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Welcome.

My name is Margot Austin and I am the editor and founder of The Design Edit, a collection of the best design stories I encounter in my life as a stylist and design communications specialist. Meet top talents, get inspired by beautiful spaces, get a first look at innovative new products and maybe even try one of my dead-easy DIY projects. 

22 Secrets to Fine Dining Redefined

22 Secrets to Fine Dining Redefined

I have a goal I’m working toward: invite some people over. This resolution has come to me for a couple of reasons. First, since launching my own business I find I am missing a social element of life that working with many people in an office used to fill. Second, I have been the contented guest of others on several occasions and thought to myself, Why don’t I get my act together and return the favour? In my journey of getting my act together I found plenty of inspiration at a recent dinner I attended hosted by luxury appliance manufacturer Jenn-Air. This post is a sponsored component of the dinner experience. Jenn-Air has compensated me for my services and my posts, but the post contains my own words and opinions and some of my own photos (exceptions noted).

My work and personal lives overlap a lot — the happy result of choosing to do what I love. I’m pleased to share my personal takeaways from this “work” event. Hope you’ll enjoy these 22 Secrets to Fine Dining Redefined and invite some people over soon! 

CityLine producer Fiona Clark (far left) sharing posts and laughs with experts Shoana Jensen, Shai DeLuca and Karen Sealy. photo: Chris Young 

CityLine producer Fiona Clark (far left) sharing posts and laughs with experts Shoana Jensen, Shai DeLuca and Karen Sealy. photo: Chris Young 

Master the Guest List

This dinner was an intimate affair by business event standards — 20 guests plus Chef Rob Gentile of Buca and Chef Elia Herrara of Los Colibris hosting on behalf of Jenn-Air. We were a mix of design media stalwarts, such as Vicky Sanderson, the crew from CityLine (shown above) and yours truly, as well as the New Guard of food and lifestyle bloggers. For home entertaining, I’d suggest six diners total. That number ensures an evening that’s intimate but convivial, it keeps the food budget manageable and prep not too stressful. It also allows you to create an interesting group. Try these pointers to get the guest mix right:

1. Invite introverts and extroverts. 

2. Assign seating with placecards so that couples, introverts and extroverts are separated. 

3. Seat yourself next to the person you most want to connect with or who is the least known of the guests.

4. Invite someone or a couple that you don’t know very well. (I once attended a dinner party hosted by someone I follow on Twitter. We had never met in person until she invited me to her house for dinner. It was the spark of a new friendship.) 

5. Don’t limit the guest list to people who all do the same work.

6. Make your unaquainted guests aware of things they may have in common.

7. No kids (sorry, not sorry).

Four courses signals a sense of occasion!

Craft an Innovative Menu

Think outside the French cuisine box. The dinner I attended was a fine dining take on Mexican cuisine, a surprising alternative to the more casual tacos and margs we sometimes associate with eating Mexican. Here are some more ways to get creative with menu planning: 

8. Pull together recipes inspired by a recent trip or favourite restaurant. For example, serve moules frites for a Belgian-inspired affair, or après-ski-inspired Swiss Raclette. 

9. Plan multiple courses. Having more than just a main and a dessert makes guests feel pampered.

Chefs Rob Gentile and Elia Herrara start the evening with cooking demonstrations using state-of-the-art Jenn-Air appliances. photo: Chris Young

The Jenn-Air Counter-Depth French Door Refrigerator with Obsidian Interior has a definite wow factor! photo: Chris Young 

The Jenn-Air Counter-Depth French Door Refrigerator with Obsidian Interior has a definite wow factor! photo: Chris Young 

10. Kitchen parties aren’t just for casual entertaining anymore, especially when your kitchen is equipped with luxury appliances you don't mind showing off (just a little). Invite guests to gather around in the kitchen to enjoy the sharing starters or even get their hands dirty trying out your appliances themselves. 

