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Want to use the last bit of sun this year to throw a great luncheon with pals and cabarnet? Why not use some tips from one of my most successful luncheons, where I marry all the senses with good wine and great food.
When I was asked by Samantha and Miranda to plan a small lunch for a group of old friends, I was excited. You see I had done a few events for these two and and after working for them for many years now on everything from a post premier party to a dinner party for producers and actors - it is the party planning equivalent of reading their diary - you learn who they are and what makes them happy. So I knew in advance about their passion for good food and even better wine. Just attending tasting sessions for the reception menu, a smorgasbord of local fruits, cheeses, and wines required an extra thirty minutes with the weights in the gym.
Sitting in the dining room of their Boston apartment once again while talking about food and wine, I quickly realised that both Samantha and Miranda had a similar extravaganza to the last event we did together in mind, for a script reading. They wanted passion, fun, and the many pleasures of the table to reign supreme. However this time, they wanted a nice, long afternoon with their oldest friends; no panicking over completing a scene before the timing of a lovingly cooked meal or the decanting of a special port after dinner. It was a tricky situation: How could I create an equally sumptuous tribute to their love for dining that would uniquely suit the intimate scale of their home? In the meantime, where was I going to find an extra 45 min for the gym?
Luckily, my memories of their last film production came to mind, rich with chestnut and rust colour palette and a feast to the senses. My mind swirled with copper tone, clean lines and lush roses - and that was before I started tasting wines for the big afternoon.
Sight: The Look
The basic cues became essential to the character of the lunch - this was not a film screening or script reading and I did not want to recreate the drama of either of those. So, instead of a pale, natural palette with lots of wild flowers, I opted for little east coast, old Bostonian flair in the form of deep Burgundy hues and hints of (Oscar) gold. After dreaming up a floral table runner that brought true indulgence to Samantha and Miranda's lunch in the same rich wine-tinted tones, and incorporating a few souvenirs from there old film sets, things started coming together. The two loved the concept of the décor and only the central task of the menu remained. Like all the best lunches, this one would not just feature one plate, one steak, and one potato, but a real multi course progression of wine and food pairings. A pairing as great as the two of them.
This would create a leisurely tempo, allowing Samantha and Miranda a chance to catch up with friends. I think of dining as a sensual revelation, as flavours shift and dance on on the palate, we become ever more attuned to the environment around us. So, although Samantha and Miranda's modern burgundy-coloured dining room presented a striking vision, the decorations for this elegant lunch party would have to capture the warmth, nuance, and romance of that sensuality in deep tones of wine and burnished,light gold. Undulated waves of coral,Merlot, and copper-tinged roses, edged with tangles of grapes and deep green moss ran down the centre of the table in a perfect tribute to the gentle hills of the Tuscan landscape. The chandelier was festooned with an abundance of grapes and leaves, connecting the feast to the Olympian rituals of dining that inspired it. There were burgundy, blue, and copper-accentuated china and midnight blue-rimmed crystal glasses. To bring all this alluring colour and light into the earthly world of vineyards, the look of wine bottles became a central theme: recouped labels brought the feel of rustic wine country to the place cards, lampshades, and invitations, while the corks of wines Samantha and Miranda had enjoyed in the past found new life as place-card holders and candle decorations. Who said only the content of the wine bottles counts?
7 steps to creating Decoupage Glass Cylinders with Wine Labels:
1. Purchase 6 glass cylinders
2. Assemble plenty of your decoupage materials - in this case, used wine labels (make sure they are not dark coloured).
3. Apply a generous amount of Mod Podge (glue) to each cylinder with a brush
4. Carefully paste the labels to the cover of the glass, overlapping at times
5. Smooth the surface with your brush and set aside to dry
6. Attach halved wine bottle corks to the rim with a glue gun (Corks are very lightweight, so they will stick easily).
7. Use small votives so that you can illuminate the whole cylinder, from the top to bottom.
You can also use other labels to Decoupage WIne Bottles or if time is against you, buy them on etsy.
Smell: The Scent
In Greek mythology, wine and roses are always linked. Rumour has it that Aphrodite gave the rose its beauty just by looking at it, while Dionysus gave it a sweet fragrance by "watering" its roots with wine. For Samantha and Miranda's guests these two scents would come together for one amazing day, on one luxurious table. The runner, made of roses, filled the room with a gentle perfume. So how can you recreate this at your event or at home?
The answer is simple, ask a florist.
It looks good at any size and works well for any credit card. I have created small versions for cocktail tables and enormous versions for long bridal tables or ballroom centrepieces. The only thing that stays the same, is the number of compliments I get.
Want to skip the florist and learn how to create a rose table centre piece?
