Behind-the-Scenes: The Makings of a Dinner Party
Hi friends! Sorry it's taken me a few days to get back to the post I originally started writing Monday. There are so many exciting things in the works that I'm dying to tell you (soon, soon!) but in the meantime, thanks for your patience. Lately, I feel like I've been given a crash-course in learning to tackle fear head-on, and it's been one of the most exhilerating processes of my life. This dinner would never have happened without going out on a major limb and believing that not only would people actually come, but that it could be a memorable and meaningful evening for everyone involved. 16 people, four courses, a case of wine, and nearly four hours later, I think I can safely say that the goal was achieved! I feel beyond blessed to have been able to be a part of such a beautiful evening.
It's hard to know even where to begin with telling all the details, so I thought it might be easiest just to create a collage of behind-the-scenes moments and just sort of walk you through the pictures. Photos go clockwise from top left corner (1) to bottom left corner (8). Sound good?
1) Flower sourcing. This dinner party took over a month to coordinate, but the last week was pretty full-on. Jenn arrived on Monday night, and we headed to the Chelsea flower district on Tuesday to start looking at flowers. NYC's flower district is just one small street (W 28th between 6th and 7th Ave) that is jam-packed with wholesalers selling every type of flower imaginable (as well as trees, shrubs, and tropical plants). Jenn wanted to select a variety of bright, spring-y flowers, like tulips, daffodils, cherry blossoms, white lilacs, and ranunculus. The flower market was a lot more expensive than we expected, so she ended up sourcing flowers from all over – a few from the flower market, as well as from the Union Square Greenmarket, and a few other small shops.
2) Rain won't stop us. So...one of the craziest things about last week was that, starting Tuesday afternoon, it began raining, and it rained nonstop until Thursday morning. And by raining I mean TORRENTIAL DOWNPOUR. Of course Wednesday I had to do all the grocery-shopping, so armed with just a light rainjacket and no umbrella, I headed out into the rain, did the shopping at Whole Foods and came out an hour later with four heavy bags and the realization that there was no way I could walk home with them. There were no cabs to be found, so I ducked into a coffee shop and tried to book an Uber. They were priced at like triple their usual cost but I didn't care - I had to get home with the groceries! I finally found a car, but somehow in the rain we kept missing each other. Every time I called the driver, he shouted that he was on the corner of Houston and Bowery, then I would shout that I was on the corner of Houston and Bowery. In the midst of this exchange, my phone died and I realized I was completely out of luck: I was going to have to walk, very slowly, with my 4 bags (which were now beginning to break because they were so soggy). I burst into tears and shuffled slowly with my bags in the direction of home. Amazingly, about 2 minutes later, an empty cab approached and I was able to drop my bags quickly enough to flag him down. I have NEVER been more grateful for a cab in my life.
After getting the groceries home and drying off a bit, I headed out again to go meet Jenn and spend the rest of the day running errands in the rain. We had to laugh eventually – I mean, what are the chances?!? In any other city we would have been in a car and it would have been just a minor inconvenience. But in NYC, you are truly at the mercy of the weather!
This gorgeous bouquet of flowers, sent by my amazing friends Beth and James, arrived the day before the event; placecards on forks - one of Jenn's many brilliant ideas.
3) Bags, bags, and more bags! On Thursday morning, I made some of the hors d'oeuvres at home – lemon tahini dip and pea-mint pesto – (I had already made the strawberry-rhubarb crumbles the night before, as well as 16 jars of homemade granola for party favors) and then packed up all the food and kitchen stuff I would need. Given that there isn't really a kitchen at Drift (they have a refrigerator, sink, and toaster oven), I had to rent a professional stove/oven. But I had to pack up all of my cooking equipment: knives, cutting boards, pots, pans, bowls, utensils...anything I needed I had to pack. This picture shows the roughly 19 bags of stuff we had to carry down from my 6th floor apartment to load into an SUV I had ordered! My saintly intern Elise came and helped me pack and load everything down into the car. Once again, throwing an event in NYC is never easy...
4) Party set-up. We got to Drift early afternoon, started unpacking and waited for our furniture delivery from ABC Carpet & Home to arrive. I hired a moving truck and two movers to bring over the two antique trestle tables and 16 bistro chairs from ABC, as well as crates of 16 plates, wine glasses, water glasses, linens, platters, silverware, and vases. The truck couldn't find parking on West 26th near Drift, so they parked a block away on 10th Avenue and we had to walk down and carry everything box by box. Once again, we had to laugh at the craziness of it all! Once she got the vases, Jenn got to work on the flowers (which she knew would take the longest) while Elise and I unpacked all of the other stuff.
