|A table set in the library makes an ideal setting for dinner for two. |
Classic good taste comes naturally to style blogger Stacey Bewkes. Not only does Stacey write one of the most important style blogs Quintessence her "At Home" video series, that she produces with author Susanna Sulk, has developed a cult like following since its inception. Stacey's self assured sense of style has been the foundation of her blog and her success. Her insightful posts are like mini-courses in the decorative arts and gracious living. Stacey is a natural hostess whose simplest get together is an event to remember. Her tips are the tried and true sort that come from experience. This dinner for two is a perfect example of her effortless style.
|Tastemaker Stacey Bewkes|
Tell me about the occasion and meal you made.
Now that most of my kids are away at school or on their own, my husband and I often find ourselves dining alone. It gets tiresome always eating at the kitchen table so it’s fun to mix it up. For this dinner à deux, we are having dinner in a little library nook that is off the living room. It’s conveniently close to the kitchen, yet feels intimate and special and has lovely ambient lighting from the bookcase sconces above. While most of the time I try to cook healthfully, my husband adores sauces and this veal dish with white wine, cream, onions and mushrooms is one of his favorites. I follow it with an easy green salad dressed with our family garlic, olive oil and lemon dressing and since we’ve already blown our diets, a sinful dessert. My husband makes the best hot fudge sauce and I enlisted his help for this course. Served over good vanilla ice cream, it’s a great dessert that everyone loves. You can serve it on its own or accompany it with berries, a delicious cookie or as I am this evening over a slightly undercooked brownie.
If I’m entertaining more than 6 people, I like meals that can primarily be finished ahead of time, like a stew in the winter or a big room-temperature dish in the warmer months - think poached salmon or a big pasta or rice salad. Of course grilling in the summer takes the edge off both the heat in the kitchen and clean up.
|A mix of patterns and textures make an interesting table.|
It’s good to have a large arsenal of cloth napkins, at least some of which can be thrown in the washer. Especially during times like the holidays when there is lots of back to back entertaining, there isn’t always time to get them cleaned or ironed in between. Also, even for day to day dining, a fun patterned napkin enlivens a basic dinner table.
|Simple Calandiva plants in brass containers make a charming and easy alternative to |
flower arrangements for this dinner for two.
What influences your menu choices and do you have a signature dish?
My menu is determined primarily by the time of year and number of people. Obviously the season dictates what’s fresh at the market and as we segue from winter to spring, I’m looking to serve something lighter. If it’s up to about 6 people, I will often cook individual portions of something like fish fillets or lamb chops. For more guests than that I like to cook something in bulk. My signature dishes for fall through early spring are stews like coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon or for those who remember, the ever-popular Silver Palate chicken marbella that can be made a day ahead and only improve overnight.
|Stacey's must have and can't live without mandoline.|
One of my entertaining must-haves is a plastic mandoline. While I love my Cuisinart, I don’t always feel like dragging it out for small jobs. This fantastic German one takes up very little room in the pantry, has adjustable blades for different tasks and completely comes apart to easily throw in the dishwasher.
Who or what has most inspired your entertaining style?
It of course all started with my mother. She was incredibly stylish and artistic and I always loved helping her get ready to entertain. Whether deciding on outfits, organizing the rolling bar cart, or setting the table, she inspired my love for all things creative and fashionable. And while she had many talents, cooking was not one of them. My father was actually a fantastic baker but I think my interest in food and entertaining came originally from reading magazines my mother subscribed to like House & Garden. I can’t ever remember not being interested in how people entertained, what they served and how they set the table. I have been collecting books on cooking and entertaining for years from the classics like Julia Child (see below) to Roger Vergé and the fascinating Monet’s Table and for decades ogled over the entertaining worlds of people like Yves Saint-Laurent, Pauline de Rothschild and Alberto Pinto whose style extended so chicly to the table. And while I don’t ever entertain so extravagantly, it’s great to glean inspiration from the masters - there’s always something to take away.
Single experience or aha moment?
I’m not sure there was a single aha moment that set my entertaining style but for food I would say watching and reading Julia Child, Jacques Pepin and Madeleine Kamman and every week looking forward to Craig Claiborne’s NY Times column 60 Minute Gourmet. I’ll also never forget the first time I ate at Lutèce in that fabulous trellised room. The combination of André Soltner’s Alsatian inspired food with the charming decor was an eye opener.
|Dessert Brownie hot fudge sundae served on blue and white La Tuile a Loup plates.|
Favorite china or tabletop item.
I don’t have a single favorite item I collect only because there are so many different styles I love. In terms of place settings, I have everything from gold rimmed Limoges to church fair transferware and Chinese export finds to more artisanal pottery, like from my new favorite, La Tuile à Loup in Paris
, where I wanted everything. I have a long list of “would love to have” that maybe I’ll gradually chip away at. Since I have four children, hopefully everything will eventually find another home. I like having a nice selection of service plates and chargers because just like a successful room, I think a table is more interesting layered. I do tend to collect quite a few smaller bowls and containers which are so versatile for everything from condiments and cornichons to nuts, olives, confections and after dinner treats. I have quite a few platters in a wide variety of sizes and shapes that can do duty for everything from a cheese course to a caprese salad to a leg of lamb. The biggest issue is always storage!