Seeing Red, and Fashion vs. Style

Jes Gordon reveals what she would have changed about Sharon's dining room.


I adore fashion, and I pull a lot of my inspiration from every kind of fashion known to man, but even more so, I love style. We are responsible for our own style, and if you prefer to be more of a paint-by-numbers type of a person, then so be it. You can flip through any magazine and wear exactly what the models wear piece for piece, but where do you as a person go if you do that? 

Style comes from an emotional response to something that moves you so much that you want to be part of that feeling as much as possible. You want to surround yourself with it, watch it, and wear it. In terms of this episode, Frank’s style was an awesome surprise to me, and sadly Sharon’s was not.

Though Sharon often commented on how she hoped to streamline and simplify her cooking for Rocco and his guests, I don’t feel she was successful in doing so for the ambiance of her dining room. Just the mention of using a fashion look, book, or collage on the walls of Rocco’s informal dining room made me worry that the room would be too fussy. When Sharon first saw the initial reveal of her room, she agreed, so I scaled back the room before the guests arrived. I was also having a problem with the use of red in this room. Usually in smaller spaces, you want to use more neutral colors in order to make the room feel more spacious, rather than too saturated or intimate. The word “bordello” flew around a bit when the guests walked in and the use of red tones sadly confirms that ambiance, which isn’t always bad, but for Sharon’s fashion forward concept, I would have used more neutral tones throughout. In my book, Party like a Rock Star, I caution about the use of too much red for an event!

Where was Sharon’s style? Could we have found it in the fact that she is a mom, or that she went from being a nine to fiver to a full time owner of her own catering company, or perhaps in the fact that she successfully impressed Rocco with a controversial espresso-crusted signature dish? I would have loved to continue with touches of espresso throughout her dining room design. I was dying to drape the room in all white like Sharon suggested, but instead of the red accents and the more literal props such as fashion mannequins and design sketches, I would have loved to use neutral monochromatic tones and textures working within the deep espresso to natural jute shades. 

Gradients of whites are gorgeous too. People don’t realize that there a million different colors of white that can layer on top of each other harmoniously, or using a different texture like even a faux fur or a mixed pattern in neutral tones can create gorgeous dimension in a small space. 

As I watched the episode something that caught my attention about Sharon was that she served mint s’mores for dessert instead of the regular s’mores without mint. I wish she had taken this type of thinking and variety into her room décor -- the evening might have been more exciting for Rocco and his guests. 

In this case, less would have definitely been more in terms of Sharon’s design ideas. 

When I first met Frank, he was, as Sharon says, “a douche.” The guy was obviously just over it and completely uninspired by the fashion concept, so I sat with him for a bit and just chilled out, and let him marinate in Rocco’s formal dining room for a bit. Then I saw a couple of pretty dimples come out on his face, and his eyes brighten and he said “I got it!” He told me his wife is his inspiration for almost everything in his life, so why not use this inspiring element to create his dining room environment. I love this!! To me, this is what style is all about and where fashion is born. Frank took something he loves, and wanted to turn into something he could not only share with Rocco and his guests but with the world.

I immediately got to work on Frank’s room. I really didn’t need much from him after he gave his wife’s initial look: lots of '40s Hollywood glamour accents, corsets (HOT!!), BLING! (also so hot!!) And romance. Frank, you had me at the “shiny silver pretty things….”

I brought in a fab, shiny-mirrored vanity table and dressed with awesome '40s era vanity props, pearls, hair brushes, rhinestone hair clips, and diamonds!!

I placed a faux fur run under the large dining table and graced the table with mirrored square vases filled with Black Beauty roses, sterling silver roses, and mini black Calla lilies and on the table were DIAMONDS! Big ones!! I sewed a gorgeous patterned velvet silver and ivory table runner that was a plush intersection for the dining table. 

I used a mirrored sideboard to place small glamour photos and the ultimate glam surprise to the room was the gorgeous collection of antique corsets that the Rocco’s guests ended up fighting for. Frank also liked the idea of fashion sketches, but instead of making them look jumbled and like a collage, I focused on high-style simple line drawings in order to streamline the idea. 

By the time I was done with Frank's room I most definitely wanted to take a much-needed nap on that gorgeous day bed I found, complete with lush pillows and a greyhound guard dog statue. 

For Frank's lighting, I wanted the focus to stay shiny and pretty so I used light lavender tones to accentuate the gorgeous baubles that were used throughout the dining experience. I used a faux silver crocodile charger plate and really lush glassware and silverware to complete the glamour factor. 

I love the fact that this room was sooo feminine, even though Frank was Mr. Tattoo guy. What a softie….

FYI I am a huge fan of Nicole Miller, and to express my own style on my wedding day I wore a black and gun metal Nicole Miller dress. Check it out. This is what fashion and style is all about and allows us to celebrate the differences in people.

facebook: jesGORDON/properFUN
author of: Party Like A Rock Star


What the Bleepity Bleep Was in that Maple Syrup?!