How to Create a Rose Table Centre Piece:
You will just need a few metres of plastic drop cloth and some floral foam and of course, roses galore.
1. Cut 3 layers of plastic drop cloth in the shape of your centrepiece, leaving room for the edges.
2. Mold oasis into low (1-3 inches) hills and valleys over the entire area, like the terrain of a golf course.
3. Remove the oasis and soak it with just enough water so that's it is moist but not leaking.
4. Return the wet oasis to the table and pin the edges of the plastic to the sides to prevent leakage.
5. Add moss around the perimeter and in patterns across the surface of the oasis.
6. Start adding cut roses (2-inch stems) to the oasis until the entire surface is completely covered
7. Add bunches of red and purple grapes to the corners of the display, and BOOM!!
What at an amazing union of nature and craftsmanship, the wood and the petals, the colour of the flower and the cloth. Take time too to look at the textures of both, silky, soft and willing the attendee to touch and savour. The same feeling we want for our wine, our food and the day itself.
Keep thinking about unions, like the two clients and the roses and wine. The experience of tasting wine is all about subtlety and delicacy and so were the textures that coaxed Samantha and Miranda's friends to appreciate every bit of the days culinary subtleties. From the soft, fragile rose petals to the sleek finish of the crystal glasses. These textures set a refined but rustic tone for the metal to come, an atmospheric anticipation of what the day would bring.
A lunch menu that would make Dionysus himself fall from the heavens was my next marvel as I paired great times with a truly Aphrodisiacal menu. For this menu, think libido friendly flavours such as scallops, oysters, truffles, chocolate and strawberries. I wanted to create a lunch that was sexy but also fun so that there would be no blushing serving to friends. We created one I am very proud of and paired each course with wine.
A Menu Fit for a God
Figs stuffed with Stilton, baby rocket salad leaves, prosecution, extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. Served with a good sauvignon blanc
Pan seared diver scallops with wild rice butternut squash, pecans and a blood orange reduction. Served with a Californian Chardonnay
Cinnamon-crusted rack of lamb with celeriac purée and a mandarin-mustard jus.
Served best with a Cabernet sauvignon reserve
Banana Hazelnut cake with sesame brittle ice cream and butterscotch sauce.
Serve with a sauvignon blanc
For me and many people, the most comforting sound in the world consists of laughter and the clinging of wine glasses as they and their guests toast one another. I knew that would come, but I also needed a soundtrack to the day, here is a list I chose for such an event:
Andrea Bocelli: Romanza
Rosemary Clooney: 16 Most requested songs, "Mambo Italiano!"
Josh Groban: Closer
Marlene Dietrich: Falling in Love Again
Loston Harris: Comes Love
Antonio Vivaldi: The Four Seasons
Johannes Brahms: Symphonies No.3 and 4
Legends of the Fall OST
Lastly: Baz Luhrmann's garish, flamboyant adaption of Romeo + Juliet. Combining modern rock acts with contemporary soul like and adult alternative, the album is slick, polished, catchy - and surprisingly strong.
The Memory - I Don't Plan Events, I Craft Memories
To start, I like to always set the mood with an invitation: Purchase a box with a lid designed to hold a photograph, add your invitation here and enclose a little gift inside, hinting at the festivities to come. In this case, we sent a wick wine-bottle stopper so that guests could transform an empty wine bottle into a new -yet old fashioned looking lantern
As a parting gift, offer each guest a bottle of dessert wine housed in a wooden box filled with Merlot-coloured tissue and decorated with decoupaged labels. You can even use a wine label as the gift-card enclosure. Substitute inexpensive paper lampshades for your permanent ones and decoupage them with wine labels to create a charming, rustic glow of light. Use two corks (with slits down their sides) as place-card holders.
Develop a relationship with a good local wine supplier.Once you establish a rapport, these wine lovers will be endlessly helpful with tips and will sometimes offer discounts, too! Serve each round of new wine in a new glass. Make sure, too, that the glass is the appropriate shape and size for the wine. Do not fill wine glasses to the rim. For a tasting like this, pour each glass about a third full. For a large red-wine glasses, only a quarter of the glass should be filled.
After any dinner party where wine is a central element, make sure there is always food within reach, especially at the beginning of the night. No guest should be expected to drink more than a few sips of alcohol without accompaniment.
At the end of the night, when Samantha and Miranda gave each of their guests a bottle of their favourite wine, it occurred to me how enduring the memory of a good lunch with friends can be. Sure, those of us who get carried away with the pleasure of food, drink, and conversation may feel light headed whether or not we overindulge but the complete sensual experience of a properly adorned table and a meal prepared with love and imagination ages almost as well as a good bottle of Burgundy.