Dish & Design serves up ‘Ultimate Dinner Party’ tips

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

You’re hosting a dinner party. Not all of your guests know each other. How do you lighten the mood and get your party off on the right foot? Start by serving some sparkling wine, suggests Claudia Tyagi, a master sommelier and consultant with the House of Pure Vin in Detroit.

“As a hostess, I love to begin any gathering with a little bubbly,” said Tyagi, one of several speakers at Thursday’s Dish & Design event at Scott Shuptrine Interiors in Royal Oak. “It makes people happy.”

More than 100 readers turned out for the latest Dish and Design, a series of Homestyle events that offers guests tips on design and cooking.

Thursday’s theme was the “Ultimate Dinner Party.” Experts on floral design, decorating and more gave tips on how to create a sophisticated tablescape that won’t break the bank, arrange flowers in a whimsical way or even make an easy dessert such as chocolate truffles.

Tyagi, who has been a master sommelier, or wine expert, for almost 20 years, said there’s another reason for starting a dinner party with sparkling wine. The carbon dioxide in it enters the bloodstream quicker, so your guests will literally lighten up.

“It gets the party warmed up faster,” said Tyagi.

She said sparkling wine doesn’t have to be expensive. Proseco from Italy is a good option. So is Cava, a bubbly wine from Spain.

Tyagi said after starting with a sparkling wine, progress to a light, crisp white such as a Pinot Grigio and then a more aromatic wine such as a riesling. Save heavier wines like reds and dessert wines until later.

At the beginning, “you want your palate to be refreshed,” she said.

The right main course

As far as creating a menu that makes an impression but won’t wear you out in the kitchen before your guests arrive, chef Omar Mitchell, a local restaurateur who also owns a catering company, demonstrated how to make a sesame encrusted ahi tuna with sticky rice and a balsamic reduction.

Mitchell, who owns Craft Creative Catering along with Great Lakes Burger Bar and I Luv Cheese Italian Restaurant, seasoned the fish simply with a mix of kosher salt, pepper and granulated garlic — garlic powder clumps, so be sure to use granulated garlic, he said — and then seared it in olive oil.

Ahi tuna only needs to cook two to three minutes per side. Don’t overcook it or it’ll be like eating tunafish, said Mitchell. It’s better served medium rare.

And when you plate your dish, “always put your food in the center of the plate,” he said, as he rested the ahi tuna on a ball of sticky rice and topped it with a balsamic glaze you can buy in the condiments aisle at most grocery stores.

User-friendly dessert

Dessert doesn’t need to be overly complicated to make an impression either, said chef Nikita Sanches, who demonstrated how to make the truffles. Sanches, the executive chef of Rock City Eatery on Woodward in Detroit, said truffles can easily be made in advance and will last several days.

After creating a chocolate ganache, let it set for at least five hours in the refrigerator, Sanches said. From there, the truffles can be rolled into small balls and dipped in various toppings. Sanches said cocoa powder is a classic topping. He also rolled some truffles in chopped pistachios.

Truffles “are very user-friendly,” said Sanches.

All about that base

Brittany Ross, a floral designer with English Gardens in Royal Oak, meanwhile, demonstrated how to create a lovely floral arrangement for a dinner party.

The key, Ross said, is starting with a great base. She divided a large, round glass vase into a grid with waterproof tape and then added greenery to different portions of the grid.

Before starting any arrangement, Ross said it’s very important to cut flower stems with the right tools, such as gardening shears. Flower stems are like straws. If they aren’t cut correctly, it pinches them off and they can’t get a drink, she said.

Using a wide variety of greens such as dusty miller and seeded eucalyptus creates a “good base and a good shape,” said Ross.

“Once I get the greens in, I like to go from the biggest flower to the smallest flower,” said Ross.

And creating a fall arrangement doesn’t mean you have to use orange flowers, said Ross. Small heads of cabbage or kale are another great element, she said.

“Have fun with it,” Ross said. “The imperfections are what make it whimsical and organic-looking.”

A layered tablescape

Designing the right tablescape, meanwhile, is about mixing different elements. And sometimes you don’t have to go far to find items for your table, said interior designer Claire Jensen with Scott Shuptrine. Just look around your house for elements that will work on your table.

To create an easy but fun fall tablescape, Jensen ran a burlap runner down the center of the table. Then she layered it with white birch tree candle holders and miniature orange and white pumpkins.

“These (the pumpkins) were $1 at Meijer,” she said.

Pheasant feathers are another fun, trendy way to dress up a table, said Jensen, who recommended fastening one feather to each guest’s dinner napkin.

For options, Jensen removed the burlap runner and replaced it with a large glass and brass hurricane centerpiece. If you’re going to go tall with a centerpiece, Jensen said, make sure guests still can see each other across the table.

There are no musts for designing the ultimate table. “You can break the rules,” said Jensen.

Your guests will likely drink to that.


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