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Informal Buffet Dinner Party
A sophisticated gathering without the fuss
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Meet Rachel Hollis. At 28, she's already developed the skill to throw the kind of party everyone wants to attend. This L.A.-based event planner is a creative force to be reckoned with. It was her passion for parties that led her to launch her firm, Chic Events, in 2004. An entertainment industry alum, Rachel ditched big screens for party schemes, and now rolls out soirees for the likes of Disney and other big names in the business.
Recently, Rachel organized a gathering for a group of young professionals that was sophisticated in its details but without the fuss that often accompanies a formal sit-down dinner. Instead, she decided on an inventive buffet menu, offering a little of this and a little of that--a dream spread for foodies.
Unlike presentation at a formal dinner, where place settings and service are rigidly uniform, this meal gave Rachel the freedom to set her table with dishes and decorations, and arrange flatware and food in variousconfigurations for a striking look.
"Deciding what to serve early on is key to a successful buffet because then the dimensions can be figured," explains the party hostess. "There is nothing worse than a flat buffet table. Positioning plates, flatware, food, and table decorations at different heights creates interest and saves space."
At this gathering, food signs handcrafted by a local artist identify the elements of the antipasto feast, including abundant vegetables, cheeses, olives, meats, and breads. Offering guests dinner plates instead of canapé plates assured they could easily assemble and carry a full meal.
With no need to worry about blocking guests' views across a formal table, Rachel was able to give free rein to her creative floral artist for the buffet decoration. Fruit and flowers--oranges and kumquats, orchids and roses--are combined in an impressive and towering arrangement that explodes with vibrant colors and fills a tall vase in lush profusion.
A full bar seemed extravagant for the intimate party, so Rachel offered a made-to-order martini bar. Individual menus designed specifically for the event allowed guests to mark the makings they preferred for their drinks.
"A cocktail party is a great option before diving into dinner," says Rachel. "It triggers the imagination and is a great opportunity to get into the groove of hosting."
Photography: Dominique Vorillon
For a small party, there's no need to stock barware to suit every kind of libation request. Simply pick one style of drink, and minimize the accoutrements required. "Vintage" crystal martini glasses; Marquis by Waterford (wwrd.com). "Chancellor" iron-and-marble bar cart; Arteriors (arteriors.com). "Classic" crystal decanters; Tiffany & Co. (tiffany.com). Hand-painted "Small Tulip" porcelain bowls are available in assorted colors; Marie Daâge through Hoagland's of Greenwich (888/640-9577).
Plates and stands set at contrasting levels catch the eyes of the dinner guests. "Palazzo Gold" oval tray and "Vetro Gold" cake stands are by Arte Italica (arteitalica.com). "Octavia" goblet is from Juliska (juliska.com). Floral arrangement is by Lisa Cardella of Ixora Floral Studio (ixoraflorist.com). Food is by Heirloom Catering (heirloomla.com).
A hand-delivered invitation in a terra-cotta pot filled with fresh herbs and a printed dish towel makes a party irresistible. This one is from Orange Spot Pink Nose (orangespotpinknose.com).
These charming small signs direct guests to the food stations. Created by artist Anna Bondoc (annabondoc.com), they were made by layering cutouts of food shapes onto cards.
Individual chocolate mousse parfaits, created by Rachel, are topped with fresh whipped cream and served in tall shot glasses. Spoons are tied to each glass with a green ribbon.
Martini menus feature lists of ingredients so guests can customize libations. The cards were designed by Leanne Sutton of Orange Spot Pink Nose (orangespotpinknose.com). For non-alcoholic options, offer drinks like the ones below by The Perfect Purée of Napa Valley.
For a cocktail party, Rachel prefers individual desserts--like the minimousse parfaits, brownies, and chocolates she made for this event. To see more of Rachel's simple recipes and creative party ideas, visit her daily blog at thechicsite.com.
Rachel Hollis (left) with friend Alyssa Wade
- 1 ounce red raspberry Perfect Purée
- 1 ounce black currant Perfect Purée
- 5 ounces lemonade
- Mint sprig for garnish
Place ingredients except garnish in blender with 1/2 cup ice. Process until frothy and ice is finely crushed. Pour into 8-ounce glasses, and garnish with mint. Makes 2 drinks.
- 1-1/2 ounces Beverage Artistry Yuzu Luxe Sour
- 4 ounces lemonade
- 1/2 ounce simple syrup*
- 1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- 4 ounces club soda
- Lime slices for garnish
Combine ingredients except club soda and garnish in cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously. Pour into 6-ounce glasses filled with ice. Top with club soda; stir once. Garnish with lime. Makes 2 drinks.
In saucepan combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves, syrup is clear, and surface is covered with bubbles. Transfer syrup to pitcher; refrigerate until chilled. Makes 1-1/4 cups.
- 2 ounces papaya Perfect Purée
- 1/4 ounce ginger Perfect Purée
- 4 ounces lemonade
- 4 ounces fresh-squeezed orange juice
- 1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
- Orange, papaya, or mango slices for garnish
Place all ingredients except garnishes in blender with 1/2 cup ice; process until slushy and ice is finely crushed. Pour into 8-ounce glasses; stir. Garnish with fruit slices. Makes 2 drinks.
Purees can be purchased at perfectpuree.com.