The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris- #8 The Art of Entertaining
France is truly a dinner party culture. Up until my sojourn in Paris, I wasn’t really versed in the art of the dinner party. Southern Californians do dinner parties, but not very often (we tend to go to restaurants instead of private homes) and when we do them they can be very casual, barbeque-style affairs, outside by the pool.
In Paris, entertaining really is a part of life. Madame Chic and Madame Bohemienne entertained guests at least once a week. And I’m not talking about having the neighbor over for a cup of tea. They both threw elaborate dinner parties frequently. In fact, I attended more dinner parties in Paris than I have in my entire life.
Madame Chic and Madame Bohemienne had very different styles when it came to their dinner parties. Madame Chic’s were always an elegant affair- classical music, apéritifs in the salon beforehand, delicious 5 course meal to follow… after that a little after dinner smoking (mainly from the men), digestifs and more classical music. Her guests were usually conservative, well respected upper-crust types.
Madame Bohemienne, on the other hand, had more wild, passionate affairs. Her guests were often from the artistic world. Whereas Madame Chic’s aperitifs consisted of whisky or port, Madame Bohemienne loved champagne cocktails . Her dinners were not elegant five course meals but usually consisted of three more casual courses- and afterward… well I never could really remember what happened afterward- we were having that much fun.
I like each style equally and always marveled at how these women would frequently pull off these successes without seemingly batting an eyelash.
I think the key to their success was confidence- major confidence. Those women were the masters of their domains- their signature was in every last detail. Everything from the music to the food to the guests to the ambiance was by their design and they genuinely seemed to enjoy every moment. Entertaining seemed so natural to them. There were no harried freak out sessions in the kitchen or stressed out scenarios over the food. If something went ‘wrong’ you would never have known it- their capabilities as hostesses was so smooth they were practically zen-like.
As I have admitted in the past, I am not the most masterful of hostesses. I admit that hosting a dinner party (or anything really) tends to stress me out. But since my stay in Paris I try to channel my inner Madame Chic whenever I am met with entertaining. I also find it helpful to tell myself the following:
Your guests (presumably) like you very much and want you to succeed.
Whatever you do, do it with style.
You look fabulous (providing you put some effort into your appearance)
The food tastes great and if it doesn’t it’s not the end of the world (confession: Madame Bohemienne was not the best of cooks- certainly not as skilled as Madame Chic- but we never minded. Her confidence as a host made up for it and we always had a great time…)
Calm down, let go and most importantly… have fun! Entertaining isn’t about being Martha Stewart perfect- it’s about enjoying the company of your guests and making them feel welcome.
On a side note I have recently befriended another French couple in California. We had a playdate with our babies and they invited me to their beautiful home (very minimalistic, with amazing artwork, no TV and no clutter!- but that is another story). We had a wonderful time and they served coconut ambrosia salad, homemade flourless chocolate cake and almond milk cappuccinos. It was the most sophisticated playdate I have ever been to! They were amazing hosts- it was really an unforgettable afternoon…
It will be my turn to host the playdate next… I will do so with confidence and perhaps some courage from one of Madame Bohemienne’s champagne cocktails…
Won’t you stay tuned for #7?