The Ultimate Holiday Party
Three Experts Reveal Their Secrets For Creating a Dazzling Seasonal Soiree
In a season packed with parties, how do you make your gathering a standout event? We asked three pros to create the ultimate holiday party: Toronto’s hottest chef and owner of The Good Son restaurant, Vittorio Colacitti; Vancouver’s coolest bar manager, Kevin Brownlee, from the award-winning AnnaLena (and winner of the Grey Goose Vodka 2015 Pour Masters competition); and Alison Slight, Canada’s most sought-after event planner.
“Traditional hors d’oeuvres feel dated,” Colacitti says, “but it’s also true that people prefer lighter fare. I love canapés as an alternative to a heavy sit-down dinner. They’re more versatile and pair well with cocktails, which are so popular now.” The elevated cocktail culture is easily translatable to home events, and cocktails have a festive feel and visual appeal that are perfect for the holidays. Just remember to offer a number of drink options that pair well with your food.
Brownlee believes in using only the best-quality ingredients when crafting his cocktails. “You can taste quality,” he explains, “and using quality ingredients complements the effort and attention you put into your work. It’s a reflection of you as a host and how you want your guests to be treated. You want them to feel special.”
Colacitti recommends using fresh, local and seasonal ingredients to create mouth-watering canapés that wow guests with outstanding flavour, visual appeal and an unexpected mix of tastes and textures. “With a canapé, it’s even more important to create a memory or impact,” explains Colacitti. “If you’re only serving two bites, they have to be amazing.”
Think about food and drink pairings, such as contrasts between rich dishes and cocktails with lemon. Citrus cuts through strong flavours and balances the palette. You could try bonding food and drinks with similar herbs in each. Just ensure that the dish and drink don’t compete with one another.
For crafting cocktails, Brownlee prefers Grey Goose Vodka for “its superior character, aroma and silky texture. The subtle flavour and aromatics of a better-quality spirit will add sophistication and depth to any cocktail, but are especially key in classics like a martini cocktail where the spirit is centre stage.” Remember to consolidate platters as things disappear so that food never looks scarce, and refrain from putting too much out at any one time. Food that languishes loses its appeal.
Meanwhile, for Slight, décor is a strategy that carries through to all the elements of a great party, including the invite. “Evites are convenient, but just remember to make it your own,” she says. Set the stage for your gathering with soft, warm lighting and fill your space with eye-catching elements that surprise and delight. “Have fun with your décor,” she says. “It’s the unexpected elements that will really make an impression.” For example, try painting birchbark gold or silver, or pair metallic surfaces with soft textures. How about mixing gold and silver? “It’s fine, just use metallics with the same surface finish, such as brushed silver with brushed gold.” Using rose-gold elements, a trend in 2015, is another way to unify mixed metallics. “It’s the perfect medium tone and brings balance to gold and silver,” she explains.
Holiday greenery takes on a new twist with the addition of differently shaped foliage, such as magnolia, eucalyptus or small-leaf vines, to create strikingly lush arrangements. Or add small wax flowers or blueberries to garlands and wreaths for rich texture. The holidays are also a time for plenty of colour, and you don’t have to default to the obvious holiday brights. If your home has a neutral scheme, for example, opting for muted tones like purple, eggplant or navy will have a big impact. “Ultimately, your décor should work to create an elevated version of your home,” Slight explains. “It should fit with your style and not feel out of place.”
The three experts agree that poor planning is the most common mistake that hosts make when entertaining. “Running out of things is a common problem,” says Slight, who recommends always having a little extra of everything on hand. What should you never run out of? “Ice,” says Brownlee. “It’s the most important ingredient in the drink.” He recommends using large ice blocks or ice spheres, which keep cocktails chilled longer and won’t dilute the drink.
Another pitfall is what Brownlee calls the “time crunch,” when hosts try to do too much. Colacitti suggests doing as much as you can the day before. “Prep lists are a great way to stay on top of things rather than trying to keep it all in your head,” he says.
The most memorable parties engage your guests on a number of levels. “Interactive elements are always a hit,” says Slight, “and anything involving photos is very popular right now.” Have guests take Polaroids they can hang on a small tree to create a unique memento that you can bring out at next year’s holiday party. “Hosting a great party is all about showing people a good time,” says Brownlee, who likes to pre-batch cocktails and get guests involved in pouring, which people find fun.
Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun yourself. “People will always feel more confident when they’re having a good time,” says Slight. “They’ll never know if something isn’t going quite as you planned if you’re calm and composed.”
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