BY KATIE BIANCO | PHOTOGRAPHY BY SCOTT SUCHMAN AND JENNIFER HUGHES | FOOD STYLING BY LISA CHERKASKY | PROP STYLING BY KRISTI HUNTER
From the moment cookbook author Susan Herrmann Loomis first visited France, she knew she had found her home. “I was just enchanted by the lifestyle,” recalls Loomis, a classically trained chef and journalist, who moved to Paris three decades ago to combine her two talents.
Today, she runs a cooking school (onruetatin.com) out of her charming home in Normandy and spends her days and evenings immersed in the traditions of French cooking and entertaining.
For friends and business partners Anne Mulvihill and Nancy LaTart, it was the food-focused culture and cadence of life that inspired them to launch a party planning business in Paris ( feteinfrance.com).
“Even though the pace is fast in Paris, there’s still time to sit down and eat a proper lunch,” says Mulvihill. “We just love the food and wine.” We asked these three entertaining experts for their top tips on how to transform a simple dinner party into an inspired soirée including proteins, vegetables, and sides prepared with the help of sous vide. Read on to get their simple rules for a successful fête magnifique.
START WITH BUBBLY
The French invented Champagne—and it’s a mainstay at dinner parties. Greet your guests with a glass of bubbly or a sparkling Champagne cocktail when they first arrive in your home, and invite them to sit and chat, flute in hand, in an area separate from the dining room before convening around the table.
“There’s a narrative arc to dinner parties,” says LaTart. “You greet your guests with a glass of Champagne, maybe accompanied with some salty snacks, and have a chat before the meal. Then the host will invite everyone to be seated and usually, if it’s a very French meal, the host will tell you where to sit.”
PLAN A MULTI-COURSE MENU
Whatever the occasion, the French typically serve a structured meal that includes an appetizer, followed by a main course, then salad, and a cheese course. The meal is finished with a decadent dessert.
“The host usually has something to say about every course. The whole meal is done with care,” says Loomis. “The host is happy because they can see everyone is loving the meal. The guests are happy because they know it was prepared especially for them. Everyone has their role at a French dinner party, and it’s sincere and authentic.”
TAKE YOUR TABLE TO THE NEXT LEVEL
“The French do dinner as an art,” says Loomis. “No expense is spared. No beauty is spared.” And like the food, the dining table decor is elevated, too. Linens, including a tablecloth and cloth napkins, should lay the foundation, and a full service of china that includes a plate for each course should be set out. Incorporate family heirlooms to bring in an elegant personal touch—such as well-patinaed flatware, or an antique serving dish. And, of course, leave enough room for wine glasses.
The table is also often themed to the season, says Mulvihill. During the holiday season, that means you might use fruit as table decor, or winter greenery and seasonal flowers. Candlesticks in “dark, moody colors,” like a Bordeaux red or rich black, add a dramatic touch.
PREP THE FOOD IN ADVANCE USING SOUS VIDE
In France, guests won’t typically congregate in the kitchen— which means preparing the meal in advance is paramount. You want to make sure you can spend time with your guests once they arrive, rather than being cloistered in the kitchen. Sous vide offers a foolproof way to prep. Home cooks can plan out meals and plot out what they can make beforehand, whether it’s slow cooking the meat, marinating the vegetables, or making a soup sous vide style. Prepping the food in advance allows you to focus on enjoying the company, Loomis says.
“In France, it’s about the time that people take to eat. We started at 7:30pm and were done by midnight,” says Loomis, recalling a recent dinner party she attended. “We were there to talk to each other and eat this marvelous meal. By the way, it was a Monday night.”
For a truly fête magnifique, greet your guests with this riff on a French 75—named in honor of the Centre de Recherche et d’Études pour l’Alimentation (CREA) founding in 1971.
Oysters prepared sous vide make for a spectacular start to a special fête.
Use sous vide to perfect homemade macarons. This version uses spiced sweet potato for a fall flavor spin.
Dedicated to the Art & Science of Sous-Vide
The first publication devoted to the art and science of sous vide cooking, featuring innovative recipes, visual inspiration, expert techniques for cooking sous vide at home, and exclusive interviews with world-class chefs.