I am just overflowing with anticipation as I launch a brand new series on A Daily Something today. HOW YOU HOST will be an ongoing series that will dig deep into the art of hospitality and entertaining. In this series, we will interview folks who love to entertain and open their homes, whether it be part of their creative business pursuits, a personal passion, or a combination of both! I’m always curious to learn how other people do things, and when I mentioned the possibility this type of series over on my Instagram, it seemed like we ALL love knowing the how, the why, the nitty gritty details. I love this inside peek into how others live their lives, how they prepare for guests, how they approach opening their door, and learning other fun tidbits. The goal of this series is to inspire and bless, and that it serves as an example to help us all open our doors more often.
First up in the HOW YOU HOST series is Julie Ann Marr. I discovered Julie through the wonderful world of Instagram, and am just captivated by her photos and her down-to-earth hospitality. I am incredibly honored to have her as our first guest in this series. Without further ado, meet Julie!
Hosting for me is an opportunity to gather people around the table and share not just food and wine but more importantly time, stories, laughter (sometimes tears) and experiences. Hosting is the perfect way to connect people and to show them that I care for them.
Soup! Over the past few years I have gravitated to making a big pot of soup and serving it with homemade bread, a salad, a perfectly ripe cheese and a simple cake or tart for dessert. I often make soup for Sunday lunch with friends, a weeknight dinner party for clients as well as for long table, fundraising events for 50 people. When I worked in the restaurant industry I worked almost exclusively in fine dining. Lots of fancy ingredients, time consuming cooking techniques, served on fine china, with a designated fork to be used. I understand there is a place for that but that is not the way I love to cook or eat anymore. I want everyone to feel they can pull up a chair to my table and soup is an amazing way to connect people. Everyone has memories of enjoying soup as a child at their family table and when they sit down with friends or strangers over a simple, sustaining bowl of soup good things happen. If it is not soup on the menu then it is most often handmade pasta. My partner Francesco is from Puglia where we have a home and host culinary workshops and so making pasta and pairing it with a simple sauce is another way we take humble ingredients and spend time making something unfussy yet delicious to share around the table.
This winter I have been doing a menu that is focused around a soup of duck confit, Puy lentils and Swiss chard. I love this soup as it allows me to make something special out of a simple pot of soup. I confit the duck, make a stock, simmer the lentils. It is not a 30 minute meal and takes some planning and care but it makes for an extraordinary bowl of soup. I round this out with a butter lettuce salad with blood oranges with a mustard vinaigrette and some toasted pine nuts. Homemade bread with good butter. A pistachio and rosewater cake with crème fraîche for dessert. Much of it can be done long before my guests arrive so I have time to actually sit at the table with them and not be jumping up and down to check something cooking in the kitchen.
Inclusive. Before, I felt I needed to do everything when I hosted people. Make every part of the meal, do all the set-up and prep alone, do all of the clean up myself. I realized that people really appreciate and enjoy being part of an event and so if someone wants to bring dessert, set the table, wash a few dishes that it is a wonderful thing for both sides to say yes to those offers.
When people are cooking from a place of love and not from a place of trying to impress me. Having cooked professionally for 25 years people will often say “I would be too nervous to cook for you!” It makes me feel so sad. People who cook for a living love to have others cook for them. We are not looking for some sort of culinary masterpiece that takes 4 days to make. We just want to eat the food that people love to make. Your mom’s chili recipe that you have made weekly for the last ten years and can do with your eyes closed? Yes! That is what I would love to eat at your table!
I don’t do a lot of appetizers anymore, but when I do I keep them simple. Often it involves a bit of fridge foraging to determine what I will make. Some whole milk and buttermilk with a lemon will yield a batch of ricotta for toasted bread with a drizzle of good olive oil and some herbs. Oyster mushrooms leftover from another recipe? Pickle them with vinegar, garlic and parsley. Risotto from dinner last night might turn into some little arancini with fontina cheese inside. However, for me the appetizer should should be small and just pique the appetite. There is nothing worse than being full by the time you get to the dinner table.
The menu. My background is cooking and so I most often think about what I am going to serve. I love the process of planning a menu. Finding out about any allergies or aversions or food loves from my guests and then putting together a menu that flows, represents the seasons, isn’t too fussy, won’t leave me overwhelmed but still a bit challenged, has a good balance of flavours. I really love this part.
Hands down, Thanksgiving. It is a food-centric holiday that is truly about gathering people around a table as a way of celebrating the harvest and expressing gratitude for all of the blessings of the previous year. In Canada, Thanksgiving falls on the second Monday in October which is the time of the year where the ingredients I love to cook are in season. Plus, there are no presents required like at Christmas.
I have a real aversion to putting away leftovers! I don’t mind doing dishes, or washing the napkins or sweeping up after a dinner party but putting the food away is something I always try to pass off on others. My good friends know that while I will often insist on leaving the dishes until the next day I am more than happy for one of them to sneak away from the table for a few minutes to pack up the leftovers and put them in the fridge.
Apologizing and making a big deal to your guests about things that are “imperfect.” The overcooked piece of meat? The fallen soufflé? The under-seasoned side dish? Most people never even notice something is amiss nor do they care. There is nothing worse than spending a meal reassuring someone or yourself that the amount of salt in a dish is what is going to make or break the evening. I used to do this. Now I don’t.
I split my time between my house in Vancouver, B.C. Canada and an apartment in Oria, in the Puglia region of Southern Italy.
I have a company with my partner in life and love, Francesco Creanza, called Everyone At the Table or E.A.T. We host culinary workshops in Italy that focus on the role that preserving foods plays in maintaining the cultural identity and traditions for the people of the south. We spend time with food artisans, visit farms and cook communal meals to explore the connection between the land, tradition and contemporary Italian food culture. We also hold cooking classes and dinner parties in our home kitchen in Vancouver. Showing people the joy of gathering friends and family around the table through cooking is my business but also my passion.
We host personally and for our business and for plenty of fundraising events too. Even though we work with food and entertaining for our job, Francesco and I love nothing more that to host friends and family for meals. Our philosophy for hosting remains pretty much the same whether it is for people we know or people we are just meeting through business: there is always enough room at the table.
We just finished our website! It is small and simple and we did much of it ourselves but we love it! You can find us at: everyone-at-the-table.com or on Instagram under that same name or on my personal instagram account which is @julieannmarr.
1. Don’t worry about trying to impress the people that you are hosting. Cook what you love to eat and your guests will surely love it too. I feel that because I have moved away from the desire to impress the people I am hosting there is much less stress involved in having people for a meal. I can also roll with things that don’t turn out as I had planned or hoped which was certainly not the case even 5 years ago.
2. Entertaining is supposed to be fun! A way of showing people you love them and care about them. Don’t take a dinner party, or yourself, too seriously!
3. There is nothing worse than spending a meal reassuring someone or yourself that the amount of salt in a dish is what is going to make or break the evening…apologizing and making a big deal to your guests about things that are “imperfect”. The overcooked piece of meat? The fallen soufflé? The under-seasoned side dish? Most people never even notice something is amiss nor do they care. I used to do this. Now I don’t.
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