Twenty Fabulous Culinary Events

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These are no ordinary parties, which means this is no ordinary cookbook.  You’ve got that right.  The dust jacket explains that Judith Olney brings wit, whimsy, a flair for the dramatic, an appetite for the offbeat, and the unexpected.  You will be the talk of the town if you indulge in Judith’s “entertainments,” as that is what they are, not really parties. 

The “culinary events” are inspired by works of art,  prose, a special place, or even a child’s toy.  For example, Van Gogh’s painting Olive Trees was the inspiration for “Le Grand Aioli” party.  To set the scene, spread a buffet table with small patterned Provencal cloth, use rustic baskets and clay pots for serving pieces.  Have a display of neatly arrayed vegetables and a simple vase of flowers.  The menu will include nicoise olives with herbs, new potatoes, artichokes, green beans, cauliflower, and carrots – served with aioli, of course.  A “Monet Water Lily Luncheon” would have a beautiful table setting of glass bowls half-filled with water with floating magnolias or chrysanthemums; starch white napkins folded into a lotus shape; a round table with a lavender, blue, or dusty pink tablecloth; placemats of glass or mirrors, all set outdoors if possible, surrounded by greenery.  The parties are all so visual in nature, that if you close your eyes, you can envision each event just as your mind’s eye can see a favored painting at will.  Think of what you could do with Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  (my favorite Van Gogh)

Observe Caravaggio’s Bacchus.  A half-naked man with a wine glass and fresh fruit can only mean “The Dinner of Seduction.”  Judith suggests serving “I-cared-enough-to-do-this-for-you” dishes such as caviar, champagne, duck breasts, and a white chocolate mousse.  The caviar should be chilled and the toast points wrapped in a warm towel.  There should be romantic music playing.  You get the picture.
Other events in the book include a Matisse Patterned Luncheon;  An Evening in Naples;  A Children’s Cookie Party; The Dim Sum Parlor; A Provencal Christmas; Breakfast the Morning After; The Charcuterie Cocktail Party; A Maple Sugar House Breakfast; and An Early American Tea.  The entertainments depend more upon your own imagination than any monetary expense.  They should be planned to evoke mood and emotion, but all with good food. 
The book reminds me of when my girls were involved with theatre in school, with a stage, actors, and a director.  Theatre is emotional and fun and involves the audience – same as with this cookbook.  You as the host are the director who transforms an ordinary meal into a culinary event.  It reminds me of what Chef Grant Achatz is doing at his restaurant “Next.”  He transforms the entire restaurant every few months with a new “entertainment” such as 1930’s Paris, or a futuristic Hong Kong, or a Mad Men 1960’s New York. 
You will never want to have any ordinary party after reading this cookbook.  Think of your favorite place, book, movie, or painting.  How would you make it into a party to end all parties?  I think I’ll go work on Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  It has so many possibilities, don’t  you think?

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