Just before a party, Classic Catering’s David Atkinson has been known to head into a client’s garden with a pair of clippers to snip the right piece of greenery for the table. But that attention to detail is getting noticed these days.
“People are nesting more and putting more personalization in menus,” the account executive and décor specialist at the Owing Mills company says. That means party hosts are using things that mean a lot to them, like their grandmother’s favorite recipe. For décor, he’s seen cut paper, pressed paper and even favorite books.
“This has been a very long year for a lot of people. Home is going to be important to theme this year and gathering your flock and enjoying each other,” he says. “Food brings a lot of different people together.”
Partygoers will continue the trend to seek out healthy, organic, locally grown food at their parties and holiday dinners.
“Were seeing more eclectic menus,” Atkinson says. “Since people are out and about all the time now their palates are becoming a little bit broader. We’re seeing everything from Turkish food to Indian, as well a throwback hors d’oeuvres.”
Another nod to the past is a move toward old-fashioned cocktails. “Bourbon is definitely a hot item,” he says. “We’re lucky to be here in Baltimore to have Kevin Plank and Sagamore. There are more mixed cocktails now, and some of them are coming from the ’60s.”
Nancy Sacks, director of catering at Simply Elegant Catering at Grey Rock Mansion in Pikesville, is also seeing a trend toward ethnic food, from tasty samplings of a variety of snacks in tapas to down-home Southern favorites, like shrimp and grits. She is also seeing new takes on the traditional coming out of the catering kitchen.
Gone are the days of the traditional beef-heavy holiday carving stations. How does salmon Wellington, baked in a puffed pastry, carved into beautiful slices with a dill sauce for drizzling or lean pork with a plum chutney sound? Or a tarragon roasted cod with a hazelnut brown butter instead of an oyster stuffing stuffed gobbler?
For the home host, she recommends a bite-size smorgasbord of interesting meats and cheeses, dried fruit and nuts, served up on a rustic slice of wood.
“Meats for meat eaters, grilled vegetables with flavored olive oil, breads, gluten-free crackers (There are so many more choices than there used to be.) It’s very nice with a full-bodied wine and people nibble throughout the evening,” she says. “It’s very nice if you’re entertaining to set up ahead of time and you’re not a wreck in the kitchen.”
After all, the secret to a great party is the guest list, says Baltimore-based decorator Spiros Johnson.
“It’s about the group that you assemble,” he says, inviting friends from all walks of life, from their 20s to their 70s. “And it’s about the authenticity of who you are shining through at your party. That’s all you need.”
Johnson grew up in a Greek family just outside of Boston in a bustling household filled with relatives, food and dancing. “Our house was party central. That was normal,” he says. Entertaining—whether it is a summer barbeque in his lush backyard garden, dinner parties or holiday bashes—is second nature.
“In Greek we have a word—philoxenia—where you open your door to anybody and you give of yourself,” Johnson says. “It’s a very important Greek cultural thing, and I think that has transferred to my whole life. When you come to my house, you’re going to know you’re at my party.”
Johnson, who styles and decorates houses as Spiros Johnson Design, has been throwing an annual Christmas bash with partner Carey Moore, a mortgage broker and artist, for six years. Starting with 40 people, their guest list now pushes 100.
Johnson has learned that the key to throwing a big bash is to hire a server and bartender (whether from a caterer or a friend who could use a few extra dollars) to take the pressure off, so he can enjoy his own party. But he always adds a little bit of himself.
“You really want to personalize. Make some things of your own—I make spanakopita—and then have a caterer do the rest,” he says.
Secrets to a perfect party, according to host extraordinaire Spiros Johnson:
– Don’t be afraid to mix up the guest list: “I like to have the diversity of the people that are my friends… people from all walks of life. It creates a really creative energy and dynamic.”
– Use real glass: “IKEA champagne glasses are a $1 a glass. I bought 50 the first year and I keep them in the boxes. When the party is over they go in the basement. Never plastic, never paper. Never, never, never.”
– Hire help: “Invest in a bartender and a server. It is so worth it when you throwing such a big party. Now I enjoy myself.”
– Create an ambiance: “Flowers, lighting, and candles are critical. Our house throws up some flowers…but in a very elegant way.”
– Be authentic: “You really want to personalize. If you’re going to cater, do some things of your own. I make spanakopita—and then have a caterer.”
– Play music you like: “Music is critically important to fit the event. My party is loud and dance-y. I make 10 dance CDs and create a space to dance.”
– Use lighting and candles to our advantage: “You could have the ugliest furniture in the house, but if you do lighting right, it can make anything look good in the evening.”