Elegant, Yet Cozy
After reading the Kachka Cookbook by Bonnie Morales for my birthday, I realized this cookbook was much more than just a book of recipes - it was an instruction manual on how to host a dinner party that was beautiful, yet carefree and inviting.
Originally, I was always stuck on the mindset that an adult dinner party had to be something formal and fancy, with different courses presented on multiple plates. While that serving and presentation style captivated me, it just was not practical in a tiny apartment with no dishwasher, and no space for place settings featuring multiple forks.
However, while flipping though the book I came across a picture that really struck me. It was an image of a large dinner party that extended into the kitchen (with the head of the table positioned right in front of the oven).
This inspired my latest dinner party, which was one that maintained the formal and slightly sophisticated aesthetics that I longed for, with a more casual and cozy atmosphere. Per the instructions of the cookbook, I left no inch of the table uncovered, with endless bowls and plates pressed together like puzzle pieces. Guests who arrived to the party as strangers were forced to converse with one another due to the constant passing of dishes across the table- an unexpected ice breaker.
I realized through both my reading of the cookbook, and my planning of the dinner party that my vision was to create something that was elegant, and felt formal (as I wanted my guests to feel as if there were someplace luxurious), yet was also relaxed and inviting enough so that everyone could feel comfortable and at ease.
Below are a few techniques that I used at this particular party to create the perfect blend of elegant and cozy.
To both look fancy and save space, wrap each silverware setting in a napkin and tied a bow around it before placing it on top of the place setting. It takes an extra minute to prepare, but allows for your silverware to become a little gift for your guests to unwrap.
Serve the meal in multiple courses rather than setting out everything at once. It extends the length of the dinner so guests eat more slowly and enjoy each dish more. This might require a couple of trips to the kitchen throughout the meal, but your guests will be surprised and delighted each time you bring out the next course.
Do not skip out on flowers and/or candles for a centerpiece. As large bouquet of flowers are expensive and take up a ton of space, I like to re-purpose wine bottles as vases, and distribute one bouquet of flowers across multiple bottles.
Serve all dishes on serving plates rather than in the pots and pans they were cooked in. While this requires a bit more clean up, eating from a serving dish rather than directly from the pot enforces the feeling that this is a special meal, rather than just a typical home-cooked meal.
Set all of the appetizers all across the table before guests arrive so that everyone could nibble on something while they begin to converse before all guests arrive
Don't be afraid to stick with a traditional crowd-pleaser for dessert. I've found that while no meal feels complete without dessert, by the time most people get there they are with limited room to continue eating. Therefore I recommend to serve something that is easy to prepare and serve, and to save your cooking efforts for the main course.
Although I am a strong advocate for center pieces, I believe they should be moved aside once the meal begins so that people can converse more easily.
Let guests recline and offer them pillows for their chairs. Ancient Greeks were known to eat in reclining fashion, and I strongly believe that it is important to be comfortable during a meal. A good dinner party should be relaxing, and a setting where people can relax and enjoy themselves.
Make a toast - it doesn't have to be about anything in particular, but it's a fun way to get guests involved with the meal, and to get everyone to join in on a big table wide conversation (especially if it leaves people laughing).