Here in Los Angeles, we’re pretty chill. Laid back is our Motto. Except when it comes to Award Season. Am I right? Everyone wants in on the fun. While it may not take our fellow female artists seriously, Oscar season is part of our pop-culture, and we all pay attention. From who’s dating who, wearing who, and what everyone is eating, we want to know.
You know why I know this? The Golden Globe awards created a Buzz Worthy Plant Based Menu that received just as much buzz as Michelle Williams’ “Get out and Vote in 2020” speech. Food matters. Table settings matter. Champagne matters, anyone else notice the Moet Chandon placement in front of every celebrity shot?
So, from casual to chic we know that, what you wear, to what you eat, creates a memorable vibe when entertaining.
But it’s more than just golden star party streamers and fake Oscar statue party favors…or is it?
Well, one thing for certain is hosting a dinner party shouldn’t be stressful. It’s the exact opposite of the end goal. What’s the end goal?
A good time! Of course, duh.
Part of that good time includes a relaxed vibe from the host and in ambiance.
Yes, the food has to be great. But it doesn’t have to be fancy. Yes, there should be free flowing libations. Alcoholic or not. And yes, and, this is mui importante amigos, it has to feature something unique to you, your personality, your style. So, yes, there has to be an element of entertainment or the unexpected to it, but it can be as simple as vintage dishes from Grandma Lily or disposable bamboo plates and platters you ordered off Amazon. Boom.
- Theme: Oscar Party, of course, it’s just around the corner, after all. An Oscar bash can range from an intimate gathering of your friends in your cool WeHo pad, overlooking Sunset Plaza, or a full on Hollywood Hills, dress as your favorite Marx Brother, after party….there are no rules…just make it doable.
Theme’s are also fun! Italian al Fresco or Tastes of the South Pacific. Or even, a Sushi station. The trick is to keep a theme dinner party, like a Make-your-own-sushi station, tight. Meaning 4-6 additional guests. If it gets too big, you lose the intimacy of it and of course, space. You want your guests to feel comfortable and not fighting for space at the table. Holiday gatherings? Totally different story.
- Ambiance: We eat first with our eyes. Actually, all or senses, taste, touch, smell, sound; but the very first thing is, what we see. What’s our first impression? What does the room look like when you open the door to welcome your guests? Are candles lit? Is the light dimmed or is it bright? Is there music in the background? Do you have flirty cocktail napkins out with your cheese board? Is there a cheese board? These are the things you want to think about when welcoming company. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just inviting.
- Drinks: Offering your guest a glass of wine, or non-alcoholic libation when they’ve settled, jackets off, or bags placed in a designated room, should be the very next thing they receive. Having a special cocktail or fizzy flavored drink ready as a welcome, sets the mood immediately and it’s totally easy peasy. For the rest of the party a pre-set help yourself drink station for your guests, invites them to collaborate, sets the mood and it’s one less thing you have to worry about. Guests love to help! Let them. When serving wine, have a few bottles open. 1 red, 1 white and/or Rose. Make sure there’s a bucket of ice to keep the white and rose CHILLED….so important. Nothing is worse than warm Rose. Offer Sparkling Water and Flat. Have a different tub of ice out for the drinks. Make sure there’s plenty to drink, especially on a warm day. If you’re guests brought a bottle of wine, offer to open it. It’s so important to make sure they feel appreciated for their effort and their gift. Even if you hate the wine. Doesn’t matter. You’re always a gracious and generous host. Remember
- Hors D’oeuvres: Keep this simple. Sometimes, and I do this all the time, you’ve made such a gorgeous and bountiful amuse buche people are stuffed before dinner. But, then again, also if you’re like me, you worry it’s not bountiful enough. To keep it simple, create a cheese board of 3 cheeses, some crackers, preserves, nuts, crackers and slices of baguette. And some grapes. That’s really all you need. If dinner is going to be awhile, by all means, go ahead and add savory puff pastry bites, or the something like that. They are so readily found in the freezer section of your groovy neighborhood store, now, it shouldn’t be a hassle. Or make your own!
- Music: Gotta have the tunes playing. Whatever is your jam, have it playing in the background, but, remember, it’s ambient sound, we’re not hosting a rock concert. You don’t want your guests shouting over each other to be heard.
- Conversation: This can be a toughy. As the host, you want to make sure everyone feels comfortable and welcome. Hopefully, your guests are all on the same page and feel the same way. Sometimes there’s a stray, one who can’t remember how to reel it back before the conversation escalates, or worse, becomes inappropriate. Politics, Religion, we’ve been told, are off the table when entertaining. How is that even possible, in the world we live in? If it gets too heated, in any manner, gently distract guests with a “Who’s ready for dessert?” or “another drink or a cup of Joe?” The amazing dessert you made (err, bought. Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me) will simmer down our much loved, but sometimes salty guest. You’re in charge. It’s your party and you must always set the tone; with your overflowing graciousness and hospitality, of course. Always. There’s no room for koo koo at your dinner table. Am I right?
- Holiday Dinner Parties: Can, often be challenging. Let’s take Thanksgiving, for example. The most important thing to decide is this: Is it pot-luck or are you doing it all? Pot-luck? Great. Suzy, wants to bring her famous casserole, that everyone loves? Yes. Please! Aunt Lulu wants to bring her Ambrosia, that no one loves? Yes, please! See, wasn’t that easy. Because, in the end, it doesn’t matter. You want everyone to feel welcome and comfortable. If, however, you want to make everything, you know exactly what you want to serve, and you don’t want no one messing with your vision, (believe me, I get it), then the best answer for the guest who asks: What can I bring? Is the thing you don’t want or have the time to get. Ice? Wine? Kids drinks? Dinner Rolls? Challah? Be specific! If you only want an Italian Rose and not French, then say so, and tell them exactly where they can buy it, cuz’ honey, you and me both know where it’s at and who’s got the best deal. My point is, own who you are, without apology and without hesitancy. Your guests will appreciate you in any of these scenarios, because you were clear, open and gracious.
Are you getting the operative word here is Gracious? Good!
Bonus: Dear Guests, this is for you. Please remember to bring a little token as a host(ess) gift. It can be something like a bottle of wine, flowers, a potted plant or a fanciful little dish. Really, it doesn’t matter. It truly is the thought and the gesture that warms your host’s heart. I once brought this enormous bouquet of organic purple broccoli to my friend’s dinner party, and she loved it! Get creative. You can do this!
Pick up the Damn Phone: Furthermore, my dear guests, the day after you’ve been invited to someone’s home for a dinner party or any gathering for that matter; call your host to say thank you.
Yes, I didn’t mistype. I mean call. It’s old fashioned. It takes time, 2 minutes; but, it continues this thread of graciousness and hospitality and it’ll make your host feel awesome.
Bonus: You’ll be invited back!
I hope you’ve enjoyed these tips. Please email me with any comments or additions, you think I may have missed.
Till the next time…Bon Appetite!
~ Chef Leza
A native cali girl, chef, writer, connoisseur of art, culture, food, wine and so much more. I’ve been private chef and caterer for the past 10 years, with over 30 years in the food industry.