5) Food prep. We created a makeshift kitchen (covering studio owner Nathan's handmade wooden tables with plastic to use as a workspace) in the studio and realized that the stove, which I had rented, had been dropped off wrapped in plastic with no instructions on how to use it, or how to hook it up to an energy souce. I won't get into those details, but let's just say it was a potential fire hazard and thank goodness we got everything safely working in time for the dinner!
I got started on food prep, and soon Linda Sarris, my awesome sous chef for the evening arrived, plus my friend Valerio Harris who was assisting her, and we all worked together for a couple hours before the guests arrived. I've never hired a chef to prepare my recipes (since I'm always the one behind the scenes cooking) but given this was a launch party for the cookbook, I wanted to be able to sit at the table, talk to guests, and tell a bit about the project. Linda did a phenomenal job, literally creating every dish exactly as I'd envisioned – I could not have been more thrilled with how everything turned out.
Guests arrive and mill about the table, talking snapping pictures; Linda portioning out spring pea risotto.
6) Jenn putting finishing touches on the table. As the stylist, Jenn was totally in control of the flowers and decor for the dinner. Everything – from the whimsical, spring-y flower arrangements, to the hand-calligraphied name cards and menus (courtesy of her friend Sally Balt), to her choice of chairs and table, to all the little details she placed around the room – went above and beyond what I could have hoped for. I get chills even just looking at the photos! It was just so perfect.
One of the coolest little details that Jenn came up with were the menus – she had me send me a vintage picture of the yellow table (circa 1980) and she printed it so it was beautifully faded and had Sally handwrite the menu over the photo. Such a meaningful detail that I could have never dreamed up. LOVE.
7) Vino! Another of my favorite aspects of the dinner were Jean-Luc's wine pairings from Le Du Wine's. I am so blessed to have him on board for the book project – he's an incredible sommelier and is doing wine pairings for each recipe in the book. For the dinner, he chose some excellent wines: a biodynamic Cava (that's technically not a cava) for starters, a delicious white from Friuli with the risotto, and magnums of rose from Provence for the main course (which happens to be some of the best rose I've ever had...and I'm picky!).
8) Mid-party: all smiles! Signe snapped this picture of Jenn and me – all smiles! – with her iPhone at the dinner. I love the joy captured in this picture. After a ton of hard work, we were reveling in the beauty of the dinner, the company around the table, and the satisfaction of seeing a vision come to life.
OK, I've managed to write a novel - hope I didn't get too detailed!! What struck me about this evening was this: it is rare that something beautiful is created in isolation – my favorite projects are collaborative ones. What I love about dinner parties is the gathering of people around the table – the conversation, the laughter, the energy that comes from connection and community – and the joy of co-creating. This dinner is only a small part mine, really. It was a success because so many people gave 110% of their own talents to make this night possible.
Rainbow-roasted carrots were served family-style, along with shaved asparagus salad and roasted chicken with shallots.
I want to end with a few huge THANK YOU's: To Jenn Elliott Blake, for lending your incredible styling abilities to the night, and for being such an amazing friend and support. I truly could not have done this event without you!! To ABC Carpet & Home (specifically Annie + Shari), for loaning beautiful pieces for both the cookbook shoots and for this dinner – and even more so for championing me as I pursue this crazy dream. To Nathan Johnson (Drift Studio NYC), for sharing your gorgeous studio space with us, and for working tirelessly that night. I cannot think of a more perfect space for this dinner - or a more generous host. To Jean-Luc Le Du, for the fabulous wine pairings, and for your enthusiam for this project! Thrilled to have you on board. To Whole Foods, for providing all the delicious ingredients for the meal. To Linda Sarris, for knocking the food out of the park! You literally read my mind - brava!! To Valerio Farris, for working so hard all night with a huge smile on your face - you totally charmed everybody! To Dorothee Brand, for taking photos at the last minute! It was lovely meeting you and I can't wait to see your pictures! To Sally Balt, for hand-calligraphying the namecards and menus. Wow. To Katie King Rumford, for designing the beautiful cookbook preview cards...so excited to have you on board for this proect. To Signe Birck, for sticking with me through all of the ups and downs of this book project...your photos take the project to a whole other level. To my awesome intern Elise Inman, for hauling hundreds of bags up and down stairs with me over the past few months, prepping, assisting on photo shoots and a zillion other things. You're amazing.
Just a few more important ones...To Beth and James, for totally making my day with a stunning bouquet of flowers the day before the event. To my love Brandon, for everything. Truly - you're the reason I'm able to pursue my dreams, and I am forever grateful. And to God, through whom all things are possible, for His abundant grace and goodness. And for giving me a vision of gathering people around the table, and being gracious enough to allow me to see this vision through.
(Photos of forks + carrots + Jenn and me by Signe Birck; the rest are from my snazzy iPhone.)