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Whether it's taking a daily ritual from expected to extraordinary or discovering the wonderment and beauty of anew travel destination, J.R. McCabe elevates the everyday with timeless taste and comfortable confidence.
We all know the secret to a memorable dinner party is great food and amazing company. But before everyone arrives and the gourmet delights are presented there are five things every successful hostess should have in mind to keep her guests afloat in a mystical experience.
When you throw a dinner party you should be the perfect mix of comfortable and exquisite, approachable and elegant, intimate and worldly. People have accepted your invitation to a long-held tradition of breaking bread together. While the ritual has now become routine, a lady always rises to the occasion with a pretty dress and heels.
Candles, music, and flowers are all emotional creatures. They transport us to a place of divinity, beauty, and timelessness. I only use beeswax tapers at dinner parties. They have a scent that is reminiscent of the turn of the 20th century. They burn slowly and because of their sweet earthy scent they compliment the aroma of the food, never overpower it. For flowers, roses and peonies have the subtlest and most widely resonating perfume and magnify a sense of royalty and honor. For music I love Daniel Pope’s For Seasons. The strings immediately put one at ease and when kept at a timid octave will serve as a comfortable embrace for your guests.
Dinner parties are theater and as in every classic play there are three acts. You should be spending none of them in the kitchen. The exposition is when everyone arrives and gets to know one another. Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres are served. We learn who the characters are and which part they play in the life of our hostess. Early on you should inject an “inciting incident.” In most plays it is a dramatic and troublesome situation, but at your party it will be the question or dilemma you give your guests to resolve. This can be as simple as asking them to help you choose a vacation spot for summer or inviting their opinion on whether to paint the front door, take up horseback riding, or plant a rose bush. What matters is not their opinion. What matters is that you are giving them a voice and listening with keen interest and curiosity; asking follow-up questions at every turn. This will ensure that by the time dinner is presented — the rising action — there is plenty of conversation flowing and you will find that your request has elicited a contemplation of sorts from and to others about their current choices and present decisions as well as a feeling that they have come to your aid, unfolding the path and its choices and carrying you over the bridge of uncertainty. So that by the time the denouement — otherwise known as dessert — arrives all will have a unique sense of their role in your life.
Think of place settings as the accouterments of a sacred ritual. Tend to their particularity with intention and grace. Ensure that they elevate and don’t distract from the essence of the food. I prefer a simple setting in neutral colors, soft napkins wrapped in ribbon, and gold cutlery that feels regal.
Decorate your table with items that provoke conversation. For me that is my Simon Pearce glass taper holders, crafted in a long tradition of European glassmakers and brought into being by artisans in Vermont. Or my matches — so delicate and nostalgic — all the way from France.