11.29.2010

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?

13 comments:

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

Playdates have changed a lot since I was a young mother :)
We used to serve juice and cookies...for the children and tea or coffee for the adults.

Stephanie said...

This is great. I think a lot of people are afraid to entertain and I know I get stressed out pre party a lot. Your advice is sound and I will take it to heart. By the way, I love the photo with mismatched chairs. Already it looks inviting making room for what I assume was excellent and lively conversation.

Josephine Tale Peddler said...

I am very good at hosting afternoon tea parties. For some reason they don't terrify me as much. I thin because I can create a story around them and I have a vast collection of vintage linens and bone china. Anything fancier and I'd have to lie down for a week. And I am looking forward to reading about your playdate and the couple with no TV and clutter! Hope all is well with you and your family xx

the gardeners cottage said...

i wonder if all our anxiety about parties comes from our culture of magazine/television perfection. even at parties that i was hired to cater the food, the hostess was a wreck. i think we all just need to forget the 'idea' of perfection and let go and relax. it sounds as if that was your friend's m.o. in france. a good lesson here. thanks, since i will be have at least 2 dinner parties that i know of in december.

Merveilleux said...

I know I'm afraid of having dinner parties for a few reasons- 1. I have friends with different interests so I fear they wouldn't mesh well enough to maintain conversation. 2. My friends can also be flaky- I fear I'd make dinner and they'd call saying they can't make it. (I could probably use more reliable friends) 3. I find it hard to juggle dinner courses and keeping everything hot! I don't know how people do that without hiding away in the kitchen the whole time.

Shelley said...

The Reluctant Entertainer blog has loads of advice about this sort of thing

http://reluctantentertainer.com/

I've done dinner parties off and on for the last 30 years. It is a challenge, but that's what makes it fun. The main thing is to practice cooking the things you want to serve so that you know what you're doing.

We've fallen into just having a huge Thanksgiving party (since I live in England where they don't have Thanksgiving, everyone thinks it's wonderful), but this year the snow killed off the party and I was left with tons of food. A dinner party would have been far less work and less of a loss. Also, there is more time to talk with the few people around the table than when you are 'circulating' in a group of 30-40.

I love the picture: the table cloth (and matching napkins?), that all the chairs don't match, the crystal water bottles. Loads of ideas provided there!

Looking forward to #7!

MyPerfumeLife said...

Luckily my husband is a great cook - so we have a lot of dinner parties. I think dinner parties are one of the great joys of life.

Great post - thank you.

M.Lane said...

I just love this series of posts. Perhaps the low stress level of the hostesses comes from the incorporation of the other things that you learned while living in Paris into daily life. Just doing one [the dinner party] without the others may not produce the zen level required.

I love giving dinner parties and going to dinner parties. My Irish Redhead hates both.

ML
mlanesepic.blogspot.com

PS...I hate to harp. I know you have the new baby. But, you ARE going to make a book of these tips arent you? I'll buy the first copy but there will be a LOT of other people buying copies also.

ML

vintagedreamer said...

I haven't yet found my comfort level in doing dinner parties. I love doing tea parties and cocktail parties, however. In fact the cocktail party is my favorite way to have people over. If it's a small group, I usually provide all the hors d'oeuvres. If it is a larger one, I ask that everyone bring one while my husband and I provide the drinks/wine/etc. Friends, food, wine, music all make for a lovely evening.

Rebecca said...

Hosting any type of party is stressful. I can't imagine hosting a dinner party! Maybe one day...

It also helps to have a clean, inviting home. From the few photos I have seen here you have a beautiful home.

I'm looking forward to reading about the playdate and I'm loving these informative posts!

Pug1 said...

I love dinner parties!!!!!! I bet you'll do a fantastic job! CHEERS! Michele

Bess said...

The photo reminds me of my grandmother's living room in Chicago, c. 1960. She made entertaining seem easy also ... a trait I didn't acquire, unfortunately. Thank you so much for these informative posts! I really enjoy them.

Beth - In My World... said...

I love to entertain and when I finally got it through my head that Martha Stewart is over-rated I was able to relax and enjoy my own fetes. I love entertaining and can't wait for our next soiree!

 
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