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Prepping the Party Season 

Summertime is party time. Be the host who boasts all the best entertaining ideas with tips from our panel of party experts.

At the first sign of warm weather, flip-flops, picnic baskets, and Frisbees come out of hiding. As the days stretch and we move outdoors, it gives us an opportunity to share our homes. Entertaining in the summer should be relaxed and fun. It should embrace the bounty of seasonal delights in the Hudson Valley. Whether you have a simple barbecue in the backyard or host a fabulous soiree with a guest list a mile long, we’ve looked to the area’s experts for advice and ideas on what they offer for planning an event that’s unforgettable and stress free.

The New Simplicity
Michael Leva, who recently penned his first book, Recipes for Parties (Rizzoli, 2010), with textile guru Nancy Parker, has brought his creative genius to the table (he’s senior vice president of design and product development for women’s clothier J.Jill). Leva wrote this book because “[Nancy and I] entertain, we do it well, and we do it often. We’re time-stressed people, and if we can do it, anyone can.” he explains. Leva says that the key to throwing a great party is being well organized, and not getting flustered. “You have to enjoy all of the steps of planning, from the shopping to arranging the flowers. Being incredibly organized by making plans and sticking with a schedule is key. If you do this, you’ll get through it.”

Leva’s book is like a party planning bible in this regard. For each themed party, there’s “The Plan,” which instructs you on what to do and when to do it, leading up to the day of your party.

When asked about trends in entertaining, Leva explains, “Everything is more low-key now. People are less ridiculous. Parties are more refined and simple.” He always advises adding personal elements to your party. He adds, “When you entertain, you’re giving a gift. It’s so much more sincere when it’s personal.”

Blue Cashew Kitchen Pharmacy in Rhinebeck will host a book signing for Michael Leva and Recipes for Parties on Saturday, June 19, from 4 to 7pm.

Family Style

Main Course Catering (they also have a New Paltz restaurant location) has been part of the local, sustainable, organic food movement since before it was a movement. Bruce Kazan, owner and chef, explains that his business is all about “keeping it as local as possible and eating what’s been picked that morning.” Menus are developed based on what’s available fresh from purveyors. “If a client calls for a party in a couple of weeks, I’ll let them know that it will be sugar snap pea season, or when the arugula is going to be awesome,” says Kazan.
There’s also a good chance that something in your food or drink will be sourced from Kazan’s own garden. He does what it takes to make it work and keep his clients happy. And when it comes to decor, expect edible centerpieces. Candles are nestled in lemons, and apples and branches are used to make the tables feel homey. The farm-to-family style is bigger than ever, and while Spanish tapas menus were a trend last year, people are leaning toward the family style of serving at a large community table.

Turning Japanese
Not all summer shindigs need to be about beer and burgers. Surprise your guests with a Japanese party; the theme opportunities are endless. Whether you’re hosting an elegant Japanese dinner or busting out the Dance Dance Revolution, you’ll need food; and you’ll want it to be authentic. Gomen Kudasai in New Paltz offers catering options for parties of 10 to 100. Youko Yamamoto, owner of Gomen Kudasai, explains that “Japanese food is good for summer parties because it is very healthy and has a very clean taste.” Her preparations—many of which have been revised from age-old family recipes—have fresh and cooling ingredients that are perfect for summer. The restaurant also boasts sushi master Makio Idesako, whose list of accreditations is as impressive as his authentic and meticulously crafted hand rolls.

Hudson Valley Mediterranean

Gigi Hudson Valley, owned by chef and registered dietitian Laura Pensiero, brings the Hudson Valley’s finest food from farm to table. Aside from running a cozy trattoria in Rhinebeck and a market in Red Hook, Pensiero also wrote Hudson Valley Mediterranean (William Morrow Cookbooks, 2009), a primer for incorporating local ingredients into sophisitcated dishes. Gigi specializes in entertaining—or rather, helping the client to entertain. Brianna Drohen, director of catering and sales, says, “We like to help you entertain and make your event shine.” Whether it’s a country feast in a 100-year old barn, a picnic in an apple orchard, or an upscale gala, Gigi’s Mediterranean-style menu is always local and seasonal. They also do some fantastic personalized events. Drohen says, “You give us a theme and we’ll create a menu.” And don’t be surprised if you meet the farmers who raised the beef in your lunch. Drohen points out, “We work to create a synergy between the farmers to the chefs to the clients here.”

Home Away from Home
Doc’s Trattoria is a restaurant that feels like home—perhaps because it actually is a home. The clapboard house with posh interior, owned by husband-and-wife duo Roberto and Paulina Pizzo, is the perfect place to host a party, with homey features like a cozy fireplace and lovely outdoor patio. The couple has been welcoming loyal locals and sauntering tourists to Kent, Connecticut, for the last nine years with their heavily Sicilian menu that’s chock-full of Roberto’s family favorites. “Roberto spent most of his young life in Italy, where he learned the recipes that are on the menu,” explains Paulina. Many of these are popular for catering events. Their most popular party dishes are classic Italian comfort foods that are fresh and simple. Penne Vessuviana and the Chicken and Veal Marsala are favorites.

Right on ‘Cue
When grill aficionados boast of ‘cue, it’s Memphis, North Carolina, Texas, and Kansas City that are usually name checked. New York is better known for its foie gras and free-range fare. It’s Chumleys BBQ and Catering Company that’s changing the way people think about whose rib reigns supreme in this neck of the woods. Chumleys, owned by Dan Lamier and Jason Gaer started as a tiny hut in the Orange County hamlet of Florida, and has grown into a full-blown restaurant and catering business. A handful of the employees (including Lamier) have a background at the Culinary Institute of America, so there’s no doubt that you’re eating some pretty sweet meat—literally sweet, if that’s what you have a hankering for. One of the sauces that Lamier created is the Root Beer sauce, which renders a sugary soda pop flavor. The Original, made with beer and bourbon, was created “one day when I was drinking with my buddies,” Lamier explains. “We just happened to be drinking these two things and it came about from that.” There’s also a mustard sauce. All three are delicious on the meats—especially the pulled pork, which is the top choice for their catered events. The philosophy at Chumleys is that you should be a “guest at your own party.” This means that Lamier will show up with a server who will be the party’s “mother.” He does all of the cooking on-site, and says that all you do is “sit back and look good”—and enjoy the shindig.

That option could certainly be considered a cheat, but even Michael Leva condones a little cheating—on your menu, that is. In his book, a small section titled “Cheats” is included for each party theme. He writes: “It’s fine to not make all your own food. Just make sure that you’re buying from a good source.” Whether you choose one of the better-than-good sources above or take more of a DIY approach, it’s all about being stress-free in the summertime.

Blue Cashew Kitchen Pharmacy
Chumleys BBQ and Catering Company
Doc’s Trattoria
Gigi Hudson Valley
Gomen Kudasai

click to enlarge From "Recipes for Parties" (Rizzoli, 2010), by Michael Leva, photographed by Pieter Estersohn - PIETER ESTERSOHN
  • Pieter Estersohn
  • From "Recipes for Parties" (Rizzoli, 2010), by Michael Leva, photographed by Pieter Estersohn
  • Tips, ideas, and resources for making your summer party a big hit.


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