Cast Blog: #ROCCOSDINNERPARTY

Give Me Flavor or Give Me Death!

Happy Birthday, Liza!

We Like to Party

Absolutely Fabulous

What the Bleepity Bleep Was in that Maple Syrup?!

Better Together

Love Shack

Thank God for Caviar

Fashion Plates

Seeing Red, and Fashion vs. Style

A Gastronomical Experience

Full Throttle

Proper

Bon Appetit

Wet Hot American Dinner Party

Girl Power!!

Witchy Woman

Do the Chefs' Signature Dishes Translate to Signature Design Style?

Anything for Jeff Ross

Summer, Summer, Summertime

Finding Your Focal Point

A True Italian Meal

Everything But the Kitchen *SYNC

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The Importance of Nostalgia in Entertaining

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No Losers

Skins

All About Ambiance

Eternal Flame

A Real Crowd Pleaser

Give Me Flavor or Give Me Death!

Rocco DiSpirito goes deep about why Corey Roberts' party ultimately won.

Last night’s dinner party may go down in the history-so-far of the show as the wildest. The kitchen almost burned up, guests got ballet lessons after dinner, and I got a marriage proposal. But the craziest angle of all was the diverse background of the chefs: owner of a cooking school, a vegan chef, and an airline chef. Don't airline chefs make meals that look like they had been placed in a time capsule and only recently unearthed – stuff you eat somewhere over Kansas? Well, read on, for how this dinner party came down.

The three chefs competing were:

Corey Roberts, who is from Australia and is the Executive Chef for LSG Sky Chefs. Yes, he’s the airline chef in question.

Nicole Straight from Connecticut. Nicole runs Time to Eat Cooking School. She teaches people how to throw dinner parties.

Ayinde Howell. He’s a vegan chef and food blogger. Ayinde has been a vegan all his life; he eats no animal products of any kind. He has never even cooked meat. I’ve cooked and eaten a lot of vegan meals, and done right, they can be terrific. Ayinde said he could deliver.

For the Signature Dish Challenge, Ayinde whipped up Texas BBQ Rubbed Seitan with Sauteed Mustard Greens and Home Fried Potatoes. Seitan (pronounced SAY-Tan) is another alternative to meat, and it comes from the protein in wheat. You can use it in a lot of dishes, like stews, burgers, and casseroles. Like tofu, it takes on the character and flavor of any ingredient used with it. His seitan did taste like a meat dish, but it was so over-seasoned … I could barely eat it. The level of sodium made my cheeks wince.  Wish he had the ability to acknowledge his error, might have saved him.

Nicole made Pan Roasted Salmon with Truffle Butter Sauce, wilted baby spinach, and slices of Yukon Gold Potatoes. The salmon was cooked perfectly. Good truffles can change your life, but I couldn’t taste them in the butter sauce. She clearly doesn’t have lots of experience with this precious ingredient.

Corey did something playful and fun: Mummy Fried Shrimp. He took long shreds of potato and wrapped each shrimp so that it looked like a mummy. Then he deep fried them. Very cool. Creativity like that wows guests. He served it atop an avocado and citrus salad. But the shrimp was woefully bland and not crispy. So sad. I asked him if the fryer he was using was hot enough and he made some smart-alec remark.

I had flavor issues with each dish. I was having a hard time understanding how dishes so potentially robust could be so neutered. Give me flavor or give me death! Or something like that. I was really hoping Ayinde would stay in the running, but his dish was so unbalanced that I ended the party for him.

Corey -- the airline chef -- won the Signature Dish Challenge. The whimsical nature of and the potential of the dish won me over. 

My dinner party theme was Town and Country … “town” being the sophisticated, big city taste and feel; “country” being a throw-back to simpler times, farm-fresh ingredients, and the casual gathering of friends around a casual table.

Nicole and Corey picked their theme by choosing one of two domes. Under one dome were eggs (country); under the other, caviar (town). Corey got the Country assignment; Nicole, the Town.

They put a lot of thought, energy, and detail in their decors. Corey chose the Terrace and party planner Jes Gordon decorated it with lots of rustic touches: country photographs, wagon wheels, and a special country-themed gift at each place setting. Nicole went for a high-style, white, lime green and fuchsia décor, with black and white photos of New York City hanging on my walls.

On my invitation list were:

Terrance Brennan, the Chef-Proprietor of the successful and acclaimed restaurants of The Artisanal Group, including Picholine, Artisanal Fromagerie, Bistro & Wine Bar, and Bar Artisanal. In 2003, Terrance launched the Artisanal Premium Cheese Center -- a 10,000-square foot facility dedicated to the selection, maturation, and distribution of the world's finest artisanal cheeses. He brought a table full of his cheeses to the party, so I asked both chefs to prepare a cheese course using Terrance’s cheeses.

Melissa Joan Hart. You’ve seen Melissa in the live-action version of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and since 2010, she has starred in the ABC Family series, Melissa and Joey.  

Deborah Cox, singer and actress who has conquered the R&B and pop charts, including six top R&B singles, and impressive 10 number-one hits on Billboard’s Hot Dance Party Play chart. Plus, she has starred in musicals on Broadway.

Christian Campbell. Christian is an actor who has been on so many TV shows, movies, and plays that his resume could wrap around Manhattan and back.

Mo Rocca. Humorist, actor and writer, Mo Rocca is best known for his off-beat news reports and satirical commentary. Currently, he’s the host of Food(ography) on the Cooking Channel.

