Creating ceremony and community through food around the table has always been a long held passion of mine. I love the connection and celebration that cooking and gathering friends in my home brings, and it’s also something I’ve deeply missed. Nothing brings me more pleasure than setting a seasonal tablescape and crafting a well balanced meal with a zippy cocktail to match. Well, I was thrilled to welcome that winning trifecta back into my life this past week with a brunchy bourbon afternoon thanks to Basil Hayden.
An Intimate Gathering With Basil Hayden
In partnership with Basil Hayden.
Photography by Sarah Elliott.
In preparation for this gathering, I marvelled at how my creative brain synonymously approaches a project when it straddles my two loves—design and food. Despite their obvious differences on paper, there is always a clear through-line for me, an underpinning ethos that unifies the two worlds.
In the case of this beautiful brunch, the cocktail, the table, and the meal all follow the same philosophy—Seasonality. Simplicity. Tonality. Cohesion. Contrast. (Yes, I know that last one is an oxymoron but it’s all about the balance of engaging both across flavor and design). This gathering pulled together all of those elements while also being sophisticated, approachable, and welcoming—which also just so happens to be Basil Hayden’s M.O.
So, step inside our intimate gathering with Basil Hayden and discover my creative process behind all three—the cocktail, the table, and the meal—to inspire your own memorable experience with friends. Cheers to the season!
First, I want to kick things off with my cocktail of choice since this entire endeavor was to celebrate the approachable flavor profile of Basil Hayden’s smooth bourbon.
Here’s how I incorporated the five pillars:
The chamomile was most certainly a nod to the season. At its core, this whiskey is light-bodied and layered, engaging sweet, spicy, and refined notes on the palate so I choose to serve it neat, on the rocks, and in a zippy cocktail. I developed a simple syrup using honey, lemon, and camomile which felt like the perfect approachable taste profile for a vibrant aperitif-style cocktail.
The simplicity came through in, well, the simple syrup (hehe)—no really, it truly allowed the bourbon to be the star and yet enhanced its drinkability throughout the day.
The tonality stayed true to the bourbon’s rich caramel flavor and became the catalyst for the entire color palette from the tablescape to the food.
Cohesion & Contrast
Cohesion was showcased via the different ways you can enjoy this light-bodied, mixable, and smooth bourbon with food, and the contrast (my personal favorite) was found in that friction between the acidic lemon bitters, sweet tones, and spicy whiskey. I also personally love the shock value of serving a bourbon drink in a more dainty coupe glass. In doing so, I am subtly introducing the lighter side of whisky and eradicating this old-school notion that bourbon is only for nighttime sipping. With its balanced flavor and distinctive look, this bourbon is a subtle choice for those in the know.
Next up, the table setting. This is where my two worlds collide and yet they are never in opposition—although, oftentimes it is the contrast and tension that makes them sing. There are obvious functional elements that every tablescape needs—dinnerware, napkins, flatware, glasses—but whoever said practical couldn’t be pretty hasn’t met me! I like to cook and live beautiful after all—hehe! The trick is to avoid being too precious so there is a visible hand touched feel.
Here’s how the five pillars really came to life for this setting:
The star of the show? The sculptural fig branches and chive blossoms—no blooms needed! Seasonality was also at play with the sweet, fragrant bouquets of chive and sage which I placed on top of the plates.
The real beauty of this table is in its simplicity—no-fuss candles line the middle alongside the fig branches. You don’t need to overcomplicate things. When in doubt, always turn to nature for inspiration—she never lets me down.
Never underestimate the goodies you can find at the hardware store. Humble copper coil—which was used to tie the herb bouquets—unified the table’s tonality, from the stitching of the napkins to the cocktail, flatware and glass tumblers. All of which was inspired by the sophisticated Basil Hayden belt detail that hugs the bottle (just like the natural paper name cards which I took from the bottle’s brown paper label, too).
Cohesion & Contrast
I purposefully kept the linens and plates natural and white so they recede and disappear. This provided the cohesion I was looking for but also allowed for a striking contrast between the warm honey, terracotta, and green tones that grasp your eye against the quiet canvas. As a designer, your choices should always guide the eye to focus on certain elements that excite and delight the viewer to enhance their experience.
As you know, I am a stickler for using the best peak-season produce. When Mother Nature has done all the work for you, the magic is in the ingredients, so my job is to let them shine and not undermine their sun-kissed essence.
The five pillars really came together so beautifully here:
The spring season made it easy for me with its abundance of freshness straight from the farmer’s market—green onions, spinach, apricots, radishes, and chives. Talk about all the greens pushing their way through the earth in spring!
A simple frittata was the perfect meal to use up all of this natural goodness. The beauty of this dish (besides the flavor) is that it can be made in advance and served at room temp with a whole slew of fresh herbs atop. Make a compote in advance and just dollop over some creamy yogurt alongside some roasted radishes. I highly recommend making a pesto using the radish tops to serve with it—just spoon it over toasted flatbread with some labne or creme fraiche!
It really is essential to establish a color palette when you’re preparing a meal for a dinner party—it becomes a literal visual feast for the eyes! The tonality of the meal became apparent when the colors green, caramel, and purple kept appearing. Once again Mother Nature saved the day with her golden apricots, green and purple pistachios, and fresh herbs.
Cohesion & Contrast
This cohesion of colors with clean, bright flavors was the perfect contrast to the crispy bread, creamy crème fraîche, tart apricots, and the crunchy nuts. Talk about a total sensory experience!
I invite you all to create your own meaningful moments this season with friends and family, and raise a glass to celebrate those you love. After all, is there anything more important than that? I think not. Cheers!