The Importance of Nostalgia in Entertaining

Jes Gordon might not have been able to understand what Fabrizio was saying, but she understood what he wanted.


For me, nostalgia is an incredibly important part of creating an environment at any event. I talk about nostalgia a lot in my book, Party Like A Rock Star, because every event should feel comfortable and inviting. When guests can relate to their surroundings through happy memories and nostalgia, they are automatically relaxed and can open themselves up to having a great time.

Using the given theme of Italian Family Dinner, geared me towards trying to create atmospheres in the dining rooms that would evoke happy emotional responses from Rocco and his guests. The environments needed to be intimate, warm, and comforting, but exciting enough to keep a nice “pulse” to the room and keep the guests entertained visually, so the rooms would be the cause of the easy flow of conversation. The rooms also needed to translate and express what Ninamarie and Fabrizio wanted, which wasn’t easy considering I couldn’t understand a word that Fabrizio said! I sat with Ninamarie and at first she really didn’t have much to bring to the table décor-wise for me, but within moments her face lit up after she had conjured up memories of visiting Little Italy as a special place for her and her family and friends to go to. She loved being visually entertained in the old school restaurants there by all of the old pictures on the walls; the big round tables and the mismatched plush seating. Ninamarie wanted to allow a lot of space on the table in order to serve the guests family style with large platters of food. I used small mason jars filled with simple stems of garden roses accented with sprigs of real kumquat stems and raspberry sprigs.

Ninamarie wanted some whimsy in the room and some oversized items, so I created a Mulberry Street sign to grace the brick walls and some fun oversized forks, spoons and spaghetti and meatballs!! There were a lot of elements in the room, because my experience with Little Italy restaurants in NY, have a lot to look at: pictures, candles, little knickknacks all over the place….I wanted to bring in something celebratory into the room, so I brought in some of the outside parts of Little Italy into the inside dining room. I created a street park vignette and I strung the ceiling with large café lights much like the lights that span across the actual streets of Little Italy. The neon signs added a bit of WOW texture into the room and I replaced Rocco’s curtains with large silk bold striped panels. I placed the table on an old rich patterned rug, which to me screamed “home.” I worked very closely with the brilliant lighting department on the show to make sure that the dining room had an amber glow, which created a warm ambiance. Overall I felt that the room had an awesome amount of nostalgic elements that worked in a harmonious way…. Caroline Manzo specifically stated that she felt like she was in her grandmother’s kitchen and that the room reminded her of her courtship days with Albert. Now we’re cooking with décor gas! On to FABRIZIO!!  

Fabrizio was very clear about the environment he wanted to create for Rocco’s terrace dining room. There was definitely a language barrier there, but we worked it out. It seemed clear to me that Fabrizio was a natural born chef, especially when it comes to Italian food for sure.  

He was very adamant about wanting to create an outdoor sharing experience, so naturally his choice of the terrace was a smart one. I am not sure if his design motifs would have worked as well in the other dining rooms.  

In order to bring the outdoors in, I placed the table on a faux grass rug and added a ton of real herb plants: rosemary, French lavender, basil plants, etc. I wanted to beef up the existing trellis by adding a ton of grape clusters and naturally dried Tuscan roses with grapevines and ivy accents. Fabrizio is all about the food, so I accented the room with displays of fresh vegetables on a beautiful old wooden side board.  The mac daddy WOW factor of the room was an amazing painting that represented the Italian countryside where Fabrizio’s family was from. I pulled a major talent from the art department and she gracefully rocked this painting out for me. I felt the room needed a little more personality and that the painting really brought us into Fabrizio’s world. I also wanted to pop a bit more color into the organic color palette of the room, so I added some gorgeous Aqua Blue Bengaline curtains to bring some warmth and texture into the outdoor terrace. To me, the décor was safe in this room and not as celebratory as Ninamarie’s, but the guests seemed to adore the experience. 

I have been doing parties like this for years, social and corporate events, so my challenges are to find a way to make each event special in a digestible way. It’s so important that each event has a personal touch that makes my clients feel like rock stars every time.

Feel free to ask specific questions regarding the creative process for these rooms and how I got to the finished product. 

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Absolutely Fabulous

Liza Minnelli, Alan Cumming, Sandra Bernhard, Kenneth Cole, Marvin Hamlisch, and Sam Harris? What more could you ask for?

The finale was a bittersweet one -- bitter in that it was the season finale, but oh so sweet in that this episode presented possibly the most fabulous dinner guests of the whole season. (It's debatable.) It was Lucille 2's Liza Minnelli's 65th birthday after all. But we'll get to that in a minute. 

In the Signature Dish Challenge, we watched as Antonio Bettencourt, who one might consider the front-runner for this challenge, went home. And we were left with Frank Picchione and Lucia Palmieri, two of the most, um, interesting contestants we've seen so far this season. Both took very different approaches to their Liza-inspired rooms and menus. While Lucia really Liza-d out, making an all-red room and themed foods, Frank went with a sort of country home feel (with bits of hunting paraphernalia), and a comfort food menu. Here are some of my random thought through the episode. Let me know if you were thinking the same thing!

1. I'm surprised Frank was so patient with Lucia. If my competitor were singing and talking through service, we would've had some words.

2. I was as confused as Jes Gordon was with Frank's original design direction. I think Jes did quite an admirable job pulling it off!

3. Kenneth Cole kinda looks like Toby from The Office, and i never realized it before.

4. I knew the second Frank swapped the chicken stock for apple cider vinegar in his soup that the guests would think it was too sweet. As a foodie, I was pretty proud of that.

5. Even though Sandra Bernhard got a little flack for her "negative" comments at the table, I agreed with all of them! And, I too, would have preferred dark chocolate over milk chocolate on my strawberry. Also, I too, would have questioned being served a strawberry as an amuse-bouche.

6. I also found it odd that Frank served a soup followed by a stew, and I don't think anyone commented on it. 

6. Every time Marvin Hamlisch spoke, all I could think about was this:



7. Also, I used to have a crush on Alan Cumming. Like, when Cabarat first came out. Oh well.

That's all from me this season. What did you guys think of the premiere? And what was your favorite episode of the season?

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