Tiler Peck. Tiler is the Principal Ballerina with the New York City Ballet. Tiler was a consultant on the movie Black Swan.

The party got started in the terrace with Corey’s Country-themed dinner. My guests were blown away by the little jars of just-made rhubarb jam that served as place settings. The waiters brought out the cheese course: Fried Saint-Marcellin Cheese with Swedish Country ligonberries. Terrance got a little miffed when he heard Corey was going to fry one of his cheeses. I guess he thought frying was an insult to the integrity of his great cheeses. Saint Marcellin is one of my top five favorites cheeses in the world. Was Corey going to change my mind with his fried version? I first had it in France with a serious side of black truffles, so you can only imagine the memories I had of it. Many cheeses do well fried but no one thought this one would. We all dug in. OMG. It was so freakin’ good that I almost fell over backwards in my chair. Usually, I let my guests make the first comment, but the dish was pure ecstasy and I couldn’t help but belt out a passionate response. The fried cheese was, well, pretty much my idea of heaven. Terrance ate his words –- and the cheese course -- declaring it superb.

Corey next served Fresh Baked Rolls (that he made the dough for), Forest Mushroom Soup, and Poached Eggs with Asparagus. Rave reviews followed.

He decided to redeem himself with the Mummy Fried Shrimp, and redeem himself, he did. Corey got it right, and my guests were wowed by it. Corey was a little slow in getting things on the table. I called him on it. Things got testy, and he told me to get out of the kitchen and back to my guests. I listened.

We got to the main course: Roasted Poussin and Salmon Trout. The salmon was dry; no one much cared for it. No matter how you do it, the most important thing to remember about cooking seafood is not to overcook it. Although a lot of people think raw seafood will kill you, overcooking it is almost a worse sin. My guests liked the poussin better. Poussin is the French word for a young chicken. For dessert, Corey ambitiously made two desserts (I don’t know how he did all this in four hours): Country Style Apple Pie and Macadamia Nut Tart. I advised my guests to take only a bite or two, because we still had a second dinner party ahead.

Nicole’s décor wowed everyone. They knew immediately that it was a spring-in-New-York setting, just what Nicole intended. She started us off with Sesame Seared Tuna Tartare with Wasabi Crème Fraiche. It had a real kick to it. Terrance felt it was clichéd and not a true tartare since the tuna had been seared. I came to her defense. Not all guests will appreciate the finer qualities of raw tuna, so cooking it a bit might be good for those who aren’t terribly adventurous eaters. The seasoning was unbalanced and ultimately crushed any chances the dish had, but raw or slightly raw is splitting hairs to me.The cheese course used several of Terrance’s amazing cheeses. Nicole made little cheese sandwiches (tartines) and served them with Crimini Mushroom Soup. The tartines were mostly good. Unfortunately, the soup was cold. It needed to be hot and satisfying. Talk about a tense start to the party.

Well, it got worse. All of a sudden, smoke starts streaming out of the kitchen into the dining room. I rushed into the kitchen, but kept calm. Because I’m a professional, people assume I’ve never burned anything in my life, but I have … it happens. In Nicole’s case, the grilled lobster seemed to be on fire, but it wasn’t. Something flared up on the stove, and there was chaos for a few moments. When cooking at home for just me, I try not to get too worked up if everything doesn’t turn out just so. When guests are coming, however, my inner critic emerges and I do obsess more about the finished product. So I was getting a little stressed over how the next course would come out, or if it would come out at all.

The smoke cleared, and Nicole’s Risotto Cake with Lobster and Fennel and Purple Onion Salad came out fine. Her main course was Herb-Roasted Filet Mignon with Gratin Dauphinoise (I was proud of myself for pronouncing it correctly) and Asparagus. Here’s where I think Nicole made another fatal mistake: not finding out how guests like their beef cooked. We discussed it before, I suggested she take temperatures and her feeling was the guests should eat an expensive cut of beef like tenderloin rare. And I agree, but I don’t impose my belief on my guests. Yes, a medium-rare steak is delicious but many people like filet mignon and other cuts of beef well-done. But no matter what you or I think, the guest rules. I saw Deborah eating the outsides of the beef so I sent hers back. Nicole had to make it less rare, and the whole spectacle was uncomfortable, especially since Deborah had to wait while everyone else was eating.

Nicole created a spectacular dessert, though: Chocolate Cake with Fresh Raspberries. It sat under a unique and intricate mesh-spun sugar dome. Although a very dated sugar garnish, creating a sugar dome takes patience. Hers seem to have that wow factor that so well fit the Town theme.

Although the gods of great food were smiling down on both dinner parties, I had to pick a winner. Nicole and Corey left no taste bud unturned; the dinner party gave both chefs a chance to show their stuff. They were masters at plating, too. As I say, “All the plate is a stage.” People eat with their eyes first. When a plate arrives at the table, you've already made an initial judgment on whether you’ll like it or not by how good it looks. Corey and Nicole made sure that the different items on their dishes were varied, colorful and attractively-arranged.

I quickly polled my guests and there was one clear winner –- Corey –- whose fried cheese exploded in flavor and whose shrimp dish redeemed itself in a big way.  He went out of his way to impress us with loads of delicious handmade food and designed a perfect country setting. As close as Nicole came to showing us what an elegant city night looks and tastes like we all had a better time with Corey.

Thank you, Terrance, Melissa, Deborah, Christian, Mo, and Tiler. The whole point of entertaining is to have fun, and you made it fun.

And I’ll never look at airline food the same way again.

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