How to host a magical, memorable dinner
Edulis restaurant star Tobey Nemeth gives away her secrets
As a culture, we obsess over cooking and cooks, so it's no wonder that the food is our point of focus when planning a dinner party. Yet we all know the best meals are remembered not for a dish, they are about a place, feeling, an experience. It is here that the host rules. So we talked to, arguably, Canada's best host, Edulis co-owner Tobey Nemeth to decode the art of transformative experience.
Edulis is a small, Spanish, daydream-of-a-restaurant that embodies all that is right in hospitality. It is so understated in its perfection that you almost forget it's there, tucked off busy King Street in Toronto, offering lucky diners an opportunity to forget about their lives and enter a Steve Coogan movie, an episode of Master of None, a back seat view of Paris Can Wait. Just a super special food experience.
I sat down with Tobey to discuss why hosting matters and some tips to bring the warmth of her room to your table. Here are five tips from a hosting master.
It's your party, you can be lavish if you want to — and you should.
Tobey grew up in Toronto, but her first food memories are in Hungary arriving at her grandmother's home and being greeted with extreme generosity, intention and excess. This old world warmth and hospitality stuck to her bones and it is this feeling of lavish excess that makes simple hosting moments feel magical. Dig out those platters your mom gave you, the napkins you bought on vacation, an old candelabra. Imperfections don't matter. Matching is not necessary. Create a playlist that means something to you, buy a simple, dramatic flower for an element of texture and colour. Turn off the TV, put away the phone and do something you would never do alone and then do more of it.
Simplicity rules: People first, sous-vide second
Step away from the foam. Go rich and wild with simple decorations and place settings, but simple with the food. Your guests are there to spend time with you, not watch you sweating it out in the kitchen. Focus on quality ingredients from local suppliers it feels good to support — go to the farmer's market, the cheese shop, the butcher. Ask what is seasonal and best. Focus on fresh vegetables that look wonderful on a table and make bodies feel good. Think of the best photos in a food magazine and let them be your guide: fresh, thick cut tomatoes with olive oil and sea salt, a beautiful platter with oozing cheese and a crisp baguette ripped into thick chunks, a bowl full of cherries. Be prepared and do not let your 'Top Chef' ego get in the way — cute aprons are encouraged though!
Prepare as much as possible, then relax
As a host, you are providing food and environment, but most importantly are bringing out the best of your party, stirring conversation and entertaining the room. The best way to get out of the kitchen and into the party, is to prepare ahead of time. Now that you have prepared a simple menu, with one easy-to-make dishes, hopefully you have also picked dishes that you can do ahead of time. Whether it is a fresh tomato sauce or a whole grilled fish — have this main element completely prepped and invite your guests to help with finishing touches. Use old school recipes without specific quantities, no need to fuss. Place name cards ahead of time on a big table to prevent awkward where-do-we-sit moments and connect like-minded people.
Celebrate Canada's multiculturalism, learn new flavours
We are so lucky to celebrate our cultural diversity in Canada. Delicious diversity. Up your hosting game with easy-to-execute themes that push you out of your comfort zone and require just a few minutes of internet research. Tobey suggests Persia, India, Morocco or Turkey as delicious cuisines to discover — if you don't yet have the pleasure of knowing them. Approach these with an open mind, seeking a few key ingredients, but not being too picky on the particulars. Go to community food stores for inspiration. Buy some good-looking prepared foods to complement what you're cooking. Don't feel bad about this! Even the best restaurants in France buy their bread; outsourcing a specific task to the person who does that thing the best is a wonderful thing to do in food (and in life). Talk to the shop owners and ask their favourite thing; people love to talk about food. You will leave with inspiration and a feast.
End with a touch of class, and linger
One of the highlights of any Edulis meal is the never-ending-story of the last bite you don't want to stop chewing, but seemingly never have to because another last course is coming. When you think you're full, out comes the cheese…could not hurt. When that's over, how about some baba au rhum cake? Oh, yes. Oh and maybe a drink? Sure! How about a coffee? I wouldn't say no. Cookies to finish. Mmm. This relaxed luxury of time after a meal, combined with high-quality ingredients is the perfect end to any gathering. Buy good chocolates or something easy to spread on the table with aplomb. Have great cheese on a back table or a pie in the window, to build anticipation of what is to come. Don't hurry to get there.
Find an inexpensive and unquestionably adorable bar-cart or a simple tray. Invest in a few bottles of rum, calvados, amaro or armagnac. Something that feels adult. Learn something about them. Linger.
Above all? Keep it simple and be in the moment. The joy of giving is powerful magic.
Nicole Campbell has a WSET diploma, runs La Petite, a boutique wine agency from Lifford, as well as a witchy wine party the first Monday of every month at Superpoint in Toronto. She is usually wearing cool pants and screaming about something she loves; she tells us it's charming! Follow her on Instagram at @grapewitches or on her website grapewitches.com.