If we’re lucky as children, we’re taught which fork to use at the table, as well as proper table manners and eating utensil etiquette. And if we’re very lucky, we’re also taught how to be a gracious guest and an artful conversationalist. But how does one learn the art of entertaining?
The irrepressible Elsa Maxwell was so famous for being a hostess that the Waldorf-Astoria gave her a rent-free suite, while her close friend Cole Porter wrote songs about her society parties and costume balls. As the doyenne of high society, Maxwell hosted a radio show and wrote a book called How to Do It or The Lively Art of Entertaining.
For those of us who yearn for a 21st-century equivalent to one of Maxwell’s Jazz Age parties on the Lido in Venice or her scavenger hunts in 1920s Paris, Rizzoli New York has published The Art of Entertaining (2016), a gorgeous compilation of 17 seasonal parties produced by members of Relais & Châteaux from across North America.
“Relais & Châteaux members are among the world’s foremost experts on entertaining,” states Patrick O’Connell, the Chef Proprietor of the Inn at Little Washington, as well as the President of Relais & Châteaux North America. Founded in 1954, Relais & Châteaux is an association of 540 exceptional hotels and restaurants run by independent hoteliers and innkeepers on five continents, including the 85 Relais & Châteaux properties located throughout the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean, and Canada. As O’Connell asserts, “Each Relais property has its own authentic style [honed by owners who] have spent generations perfecting their craft.”
Accompanied by 250 color photographs (and a recipe index), The Art of Entertaining opens the portals to 17 of North America’s most renowned innkeepers who share their insights (and secrets) for successful entertaining at home. Throughout the book, chefs offer some of their most favorite seasonal recipes for events such as a New England clambake to a Gilded Age-inspired New Year’s Eve celebration. As O’Connell writes in his introduction, “Studying the efforts of these experts [reveals the role] of advance planning…as well as the key ingredients of fun and whimsy.”
At Edgartown’s Charlotte Inn, a proper British tea is accompanied by deviled eggs with Osetra caviar. Meanwhile, in Texas Hill Country, the Inn at Dos Brisas serves a rustic farm picnic bursting with indigenous wildflowers. The “Queen of Atlantic resorts,” Rhode Island’s Ocean House, hosts an annual Fourth of July Beach Ball marked by a seven-foot dessert stand displaying 4,000 cupcakes and gateaux and a fireworks spectacle from the hotel’s barge on the bay. As chef John Kolesar explains, “An Ocean House event is successful because we create a buzz, a theater. Guests love the show.”
Author Jessica Kerwin Jenkins, a contributing writer for Vogue and the New York Times, has chosen inns and hotels from the entirety of North America to showcase the broad expanse of distinctive Relais & Chateaux and their historic pedigrees. Langdon Hall, for example, was the erstwhile Canadian summer home of John Jacob Astor’s great-grandson—and its luxuriant gardens can be traced to the landscape firm of Frederick Law Olmstead.
Designed by Carrère and Hastings, the architects known for the New York Public Library, Glenmere Mansion was built in 1911 as a country retreat for a wealthy industrialist who hosted Babe Ruth, as well as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. What better estate to host a Gatsbyesque bash than this Italianate villa in the lower Hudson Valley? According to event designer Matthew Robbins, the best parties are those where “guests feel…immersed in the party and consumed by the…details.”
At the Fearrington House Inn, Sunday brunch honors its aristocratic British antecedents as a post-hunt breakfast with a menu that creates a “sense of comfort, and conversation that embodies the easygoing…attributes of the South,” which, in this case, means savory cornbread waffles with slivered smoked salmon and crème fraîche. Perhaps needless to say, there’s also shrimp and grits, albeit with the addition of Parmesan.
With a focus on design details and culinary accents, the photography by Melanie Acevedo and David Engelhardt amplifies the beauty of these notable properties. By the time you reach the Carnivalesque Halloween Ball at the Inn at Little Washington, you’ll agree with O’Connell’s contention that the profiled properties “offer an antidote to hard-edged reality [and] an escape from the nastiness of modern life.”
And when O’Connell says, “That’s what we do every night…guests feel they’re more than they are,” he might be speaking for every Relais & Châteaux property that cultivates the art of entertaining—and, in so doing, honors the indefatigable spirit of Elsa Maxwell.
Menus, Flowers, Table Settings, and More for Memorable Celebrations
Relais & Châteaux North America and Jessica Kerwin Jenkins
Foreword by Patrick O’Connell
Photographed by Melanie Acevedo and David Engelhardt
Hardcover with jacket / 9” x 11” / 240 pages / 250 color photographs
$45.00 U.S., $60.00 Canadian, £29.95 U.K.
ISBN: 978-0-8478-4931-4 / Rizzoli New York
Release date: October 2016