When’s the last time someone turned to you and said, « let’s have a night? » Probably awhile because, hello, quarantine. BUT remember those nights when you looked around a table and realized « I’m having a night! »
Well, Sophie von Haselberg and Ariana Venturi want you to have that experience a whole lot more (when it’s safe to do so!), which is why they created the podcast Having a Night — where they break down and obsess over every detail that goes into creating the perfect night and dinner party. Not only will you be aching to crack open a bottle with friends, but you’ll be amazed at how many tricks you pick up along the way to make your dinner party become A NIGHT.
We chatted with the two ladies all about, yes, their favorite thing and soon to be yours, dinner parties…
How old were you when you threw your first dinner party? Did it go as planned?
SvH: It’s not quite dinner, but the first time I invited anyone to a meal was attempting to prepare breakfast for my parents when I was 7… Unfortunately for all parties involved, I didn’t use any fat when frying the eggs, so my parents were awoken by the sound of smoke alarms . Since then, I make sure to use plenty of butter.
AV: I was always trying to throw intricate, fancy dinner parties in high school which would inevitably end with me getting mad at my friends for not being into it. I would spend hours planning a menu and playlist, a sexy outfit…. my poor parents would be running around finishing the cooking and setting the table while I flat-ironed each individual strand of hair. I remember I would design these crazy invitations with dress codes (once I wrote the entire invite in Italian?? So. Pretentious.) and basically fantasize about the adult-night I wanted to have… and then my friends would show up wearing jeans and T-shirts and be like: “can we order pizza?” I was furious.
Why do you want to revive the lost art of the dinner party?
We bonded early in our friendship over a shared love of cooking and hosting, spending long nights at the dinner table never wanting to get up. We were constantly bemoaning the fact that our friends always wanted to “GO OUT” and that we were stuck in a restaurant-obsessed culture where everyone had seemingly forgotten (or had never experienced) the incomparable joy of cooking for others at home. We wanted to remind people of the importance– and, quite frankly, the magic– of gathering around the table: the intimacy, the conversation, the overall ritual of giving and receiving that cannot be replicated in a restaurant.
When we started Having A Night, we realized what a rich history of varied traditions exists around hosting — from recipes to table manners to place settings. A whole dinner party literature was largely created by women in their own domain, and we hope to preserve and share that while adding to the playbook.
Did we also just want a legitimate reason to talk about food 24/7 and interrogate the professionals we admire? Yes.
What is your biggest piece of advice to someone throwing their first dinner party?
SvH: I know it’s hard to wrap your mind around, but your friends are coming over for the pleasure of your company, not for a mind-blowing meal! Cooking something challenging can of course be fun, but if that makes you want to snarf a Xanax, just make something in your wheelhouse! Even if “wheelhouse” doesn’t mean cooking, but rather whipping out a good bread, a cheese or two, a big salad, and your favorite ice cream. My one don’t-even-go-there is bottled salad dressing: making your own is so simple, and it tastes leagues better. (Dijon mustard, one clove of crushed garlic, a bit of vinegar or lemon, and a lot of olive oil.)
AV: I know I’m a real Blanche Dubois… but for the love of God, free yourself of the tyrannical reign of overhead lights! The biggest gift you can give your guests is to feel like they’ve left all their troubles at the door and immediately stepped into a cocoon of love, comfort, good food, and warm goddamn lighting!
Favorite memory from « a night’ you had?
SvH: This question is like, black-diamond level of difficulty because so many excellent nights have been had! I will say that Ari and I spent a summer in the Berkshires drinking a lot of moonshine, and if I could remember any of what happened, I’m sure the memories would be among my absolute favorites.
AV: If the party doesn’t end in the wee hours of the morning with guests in various states of consciousness at the dinner table, or dancing in the living room (dishes always untouched!), another sure sign of success is if it’s taken on the spirit of a parade. Meaning, the entire party has ventured out of the house together to another destination wherein the reverie continues. Sophie and I once threw a dinner party that paraded all the way to Brighton Beach, where we found ourselves at 2AM crashing a Russian wedding.
Dream dinner party in a sentence?
It starts at 7pm and ends at 4am and has so many chapters, it can fill a book.
Excellent extra virgin olive oil
6 skin-on, bone-in chicken legs (or whatever chicken parts you prefer, but must be on the bone with skin!)
4 shallots, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
4 garlic cloves, grated on microplane
2 lemons, zested and juiced
½ tsp saffron threads
¼ tsp fennel seeds
¼ tsp herbes de Provence
½ cup dry white wine
4 medium yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut in 1inch cubes
2 large fennel bulbs, cut in wedges
3 tbsp Pernod
1 cup chicken stock (homemade, preferably!)
1 14ounce can diced tomatoes
1 egg yolk
1 ½ cups neutral oil (though olive oil will do!)
Crusty rustic bread, like a sourdough boule
If you have time a few hours before (or even better yet, the night before) generously salt your chicken and leave uncovered on a wire rack in the fridge. This will help develop flavor and crisp up skin.
When you are ready to start, bring the chicken to room temperature and pat dry. Heat a couple large glugs of EVOO in a large dutch oven or tall cast iron skillet over medium-high. Sear chicken, skin side down first, in batches, until evenly browned. Remove on a platter and set aside.
Reduce heat to medium-low. Add shallot,celery, carrot, fennel seeds, 1/4tsp saffron and herbes de provence, S&P. Sweat in remaining chicken fat/EVOO mix, scraping up brown bits, around 5 minutes. Throw in a dash of extra white wine to help loosen anything.
Add ¾ of grated garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add back in chicken along with the fennel wedges and potato and introduce everyone. Let them hang out for a few minutes while you have a glass of wine.
Add the tomatoes, wine, broth and ½ lemon juice amount. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes, partially covered.
Meanwhile, in a small microwave safe bowl, crumble remaining saffron threads and add remaining grated garlic, remaining lemon juice, zest and a splash of water and zap for a minute or so until the liquid is warm. Let stand for 5 minutes while saffron blooms.
Move your saffron mixture to a food processor or a bowl that you can use an immersion blender in. Add your egg yolk and whole egg and start to blend. With the food processor running, drizzle in your neutral oil — it will start to come together into a mayonnaise. Keep going until it’s reached the desired consistency. Voila!
*If making an aioli sounds too demanding, add your saffron mixture to approx 1 cup of Hellmann’s mayonnaise and mix well. Finish with a glug of that good good EVOO on top.
Remove chicken, potatoes and fennel from broth and place in a deep platter (or just set aside, depending if you would like to serve right in its own dish!). Taste the broth and adjust seasoning. Reduce if desired, and pour over the chicken and veg (or add them back to the pot!) Top with tarragon.
When you are ready to eat: preheat oven to broil and slice some thick pieces of bread. Brush both sides with EVOO and place on baking pan under broiler until you get some dark marks.
Serve on the side with the aioli, and place the bouillabaisse at the center of the table, ladling portions out into bowls and passing them around. Pair with a Sauv Blanc. Dunking aioli’ed bread in the center dish is not Covid-friendly…. but highly encouraged!