11. Practice makes perfect. Try out the recipes a few times before your big event so that you can work out any kinks and get the timing right. Of course, Jenn-Air has you covered on that front to make sure you get it right every time. The Jenn-Air Wall-Oven with Culinary Center allows you to select the dish you are making, the pan you are using and how you'd like it cooked. Then you just walk away. 

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12. Elevate a simple dish. Guacamole and chips feel fancy with the addition of pomegranate and chips you make yourself.

13. Simmer some sauces. An interesting sauce brings palate-pleasing flavour to any dish and allows you to excercise more artistry when plating (more on that later). The Jenn-Air 30" Dual­Fuel Range offers precision and a lower level flame ideal for simmering. Personally, I'm a fan of induction cooking. Simmer and Melt functions on Jenn-Air induction cooktops offer all the precision of low temperature gas cooking but in a sleek low-profile appliance that suits my design style. 

14. Gather some garnishes. Same reasons as point No. 13.

Light candles just before guests enter the dining room to create a warm welcoming effect. 

Light candles just before guests enter the dining room to create a warm welcoming effect. 

Set the Scene

Shrug off any worries that the interior design of your space might not be up to par for fine dining. With just a few tricks you can create the right atmosphere for a gathering to remember. The dinner I attended was held in a delightful private dining room at Los Colibris, a Mexican restaurant in the heart of Toronto’s Theatre District. Steal a few of the decor ideas from the event and tuck a few away in your inspiration file for when a bigger redesign is in the cards.

15. Prepare a printed menu or two for the table. Handwrite it in a pretty script or just use a menu template on your computer and print onto card stock.

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16. Opt for a runner. Fine dining doesn’t have to mean a starched white tablecloth. Runners are easier to store and less expensive than full size tablecloths. Splurge on a collection of special ones to suit your favourite themes.

17. Add candles. Lots. OK, this is not groundbreaking news on the entertaining front. That said, you’d be surprised how many people are not ready with a drawer full of candles in several sizes, candlesticks and votive holders. Be ready. Pro tip: combine tall candles in tall candlesticks with lower votives to bring light to different heights along the table.

18. Bring in handmade plates to mix with your white basics instead of the more expected fine bone china. The character of handmade pieces reinforces the notion that the feast is also handmade. 

19. Indulge your inner artist when plating. Beforehand, do a quick search on You Tube to get a crash course on plating techniques. Have squeeze bottles, small spoons and tweezers on hand to work your magic with sauces and garnishes.

20. Eschew a large fussy centrepiece in favour of smaller poseys in low glass vessels along the table. Invite guests to take them home at the end of the evening.

21. Add picture lights above artwork in a dining room to create pools of dramatic accent lighting.

22. Go bold with high-gloss lacquer paint. The Los Colibris dining room features gloss painted panels — a great option for those too timid to coat all the walls and ceiling. Current favourite dining room colour: Dinner Party (AF 300) by Benjamin Moore.

I hope you are inspired to redefine fine dining the next time you entertain. The decor and atmosphere part is my comfort zone. In fact, creating party and event decor and florals is one of the services I offer to my clients. If you'd like my help with an upcoming event, just get in touch. Next, I’ll be working on improving my recipe repertoire so I can get some invitations out soon! If you'd like to read more about the recipes and methods of food preparation employed for this event, check out this story by my colleague Vicky Sanderson, Fine Dining Redefined with Less Fuss, Loads of Flavour

Connect with Jenn-Air to get recipes, see video of the evening’s two chefs in action, plus more cooking demos, and all the Jenn-Air product info you could want: 
site: jennair.ca
Instagram: @jennaircanada
YouTube: Jenn-Air Canada 

Connect with Chef Elia Herrara and Los Colibris:
site: loscolibris.ca
Instagram: @loscolibris.ca ; @chefelia8

Connect with Chef Rob Gentile
site: buca.ca
Instagram: @rob_gentile

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