The French have a special talent for entertaining. I’ve taken some cues from them over the years on the art of the dinner party. After recently throwing my own little dinner soiree, I decided to share some tips for being the perfect Parisian hostess!
THE GUEST LIST
When throwing your dinner party, the first thing to consider is the guest list. In Paris, apartments tend to be small, so a host must be selective and thoughtful with whom they invite. While you may decide to invite a tight knit group of friends, a dinner can be the perfect occasion to make new ones. Be sure to consider the personalities and interests of your guests to ensure they’ll get along. The French will politely offer to bring something such as a bottle of wine (any more than that is considered rude). You are the host, so it’s solely up to you to wine and dine them.
SETTING A DATE
In France, it’s typical to throw dinner parties any day of the week, not just on a weekend. And it need not be a special occasion. Seeing old friends and meeting new ones is occasion enough. A typical dinner invitation is best set for 8 p.m., but dinner should not be served before 9 p.m. Parisians are not always punctual, so don’t get ahead of yourself preparing dinner. The French don’t like to rush!
As guests arrive, greet them with a nice apéro. An apéro is a friendly drink before dinner (and a great way to entertain while you finish up in the kitchen). Champagne is perfect, but wine or beer is fine if your guests prefer either. It’s always good to have something like sparkling water for those who don’t drink alcohol. Some hors d’oeuvres or amuse-bouche will hold your guests over until dinner is served. You can keep it simple with a plate of charcuterie, cornichons (those tiny little pickles), or if you really want to be French, paté!
DINNER IS SERVED
Dinner should have at least three courses—a main course, cheese plate and dessert. For my main course, I prefer to cook up something reminiscent of my California roots. I have a family cookbook that I brought with me to Paris. It’s always the perfect place to look for a dish that reminds me of home and adds an extra personal touch to my presentation. After your main dish, a small cheese plate with a selection ranging from mild to strong is commonly served with a baguette and even some chutney or jam. Last but not least, dessert! If you’re baking, keep it simple and rustic. For finer patisseries, French bakers do it best, so it’s more than OK to serve some beautiful tarts. The French touch is all about mastering the art of pairing. Be thoughtful when selecting wines and flavors throughout your meal so each taste complements another.
In France there are some unspoken rules about what is polite to discuss at the dinner table. Amongst your closest friends nothing is off limits. Yet in French society, it’s generally polite to avoid topics like money, your diet or health, or your transportation getting there (no one wants to hear about how crowded the metro was). Politics can be a touchy subject, too, but it wouldn’t be a French dinner party without some level of intellectual debate. My tip for striking up dinner table conversation with any crowd? Travel! The French always have something to share about their latest voyages.
Now that you have some dinner tips, it’s time to decide what to wear! Remember, there is no outfit a little Lancôme lipstick can’t add a certain je ne sais quoi to. If you’re ready to throw a dinner party of your own with a little French touch, check back for our next post on Paris Rendez-vous. I’ll share with you some selected recipes from Gourmet’s archives.