A team of party pros offers a fresh, stress-free approach to throwing a tranquil winter soirée.
By Brad Mee, Photos by Britt Chudleigh
Forget late-night feasts, overdressed décors and harried hosts indulging guests in holiday excess. That was so last season. The calendar has turned, and this winter we crave light and bright, calm and comforting. With that in mind, we invited a team of catering, event-planning and floral design pros to pool their talents while hosting a dinner party in downtown Salt Lake City. After all, who better than the experts to show us how to entertain with style and ease? The result was a relaxed get-together that was as modern and fresh as the chic loft in which it was held.
The Blended Table’s Emery Lortsher and Colour Maisch are well known for planning and catering memorable events throughout Utah, so when asked to help stage a winter soirée with fellow pros, they were good to go. Inspired by a recent trip to the Northwest, they decided on an Asian-influenced menu and envisioned a chic, contemporary setting and décor that would complement the cuisine.
Enter event planner Gary Vlasic who turned to cityhomeCollective’s Cody Derrick for a spectacular on-the-market loft owned by one of Derrick’s clients. Decoration Inc.’s Amanda Hansen fashioned the party’s flowers, mixologist Ryan Manning poured drinks and a few associates and friends rounded out the short guest list.
Seated guests (clockwise from left): Emery Lortsher, Stacey Jo Rabiger, Gary Vlasic, Cody Derrick, Ruby Claire Johnson and Colour Maisch. Standing guests: Ryan Manning, Mark Seely, and Amanda Hansen.
“There was a time when the hostess had to do everything, but the whole kinfolk, gather-around approach has changed things,” Lortsher says. Today, guests often contribute, easing the work, cost and stress of throwing a party. Hired help also lightens the load. Maisch and Lortsher decided on a casual gathering with guests participating and supplementing the spread with agreed-upon dishes and take-out fare.
“You have to manage the offerings to avoid redundancy and people bringing similar things,” Maisch says. Partygoers ordered drinks from Manning, made spring rolls together, plated bento boxes buffet-style and dined informally throughout the evening. “It’s not potluck. It’s planned participation where friends naturally want to take part,” Lortsher says.
Tea and quince gelee served matcha tea cookies ended the evening’s light meal perfectly. Photo by Britt Chudleigh.
Open spaces, modern furnishings and soft light flowing through floor-to-ceiling windows made the 3,300-square-foot Broadway Loft the ideal spot to host the early evening get-together. “During winter, it’s nice avoiding cold and dark when going out,” says Lortsher. An open kitchen’s island served as a high-style prep and serving station for the fare while a nearby counter performed as the bar.
The loft’s open floor plan ideally suited the small group allowing guests to wander, socialize and nosh at their leisure. Some drank and dined in the hip seating area while others gathered at the dining table where flickering candles, flower arrangements and colorful linens elevated the loft’s chic ambiance.
“I began with containers that could perform as decorative objects and stand on their own,” says floral designer Amanda Hansen who passed on “obligatory glass” for a mix of gold bowls and vases as well as boxy marble-looking resin vessels. Large, ruffled peonies, in shades ranging from pale coral to deep red, made eye-catching statements throughout the loft.
Single blooms floated in small bowls while multiple stems mingled with splaying magnolia branches in large vessels and still others mixed with deep blue thistle in various vases running down the dining table. “Grouped arrangements look less structured and forced than a large single centerpiece,” says Hansen, who kept the table’s informal florals compact and low allowing seated guests to see over and around them.
Shimmering votive holders and an assortment of gold vases overflowing with Red Charm peonies and blue thistle dress the dining table. Photo by Britt Chudleigh.
FINESSE THE FLOOR PLAN
Plan the flow and furnishing placement to comfortably accommodate guests. Move furniture that will be in the way and position the bar away from the food.
The best appetizers are most often small bites or contained foods that allows guests to nosh with one hand while holding a drink or napkin in the other.
Let professionals ease the stress of throwing a party. “Our mission is to discover what our clients want and what makes them happy,” says Lortsher, who, along with Maisch, incorporates clients’ favorite family recipes and entertaining ideas into events, large and small.
The night’s mixologist, Ryan Manning. Photo by Britt Chudleigh.
MAN THE BAR
What’s a party without a signature cocktail? Mixologist Ryan Manning served up the evening’s simmering sip, the Yuzu Toddy.
2 oz. Yamazaki 12 yr. Whisky
1 oz. yuzu juice*
3/4 oz. simple syrup made from unrefined sugar**
3 oz. boiling water, plus enough to preheat mug
Prepare a 10 oz. mug by filling it with boiling water. Empty the mug then fill with whisky, yuzu juice and simple syrup, and then top with 3 oz. boiling water. Garnish with clove studded orange segment or lemon peel. Stir and serve.
*Bottled yuzu juice can be found at most Asian markets that carry Japanese products.
**Bring equal parts water and sugar to a simmer over medium heat until sugar fully dissolves to make simple syrup. Can store in refrigerater up to one week (longer if fortified with a little vodka). Using unrefined sugar lends a richer, more complex flavor that complements fine spirits.
Dumplings from Takashi added to the list of mouth-watering appetizers served. Photo by Britt Chudleigh.