Rocco DiSpirito explains the importance of love in cooking.


It wasn’t Valentine’s Day, but last night certainly felt like it. I am still trying to cool off. Ah,  if every day could be Valentine’s Day …

I welcomed to my kitchen three chefs with completely different backgrounds; hell, one wasn’t even an earning chef, but someone who just loves to cook (we should all be like her!) Let me introduce the trio:

Vicki Ferentino  is the owner of Soulfully Good Catering in New York City. She’s a self-taught chef/caterer who does a lot of huge, up-to-600-guest parties. She had to start cooking at age nine because her parents didn’t cook. That tells me she’s a real survivor. Her signature dish was a Buttermilk Fried Chicken Salad with Maple and Mayonnaise Dressing that I found intriguing. I mean, who combines maple syrup and mayonnaise? I like my maple syrup on buttermilk pancakes, not in my mayonnaise. (Plus, it was a visual disaster… if something looks that bad, you don’t want to taste it, but I had to, or it wouldn’t be fair to cast it out on looks alone. OK, that goes for life too: you can’t judge a book by its cover.) And to prove the truth of that well-worn cliché, Vicki’s dish was over-the-top delicious.

My second chef was Chris Thompson, Executive Chef who has worked in fine dining for more than 10 years in Minnesota. He currently hangs his chef’s hat at Smack Shack and has apprenticed under a lot of award-winning chefs. Chris is a “chef of the people.” He does the whole food truck thing where he sticks his head out the window and cooks great stuff at food fairs. 

But not dishes like the fois gras he was cooking for me. I got a whiff of it. Jeez, I concluded it had been around for a long time. It didn’t make me feel better when he said it had to be in a suitcase to get here. I wasn’t feeling very hungry after hearing that remark. Well, his full dish was pancake with fois gras, quail eggs, Serrano ham, and blueberry gastrique. It was a very indulgent and gorgeous-looking, but certainly not a breakfast you’d get at the local pancake shop, that’s for sure. But if you can get this in your town, let me know. OK, I ran my finger over the squiggle of gastrique and licked it. I said  “wow,” but what I really meant was “yuck.” It wasn’t balanced well against the strong flavors of the fois gras and eggs. On second thought, if your local pancake restaurant serves this dish, don’t call me.

Here is the most interesting entry in our signature challenge: Yuki Tsutsui, an investor relations professional with Avenue Capital. She’s a financier who loves to cook! I was freakin’ blown away by her willingness to come to the loft to compete. I am a huge believer in all of us learning to cook at home more often. I don’t care if you heat up tea in a microwave or slap together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you can cook. Hell, don’t get me started, but I think it’s healthier to cook at home, more satisfying, and definitely more economical -- and that’s coming from someone who has been a partner and executive chef in several restaurants. OK, let me jump off my soapbox with a thud, and say Yuki did something very creative and original. In fact, I’ve never seen such a feat before. Her signature dish not only told me how she cooks, it also told me so much about her heritage. She is Japanese with a Venezuelan background, so she prepared a fish taco called a JapaZuelan fish taco. It defined her persona from so many different points of view. BUT, yes there is always a “but”... the flavors of the fish (cod) didn’t combine well with the tomatillo sauce. Yuki flunked Sandwich 101, and she was eliminated. My final advice to her was: Hey, if you love cooking this much, get some formal training. If she takes my advice, I think we’ll see her in the next generation of celebrity chefs.Vicki won the Signature Dish Challenge. She won on taste, but I’ll tell you this: she also won on a fundamental, deep-down-in-your-heart reason: she cooks with love. It’s something you can’t taste, but it’s something you can feel. I don’t care if someone makes you a bowl of oatmeal or a five-course dinner, if they do it because they love you, you can feel it in your core and you never forget it. It is the most important ingredient when you cook for people you care about. 

Well, now that I’ve brought up the “love” thing, I should remind everyone that our theme was Perfect Pairings. I invited three couples to dinner. One couple was celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary (please, do I hear a collective Awww???) Another couple has been together 16 years, and the third couple just got engaged.

So I asked Vicki and Chris to create duets of food: two dishes that are delicious on their own, but when served together create a meal greater than the sum of the two parts. There would be three courses in all. So if I’ve done my math right, they’d have to prepare six different dishes for my guests.

Vicki chose the formal dining room. She made the room sexy and fun with flowers and candles. There were directions to a kissing booth. Formal definitions of love were on the wall. There was a bed with comfy pillows. The whole vibe was giving me ideas.  

Chris chose the terrace room for his dining experience. It had an outdoor picnic feel to it. He wanted it to conjure up an outdoor country wedding, but my party planner Jes Gordon felt that might make some guests feel uncomfortable, and I agree. Give me a kissing booth any day -- but I would let my guests be the ultimate judges.

