When food stylist Alison Attenborough and her chef husband, Jamie Kimm, have a holiday party, they approach the food as both cooks and visual artists.
Whether she’s at an F&W photo shoot or one of her frequent parties, food stylist Alison Attenborough makes food look modern and delicious—say, by creating diagonal layers of cream and jelly in a parfait, or freezing spices and herbs in ice cubes that she then uses to chill crudités. When Alison throws a holiday party with her husband, Jamie Kimm (a personal chef who has worked for photographer Annie Leibovitz), they usually set up a buffet. "About three years ago, we switched most of our large parties from sit-down dinners to cocktail parties," says Alison. "Especially during this time of year, everyone is busy—including us—so we try to simplify." They’ll serve finger foods as well as a main course that guests can eat while they’re standing, and they’ll cook dishes that can be made ahead of time, like a horseradish-spiked borscht with beef, which tastes even better the second day. They’ll also buy ready-made desserts like rose-flavored Turkish delight and delicate macaroons. In the spirit of keeping things casual, Alison uses mostly paper plates and plastic cups so that cleanup is easy. But she’ll also pull out a few pieces from her vintage china collection and insists on real glasses for Champagne or cocktails. Ever the stylist, Alison often plans the menu around a color scheme. "I always think visually when I serve dinner," she says. "Most of my friends work in fashion, not food."
Pile store-bought sweets high in unusual glass dishes for drama. Raspberry and lavender macaroons from Payard Patisserie ($26 for 16 cookies; payard.com). Vanilla Classiques meringues from Miss Meringue ($5 for a five-ounce container; missmeringue.com). Rose-flavored Turkish delight from Kalustyan’s (from $8 per pound; kalustyans.com). Lemon Dreams cookies from Hannah’s Delights ($7 for five ounces; sarahwoods.com). "Ambassador" covered glass candy dish by Lobmeyr from Moss (from $175; from mossonline.com). "Magic Flute" covered sugar bowl ($125) and vegetable bowl ($310) from Rosenthal.
Cocktail Hour Creativity
Decorative Ice Cubes
Alison pours water into a silicone square-ice-cube tray from Tovolo, then drops in star anise, pink peppercorns or other ingredients before freezing ($9; from Broadway Panhandler, 866-266-5927). The ice cubes can be used to keep crudités fresh, and they release spicy aromas as they melt.
Alison discovered that Blavod Black Vodka makes an incredibly dramatic cocktail when it’s poured gently over club soda ($25;blackvodka.com). Another favorite is a ruby cocktail in which she uses unsweetened cranberry concentrate as a base, then adds vodka, tonic and lime.
Chic Soup & Sandwiches
Color-Coordinated Comfort Food
Alison and Jamie often think about color when planning a menu. One favorite centers on a purple-hued borscht (for recipe, go to purple-hued borscht), which they prepare a day ahead, along with an amaranth salad and cranberry cocktails. They serve the borscht straight from the pot in paper bowls (from $62 for 250 bowls from Treecycle Recycled Paper; 406-626-0200 or treecycle.com).
Elegant Cocktail Snacks
Jamie found stylish yet sturdy bamboo forks ($1 for 10 natural-colored forks from Pearl River; 800-878-2446 or pearlriver.com) to hold the mini smoked-salmon croque-monsieur. He assembles the sandwiches ahead of time, then dips them in egg and pan-fries them just before the party.
Plastics with Style
Clear and Simple
A stylish dinner party that uses plastic cups? Absolutely. Alison serves vanilla panna cotta layered with cranberry jelly in clear plastic cups to showcase their geometric beauty; to create diagonal lines, she tilts the cups as each layer chills.
Alison loves the "DeLuxe" black plastic cutlery from Pandora Design in Italy. The cutlery may be $30 a place setting, but it’s dishwasher-safe ($120 for a 16-piece set from Moss; 866-888-6677 or mossonline.com).