Over the next few weeks, my family is hosting a few dinner parties. Instead of going full-energy of tapping into my internal Barefoot Contessa and Martha Stewart, I’ve paused to reflect on three exceptional meals I’ve had, to consider which aspects are most worth replicating as I serve my guests.
Probably my most far-flung and memorable dining experience occurred in New York City during the January 2016 blizzard. My college best friend and I were visiting for the weekend and midday Saturday the city started shutting down around us – Broadway shows, restaurants, boutiques, buses, trains and even Starbucks closed! While we were out enjoying lunch, thinking it might be our last meal besides room service for a few days, we received a personal call from Georgette Farkas, inviting us to her home for a rustic French meal. She shared how she felt responsible to her guests who had confirmed their reservation. So, she and her college best friend Jody (I took that as an omen we must attend!) walked the snow drifted street to her restaurant to gather the ingredients for an intimate dinner party. At 8pm, thirteen strangers met in Georgette’s upper east side home to enjoy some of her personal favorites fireside: from consommé in delicate China tea cups, salad d’hiver (radicchio, avocado, grapes, pistachios & nicoise olives), and then we dined in her candle lit, tomato red painted dining room, enjoying her namesake chicken rotisserie served with braised green lentils du puy and roasted potatoes. Dessert of fabulous tarte tatin, an upside-down pastry with caramelized apples in butter and sugar, topped with a tart whip cream. Conversation was delightful as it bounced amongst the guests from expecting twin girls, recent Princeton-Harvard engagement, rescheduling the Hamilton performance three were missing, and each guest shared their dreams.
Eating in Georgette’s home was a once in a life time experience that landed us on Page 6. Another memorable meal was on a typical Saturday in the suburbs of Detroit. I was on a quick girls trip, and from the moment we arrived, we felt the warmth and welcoming atmosphere of staying at Pamila and Mohinder’s home. As Pamila served us a homemade Indian lunch, followed by tea, coffee and sweets, she peppered us with questions about our children (who are friends with her grandchildren), ourselves and our work. I couldn’t help noticing how gracious and adept she is. Not only is she joyful and present, she continually gave loving looks and gestures to her husband. Her main focus was wanting to spend time with us, sharing her wisdom with us. And just in case you are picturing an old woman, she is gorgeous, brilliant and a trained surgeon who delivers multiple babies per week!
The third meal is one you have probably experienced yourself. It’s spontaneous and typically occurs when you’re about to travel, when multiple spouses are out of town or when a friend is moving and wants to eat the cupboards empty. This meal falls together naturally, someone throwing together a salad, another some leftover chicken, and a third something that the kids won’t fuss over. Sprinkle in games, conversation cards and some wine and these “framily” meals bring together love and comfort. These are the nights we never want to end and the gab sessions our souls desperately need.
Not surprising, all three of these gatherings share the ancient tradition of breaking bread. More than an invitation to enjoy a meal, breaking bread implies a desire to spend time with and getting to know the other – what they’ve experienced, their vulnerabilities, hopes and fears. If you are fortunate enough to have multiple breaking bread moments, you are probably on your way to lasting friendships and life-changing conversation.
As I don my hostess hat this month, I’ll remind myself that as beautiful as Georgette’s apartment is, the ambiance is less important. The preparation needs to be around breaking bread – the food that feeds the belly, and the conversation that fuels the soul. I will think through my guest list carefully, knowing true hospitality is making every guest feel welcome, included in the conversation and heard. That’s the hostess gift I desire to send home with my guests.