I am thrilled to bring to you, for the first time on Pearls, Lace & Grace, a guest writer – Anina Belle Giannini. Known as Le Chef’s Wife (@lechefswife) on Instagram, Anina Belle and I became fast friends sometime ago, bonding over the shared pursuit of a life well lived (and all things lovely).
A little about my friend – Anina Belle is a Canadian/American Luxury Hotel Executive who fell in love with a French Chef (@chefsebastiengiannini) while on a University exchange to Nice, France – fairy tale or what? They were married and lived in the south of France for nine years before relocating to Montreal, Canada, and then most recently, to Washington, DC.
Anina Belle’s Instagram features delicious food, sometimes created by her talented chef husband, decadent wine and stunning glimpses into her travels. She is truly a beautiful soul and I am so glad to know her.
In the next few days, we will say au revoir to 2016, and bonjour to 2017 (that’s about the extent of my french), and with all her time spent in the south of France, who better to guide us on how to have a fabulously chic French New Year’s Eve than Anina Belle?
Without further ado, I give you Le Chef’s Wife…
One thing that resonated with me during my years living in France is how simple it is to do things well. The French are masters of the art of simple elegance, and with a few guidelines, you can be the effortlessly chic hostess of a fabulously chic French New Year’s Eve party.
My favorite New Year’s celebrations in France were always the ones where we celebrated in someone’s home. A carefully curated group of people with just the right mix of new and old friends. Everyone dressed up, yet the vibe remained laid back and intimate. It truly is the best way to ring in a New Year!
Depending on the size of your party, you can choose to serve the meal seated at a dinner table, or buffet style so that people can mix and mingle. I recommend inviting guests to arrive anytime after eight o’clock. You don’t want your New Year’s Eve party to start too early and have the champagne (and the ambiance) fall flat before midnight!
A must! The French enjoy Champagne all year round, but New Year’s Eve is truly a time to drink Champagne all night long! Now, in France, there is a much larger selection of Champagne at varying prices than is available in North America.
For those of us who do not want to spend a fortune on Champagne for the evening, I suggest starting the party with a “Kir Royal”. Splash a little bit of Crème de Cassis (available at any liquor store) into a glass of dry sparkling wine, et voilà! You have yourself an elegant and festive cocktail that feels oh so French.
The French love their oysters and swear by the ones from Brittany and the West Coast of France. Fortunately, we have a wide variety of exceptional oysters available to us in North America. You should have seen my French husband’s face when I brought him to Vancouver for the first time to try Kusshi Oysters! Ooh la la! He was in Chef’s Heaven!
I recommend preparing six to eight oysters per person and please, do yourself a favour and enlist the help of strong friends with good knife skills and lots of patience to help shuck the oysters before the party begins. You don’t want to be alone in the kitchen wielding an oyster knife and splattering bits of shell and brine all over your best party outfit.
Oysters take time, so plan accordingly and then put the little rascals on ice while you pour yourself a glass of champagne.
There is something so beautiful about a slice of smoked salmon on a perfect little blinis with a dollop of crème fraiche. The richness of the food marries perfectly with crisp, dry champagne. You can either buy ready-made blinis at the grocery store, or else they can be made in advance. Essentially, they are small, bite-sized pancakes that are served chilled. Top each pancake with a slice of smoked salmon and finish with a dollop of crème fraiche (or sour cream).
Now, here is where you can get creative! Arrange the smoked salmon pancakes out on a tray and then alternate the garnishes. Perhaps you want to add some fennel on top? A mini slice of lemon? Caviar? Amusez-vous!
Le Foie Gras
Un grand classique! Finding good foie gras is difficult in North America, but not impossible. Go to the deli selection of the finest grocery store in your area and look for a jar of “Foie Gras Cuit” (cooked foie gras). Some specialty butcher shops also carry good foie gras that they make themselves.
For Christmas I was unable to find a good foie gras at our local Whole Foods, so I settled on Chicken Liver Mousse, which is an agreeable alternative. Place the foie gras on a cutting board surrounded by an assortment of crackers and some fig jam, et voilà!
A well-designed cheese platter is an art form; however, like many things French, if you understand the guidelines it is easy to excel! I usually aim for four to six cheeses on my cheese board – a nice mix of soft and hard cheeses, with varying degrees of staunch.
The French are less enthused by all the condiments we North Americans like to put on a cheese board, and really just like to keep it simple. Good cheese, a crusty baguette and maybe some honey or fig jam as accents, c’est tout!
Start with a good fresh Chèvre (Chèvre Frais), then add a hard but mild cheese such as a Tome de Savoie or a Comte. Now add a strong cheddar or a Mimolette and place a spoon in to a Mont D’Or. Add a wheel of ripe Camembert and finish it all with a slab of Roquefort!
Most importantly, cheeses need to be room temperature. Make sure to take them out an hour before your guests arrive. Yes, the place may smell of cheese, but oh, what cheese!
Last, but certainly not least, do yourself a favour and order “Une tour de Macarons” , or Macaron Tower, from a pastry shop. The multi-colored pastel pastry morsels will be a party favourite and are immediately Instagram-worthy.
Macarons have become very popular in recent years – I have even seen Macarons available at Safeway!
Now, there are macarons, and then there are Ladurée Macarons. If there is a Ladurée in your area, I encourage you to go and taste the difference. These macarons melt in your mouth and are not too sweet.
Et voilà! As you can see, hosting an elegant New Year’s Eve Reception “à la Française”, is less about being a Michelin-starred chef, and more about assembling the right ingredients.
I encourage you to host your own French New Year’s Eve party and tell me all about it at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tag me on Instagram at @lechefswife.
Le Chef’s Wife