We Like to Party

Jes Gordon dives deep into what throwing a party really means.

This party will continue... for all of us!!!!!

One of the most common ledges I have to talk my clients off of is something I like to call “post-party depression.” This sounds funny at first, but it is a real problem in my world, and I am often spending a lot of time convincing folks that there is not only one party to be thrown in their lives, and that there are plenty to come in the future. 

What is interesting about our show is that obviously, since it's a competition, everyone has to live in the moment and make this particular party mean everything since there is a prize at stake. What I like to concentrate on though, is that for everyone involved in the show including the contestants, the guests, Rocco, and even myself, is that the party will surely go on whereever and at any time we want it to. 

Basically people, we are free to party!!!

Something that I adore about Rocco (amongst many things) is that he values good quality time with the people he loves. He is also a huge fan of comfort, beauty, and high-end elements. Something that I learned from doing his show is that it is a true gift to those around you when you cook for them. I feel the same way about setting the ambiance of the room where that food is being served, and it’s pretty genius of Bravo to understand the importance of both and creating an outlet where Rocco and I can truly prove our points. Since I cannot cook… anything, I prefer to design environments where the two elements can harmonize together. I am still trying to convince Rocco to give me a cooking lesson some day.Why do we celebrate? Do we want presents? Do we want to get dressed up? Do we want to get drunk? Or maybe we want to find out who is most important to us in our lives….There is no right or wrong reason to celebrate -- we just all need to realize that we are lucky to do so, and that the people that show up to be with us mean so very much. We all have our reasons to celebrate and our own “party meter.” Some of us celebrate when a broken nail grows back, or if someone goes into remission from cancer, or is having a 65th birthday like Liza Minnelli, and there are no party police that step in and tell us that we are under arrest for choosing our own reasons to party. This is an area in our lives where we can escape the usual rules and just forget about our jobs, our taxes, and picking the kids up from school for a day. We also tend to allow ourselves to consume carbs and eat candy, which is certainly a valid reason to move forward into “party land."

Amongst the fun part comes the serious stuff. The quality of the party directly reflects how you feel about the guests you are inviting. Rocco is a perfectionist when it comes to this, and he is flawless in making his guests feel like kings and queens for the time they spend with him as a party host. This is a lost art. Parties have become major outlets to show off celebrities, money, and fashion. Rocco brings his party ideals back to where they belong; events that are thrown from the heart and from creating an experience from which people don't want to leave and remember long after the event. 

Being a great host is pretty exhausting. It’s like playing a very intricate game of chess for one part of the brain and then a crazy karaoke session for the other side. You are constantly insuring that your guests are happy and making conversation while worrying about the back of the house logistics and wondering if they are going smoothly. This is certainly one of the biggest challenges of my job. It is iterally a juggling marathon, and if one of the ball drops it reflects on you. Something to remember is that whatever goes on behind the scenes and can be solved behind the scenes is fine. You may be having heart palpitations, but as long as your guests don't know about the drama that is happening you are all good. Troubleshooting is a must in this biz!

We often saw Rocco having to go into the kitchen to check on the chefs and to make sure they were on target, and then he would have to go back to his guests and continue to stay cool, calm, and charming: he pulled it off, but this is not an easy thing to do. I do this every day and it's exhausting yes, but its also exciting and I am lucky to be doing it!As you entertain and celebrate more, things start to become more fluid. I can easily pick out seasoned entertainers just by how they hold themselves or make decisions. It is very rare that a chef is also an effective host; it takes an enormous amount of coordination, kind of like singing and playing the drums at the same time. What I love about this show is that the chefs didn't really know what they were getting into to a certain extent, and I feel like this experience whether they lost or won will make them better at what they do. Many of the chefs spoke of wanting to open their own restaurants some day. Well, how would they do that if they can only cook without a time limit or not think about what that restaurant would look like? I assume that many of the competing chefs from this season were thankful for this experience and from what they learned from Rocco and myself. 

The most important part of continuing to evolve as an entertainer or host is to lose the ego. If we stop learning from those around us, we will hit the ceiling pretty quickly…. I have learned so much from my clients and continue to do so. I found that a few of the chefs from the show were pretty egotistical, and I truly hope that they don't close themselves off from learning as they continue to grow in their careers and personal lives. When you are a host, the evening is about your guests and not about you. If you are good at what you do, you can put your own flair onto the experience in a subtle way and not interfere with the flow of the evening.  Many of my clients can walk into one of my events and say, “Oh this is a Jes Gordon event,” which is great, but if it's too overwhelming, then the event gets lost, and the reason for the event is forever gone and misrepresented. It’s so important to keep the right focus for any party which really comes down to making every one of your guests feel special and that the party is for them and them only. 

In terms of this last episode, I think it was fully realized that the focus of both dinner parties was on Liza Minnelli’s 65th birthday! What an amazing lady, and what an honor it was to be part of her special day, and the rest of the guests weren’t too shabby either. I enjoyed working with Lucia and Frank very much. Though Frank’s vision had me a little confused at first, everything came together phenomenally, and Lucia was focused on celebrating Liza and only Liza, which definitely came through in her room!   

I tell my clients all the time, and now I am telling you: don’t forget to have fun. At the end of the day, these are celebrations, so allow yourself to enjoy them! Follow me on Twitter, and watch for my company blog for great tips and news!


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Author: 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 ….