Party planning with Rococo Chocolates

Rococo’s founder and creative director, Chantal, is well-known for her fun and relaxed gatherings, and seems to be able to pull a party out of a top-hat in minutes. With New Year’s Eve coming up, I caught up with her to find out her secrets to relaxed entertaining. This is what she said:

The main thing is to keep it simple. Don’t get stressed. Parties are about seeing loved-ones, not about making the perfect mille-feuille, and your guests will have much more fun if you’re out enjoying the party than if you’re stuck in the kitchen.

We live in a no-shoes house and our living room floors are wood, which cuts out a lot of worry about things getting ruined. Remove anything that will worry you in advance then make life simple by putting things out for people to help themselves. Do ask for help too – set the kids to work making antipasti platters and ask your guests to bring dishes (this works best if you give them guidelines).

We’re all very busy these days, and your friends aren’t going to judge you if you don’t make everything from scratch or if dishes come out at different times. If you want to make food, think of dishes like chocolate pots and salads that can be made in advance and will reduce the amount of preparation you have to do once guests are there. Unless it’s a real special occasion I prefer casual starters, and normally put out a selection of olives, artichokes, ham, salami and gorgeous sourdough bread from Italo Deli for people to nibble at. Keep drinks simple too. I know that cocktails are very popular at the moment, but to be honest I’d rather have a glass of champagne or prosecco, and maybe some wine to go with dinner.

Image: Sue Schlabach

Image: Sue Schlabach. Tea light lampshades by Sara Pinto

Lighting really helps to build atmosphere. I like to use tea lights in jam jars or goblets and fairy lights. Soft music can help people get into the swing of things too. We have quite a small entertaining space so I often don’t bother with it, but our parties quite often end with my husband, James, playing his guitar for a little sing-along.

Don’t be afraid of being spontaneous. People think that parties have to be booked in weeks ahead, but for my last milestone birthday I sent out a message the day before inviting friends to join me for a glass of champagne. 30 of my favourite people turned up with bottles and dishes, and it was one of the most fun parties I can remember.

We do occasionally have more traditional dinner parties, and for that I tend to let the menu be dictated by the ingredients. Go to your local shops and see what’s in season and looks interesting. Specialist shops will often be able to suggest dishes using their ingredients, or if you have a smartphone you can browse for recipe ideas while you’re still in the shop. We recently went to the private viewing of the Paul Smith Design Museum exhibition and needed something that could be cooked quickly when we got home.  After a very simple starter of smoked salmon, sourdough and olives we ate griddled venison fillet I’d found at the butcher the day before with bulgar pilau and a fennel and pomegranate salad. I poached quinces the day before for dessert, and the whole thing was ready within half an hour of getting home. It’s much easier to make an impression with good food and interesting flavours cooked simply than pretending you’re on Masterchef.

The most important thing is for you to stay calm and be welcoming. If you’re happy improvising and knocking food together quickly then go ahead, but don’t let it make you stressed. Remember, it’s your party. Your guests will enjoy themselves if you do, and your job as host is to give people a good evening, not to be perfect.

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