And speaking of my guests, let me introduce them:

Jonathan Adler, Potter and Designer – and of course, the brainchild behind Jonathan Adler Design. He is an inspiration -- someone who got fired and turned down so many times before one brave company believed in him, and the rest is history.  Jonathan is an icon! He was joined by his life partner of 16 years, the witty and wonderful Simon Doonan. Simon is the Creative Ambassador for Barneys in New York City. Let me make this suggestion: If you have a Simon in your life, please invite him to your next dinner party. He and Jonathan were so delightful.  

And the just-engaged Hristo Zisoviski, the brilliant Sommelier, and his beautiful fiancee Tia Keenan, the Chief Fromager at the Make Room. Can you imagine the romantic evenings these two have… sharing wine and cheese, their passions?

Finally, our amazing couple Jason Jones and Samantha Bee, correspondents for The Daily Show, who are celebrating their 10th anniversary. They have three beautiful children. This is a couple who work together, play together, do it all together. What an inspiration.The love in the room just gave me such pause. As I watched each couple and immersed myself in their connection, I saw how when you love someone more than you need them, you truly make each other’s lives richer. 

Got to get out of that reverie and continue this blog. Vicki served first with a Carrot Ginger Soup and Coconut Shrimp. At this point I should mention a few things:

Tia doesn’t eat shrimp or lobster.

Simon doesn’t eat meat.

Samantha and Jason wanted to have something Cuban to celebrate a great time they had in Cuba during their romance.

So I threw down the gauntlet to Vicki and Chris: Accommodate these requests!

Vicki came through on the first course; she fixed Tia this amazing fried cheese piece of delight in lieu of the shrimp. But I think she cut the grilled cheese sandwich on the same cutting board she used for the shrimp… hope the swelling goes down soon, Tia.

Next up was her Garlic Herbed rubbed Lamb Chops with Roasted Vegetable Risotto. Not a big hit. The lamb was overcooked. She took all the fat off it. Bad choices, all the way around. The worst thing you can do is under dress and overcook lamb. 

For dessert, she served what she thought were pumpkin doughnuts with vanilla bean custard. She waited too long to make the custard, so what we got was a dipping sauce for the doughnuts, which were really beignets or zeppoles or donut holes or maybe fried dough? OK, I won’t split hairs. Doughnuts are fried dough. My mom let me fry dough when I was a kid and sprinkle it in sugar or honey, and I loved it. Fried dough rocks!

Oh, I should add that Vicki made a Cuban sandwich to commemorate Sam and Jason’s anniversary. It was spectacular, with a side of plantains. Hey, of course, I have plantains in my fridge, doesn’t everyone? 

Now, here’s where Vicki started racking up the points: She gave each guest a gift of jam with scones, beautifully boxed. My guests started tasting all of it immediately. When Simon said the jam was orgasmic, I thought I would have to postpone the second dinner party until the next nightWell, fortunately I broke the sexual tension in the air and got everyone to move to Chris’ dinner party in my Terrace Room. He started us off with Tuna Poke and Lobster Salad, but I felt like we had been waiting 10 years for our first course. Chris was completely off on his timing. The worst thing was he served shellfish to someone who is allergic to it. That is scary, folks. Don’t ever do that, unless you want ambulance personnel interrupting your dinner party. I already knew where this was headed. And it didn’t help that one of my guests pronounced Chris as someone who cooks like the “lunch chef.”  In my business, it’s the 3rd or 4th string that gets lunch duty. Ouch.

Chris is a real expert at plating… he loves to design plates… made me nostalgic… because when I was a young chef… excuse me, I am still a “young” chef, that was something I was known for, so I appreciate his plate artistry.

After Chris served his fennel braised short ribs, the most bizarre thing happened and I don’t really know how to process it. Simon doesn’t eat meat, and Chris didn’t make a substitute dish (major faux pas), yet Simon tried it and really loved it. This was the first time he had eaten red meat in 30 years. I think it says something about his impeccable manners, that he politely tried something and was so gracious about it. Yet at the same time I want my chefs to cater to my guests’ every desire and whim. Simon was such an amazing sport… God love him.

And Chris fixed a spectacular Cuban dish too. Roasted chicken and plantains… Yes, of course I am always well stocked with plantains. The dish was a triumph. I got to thinking over the past weeks -- it seems like the dishes I’ve asked these chefs to make on the fly have been their best. I wonder if we overthink food too much? Is spontaneity better, like it is in romance? I don’t know... bring me your comments on this!

Everyone loved Chris’s desserts, Pot de Creme and Crème Brulee

Over dinner, we had some provocative discussions about anniversaries over the course of relationships. Like: do you remember the first date… the first time you had sex… the first anniversary of your first date…. Blah, blah, blah… I will end the debate now: every day that you spend together, every moment, is an anniversary to be celebrated and cherished.

So… at the end of night, Vicki won… again she cooked with love, and love, well, that’s what life is all about.

But I still think she put something in that maple syrup ….