I recently joined forces with vintage décor site Chairish to curate a few favorite picks and host a dreamy dinner in LA celebrating the launch of my cookbook, Cook Beautiful. While the joint furniture and food union may sound to some like an odd coupling, it was in fact a perfect partnership, and it had me reflecting on my longtime relationship to design and cooking. What I’ve realized is this – I have been doing precisely the same thing for almost 15 years. In a way, not much has changed from the moment I embarked on this design and culinary journey. And yet, everything has changed.
My creative voyage started simmering, literally, in the kitchen. When I first began cooking, I would spend hours upon hours on Epicurious reading recipes, dissecting them, comparing them, and obsessively reading reviews in my humble attempts to better them. Let me pull this tried-and-true technique from one, I would think to myself, and this surprising element from another, and oh yeah – coookingathome102 said to reduce the salt and amp up the spice just a little as you simmer the sauce!
I spent so much time researching – fussing, finessing, making lists, and absorbing cooking methods – that in a way, this research became my education. I was learning, absorbing, and building enough confidence in my abilities to riff with flavors. These were the infancy years of making food my own – which then lead to developing my own recipes – which then led to many swoony dinner parties. The more I cooked, the more confidence I gained over the stove. It soon became clear that those nights when guests were gathered around the kitchen island, laughing and sipping cocktails as I was chop-chop-chopping, or sitting around the table with full bellies, were the swooniest moments in my life. I began to recognize food’s power to ignite the senses and create memories.
This was around 2002, when simultaneously I was developing my love of design. I began to travel quite often, and my eyes were absorbing color, texture, and patina during my adventures abroad. I would collect trinkets and mementos and then take them back to Brooklyn and layer them into our home. The joys of feathering our nest inspired a renovation, and during this process it became apparent that I had a knack for design and composition. I created unique environments – spaces that felt stylish and cohesive yet eclectic and juxtaposed. So, I went back to school to study interior design. Besides my family, design and food became the things I swooned over on a daily basis. Although they might seem utterly different at face value, they weren’t so separate in my world. I approached them both in exactly the same way – adding layers and textures, playing with contrasting elements, and looking for that unexpected touch. Those dinner parties began to get slightly more elaborate as I exercised my love of design in setting a mood, creating an environment and tablescaping.
Food and design have always worked in tandem in my world. I cannot have one without the other. They are like Siamese twin passions that continually overlap, living in a grey area as opposed to being black and white. For a long while I worried this duality would hold me back, but it was only when I embraced these overlapping passions – found a way forward that felt right, and authentic to me – that my career began to click into place. Food and design are what nourish my body, my mind, and my heart.
With my dueling passions of food and aesthetics, it is no surprise that in creating Cook Beautiful, a decidedly culinary endeavor, I NEEDED to infuse design into it. The book incorporates my approach to tablescaping and creating a beautiful visual narrative surrounding our meals. And, wouldn’t you know it? With the design stars in alignment, in celebrating Cook Beautiful the opportunity to partner with Chairish presented itself. Design found me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
In those early days of exploration, researching recipes on Epicurious, I lost myself for hours on end – and precisely the same thing happens on Chairish. Through their fabulous curation, the site offers a design education as you source one of a kind vintage furniture and decor. I love that you begin with a specific goal in mind but slowly start to wander in different directions as you encounter swoon-worthy items you didn’t know you absolutely needed. Treasures reveal themselves – you get to learn as you go. As I mentioned, as part of our partnership, I curated an entertaining-focused Chairish sale here so you, too, can journey down the design path with me. I’ve done much of the work to get you started, but be warned – hours upon hours of discovery will ensue!
I have always been smitten by antique and vintage finds. I use them for any interior I style or design. There is something so special about a time-worn patina and the warmth and texture it adds to a space. I also appreciate the rich and unknown history a vintage item might hold. I often ponder its legacy, or the story of how it landed in my possession. I love that I am continuing its journey. The things you collect over time, eclectic oddities or trinkets, tell your story. They also come with their own story, history, and personality. I rely on Chairish to send me down the rabbit hole of discovery as I source vintage items in a variety of categories, from furnishings to tabletop to decor pieces. And believe me, I fall deep down that hole all too willingly.
Anna Brockaway, the visionary founder of Chairish, and I, came together to co-host the most exceptional dinner in LA earlier this week at the breathtaking Irene Neuwirth jewelry boutique in Beverly Hills. Friends from all walks of life gathered in the store’s intimate setting. It is clear Irene has a discerning eye and a deep love of interior design. Artistry is evident in everything from the boutique’s thoughtful architecture, like the arched niches, to the tactile materials like supple velvets, cozy sheepskin chairs, and brass covered in patina, to the punchy geometric light fixture juxtaposed against a palette of warms woods and soft pinks. It’s all encompassed in a jewel box of a space that beautifully highlights the actual jewels.
In designing the dinner, I took inspiration from Irene’s store itself. I am always looking to my immediate environment and to the season, what is happening in the natural world, for ideas. The store is studded with warm tones with a hint of brass, so the table followed suit. We chose vintage pink glassware and gilded flatware. The menus had a pinky watercolor hue and a painterly quality. They were penned by calligrapher Anne Robin, whose work I have admired for many years. And the blooms, created by the incredibly talented Kristen Caissie of Moon Canyon, were autumnal and abundant, capturing the warmth of the season.
On the menu were recipes from the fall chapter of Cook Beautiful, which were deliciously brought to life by Blood, Sweat and Butter, the LA-based catering company of owners, chefs, and sisters Tracy Marcellino Aubert and Tiffany Hendryx. We feasted on oven-roasted Concord grape crostini with tarragon and fresh ricotta, followed by one of my favorite fall salads, a compilation of raw Jerusalem artichokes, celery, and sweet pears. It is crunchy and textural and ties together with a lemon vinaigrette. We then moved on to the stewed pork with fall-abundant squash and gremolata of pomegranates, parsley, walnuts, and citrus. This dish is a true representation of my cooking style, as the gremolata adds visual intrigue thanks to its pop of color and texture, and it also elevates the flavor of the recipe, owing to its zippy notes. For the vegetarians I offered a mushroom risotto with wild berries inspired by all the foraging from the forest happening this time of year. Finally, we finished our meal with a decadent butterscotch pot de crème swirled with a salted caramel tahini sauce.
I absolutely love tequila and am particularly smitten with the quality of the small-batch tequila made by my friends at Casa Dragones. Casa Dragones helped us raise a glass to the Cook Beautiful x Chairish partnership in crafting an autumnal pear cocktail we aptly titled “Beautiful Dragon”. They also paired our dessert with their Joven sipping tequila — the smoothest sipping tequila I have encountered.
Casa Dragones — the smoothest sipping tequila I have encountered!
While what I created for this incredible evening was without a doubt amplified, it really was not so different from my early dinner party days. In a way, my parallel obsessions with food and design and the hours I spend exploring those two realms have provided me with a self-taught education. I still obsess over the menu, I still do my research, I still imagine what the meal will taste like, how my guests will feel, and what they will visually absorb. Design makes its way into everything I do. Visuals create our first impressions. Aesthetics have the power to draw us into an environment and send a signal to our brain that we absolutely must eat that alluring plate of food. Our eyes are everything. Our experiences all begin with a visual. Thank you to Chairish and Irene Neuwirth for bringing my vision to life – engaging all of the senses on and around the table.
The lovely Sacha Strebe of MyDomaine, who is a continued supporter and friend!