Entertaining in the Tiffany style ENTERTAINING with grace & style

February 21, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

A recipe was identified incorrectly in an article about Tiffan Design Director John Loring in Sunday's Food and Home section. The correct name is Chilled Fresh Pea Soup.

The Sun regrets the errors.

I went to a wonderful dinner party last night," John Loring said. "It was very small, but everyone had something interesting to say, and the food was simple, straightforward food, the kind of thing any of us would cook for ourselves -- only we didn't have to do the cooking this time. We were sitting there and someone looked at their watch and it was 12:20. And we were still sitting at the dinner table.

"Which means that it was an enormous success."

Mr. Loring would certainly know what constitutes a successful dinner. Design director of the legendary Tiffany & Co., he is the author of six books on Tiffany taste and entertaining, including the recent "The Tiffany Gourmet Cookbook" (Doubleday, 1992, $50). Mr. Loring, who will be in Baltimore on Saturday to speak at the 23rd annual Hunt Valley Antiques Show, is an articulate, even passionate, proponent of serving food with grace and style.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

There's absolutely nothing to it, he contends. Simply do your best.

"So many times, everybody's trying to do someone else's best," he lamented in a recent phone interview. "Do your best, not someone else's."

Which is not to say entertaining should be approached in a slapdash manner. "A little bit of planning is a good idea, but over-planning is not a good idea," he said.

Instead, he said, there is a natural progression in planning, out of which all the details will evolve. Don't start by choosing the food, he said. "Of course, food is a very important element." But entertaining success "has a lot to do with giving your friends an event. It all starts with who is coming to dinner."

A guest list should not be made up of people who see each other every day, because "it will be familiar territory, and not an event." A diverse group, with a variety of interests, is the best mix. Mr. Loring believes that guests should be assembled as carefully as one would put together a flower arrangement, with contrasts, complements and perhaps some unexpected touches. "Ask yourself, will they enjoy each other?"

Seating should be arranged with equal care. ("All right," he concedes, "it's a rule. But it's a loose one.") Ideally, guests should be seated between someone they know well and someone they don't know at all, but with whom they are likely to have something in common. That way they will be comfortable but in a position to make what Mr. Loring called "discoveries."

"That's why we go to parties," he said, out of "a sense of adventure."

The second consideration is how the event will look. "Will the setting be formal or casual? Will it be focused on food, or on talk?"

The setting should be matched with the guests. A group of old friends who meet occasionally for meals might be most comfortable in a casual setting, while a mix of social and professional acquaintances would feel better with a more formal structure.

Once the guests and the setting are chosen, "then is the moment to choose the food," Mr. Loring said. The food should also evolve naturally out of the occasion. He divided foods generally into "boisterous" dishes, such as spaghetti, which would not be suitable for a formal, dressy event, and "party" foods, such as finger foods, which can be managed by people who are standing and talking while they eat.

For "The Tiffany Gourmet Cookbook," Mr. Loring collected menus and table settings from some of the world's most glamorous party-givers: the Baroness Marie-Helene de Rothschild, Yves St. Laurent, Rosita and Tai Missoni, Brooke Hayward, Carolyn Roehm Kravis, Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, Bill Blass, Betsy Bloomingdale and Wolfgang Puck.

Initially, even some of these people were concerned about what they should present for the book, and they worried that they might duplicate someone else's offering. "Do a self-portrait," Mr. Loring told them.

That's his advice for everyone: Choose the things you like and are comfortable with.

"It's a simple fact that every person is totally unique. It just works out naturally. Be yourself and it will be unique and different."

Naturally, not all of us can set a table like the Rothschilds. That matters not a bit, in Mr. Loring's view. The people in the book "were chosen because their lifestyles were tremendously varied. There are people in palaces and grand villas and people in lofts and frame houses in the country."

Serve simple food and set the table with things you love. Everything needn't match. "You don't have to ask all blonds or redheads -- the table furnishings and food, like the guests, needn't all match."

Most people are not fortunate enough to have inherited a 481-piece set of Sevres. That, Mr. Loring said, is why there are stores like Tiffany and antique shows like the Hunt Valley event.

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