We put on the invite to come hungry. Otherwise the guests would have had dinner first. Nothing’s more disappointing than people not eating!
A coatrack. It’s cheap, you’ll have it forever and people won’t dump coats on your bed like at Grandma’s house. It sets a tone that there’s a sense of order to the evening.
What about when things go wrong?
Leave. Call 911. No, seriously, walk through everything first as a guest would experience it, rather than as the host. Entertaining is risky. The secret to being a good host is controlling the environment.