festive table arrangement

Photograph by Jennifer Sosa

As Christmas fast approaches, Los Angeles-based chef and entrepreneur Olivia Muniak shares her tips on curating a successful festive party for family and friends

For me, the holiday season revolves around dreaming up new and exciting menus that reinvent classic favourites with seasonal ingredients and unexpected flavours. Admittedly, hosting is in my job description, but I take the same pleasure in putting on a magical evening for my friends as I do in designing an event for clients. Below, are a few tricks I’ve learnt over the years to reduce stress and ensure success.

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1. Atmosphere & Music

Curating a successful event in your home is about all achieving the perfect balance of food, drink, atmosphere and music. Personally, I like to use lots of unscented candles dotted around the house and assembled on the dining table. It’s a quick and easy way to create a warm, magical atmosphere.

In terms of music, I usually prepare playlist of my favourite artists such as Cesaria Evora, Amanz, Buena Vista Social Club and Rhye. Random pop or rock songs playing from your Spotify “like” list can make for a bumpy night.

Right now, I can’t stop listening to… Orchestra Baobab.

woman mixing cocktails

Olivia mixing cocktails in her home. Photograph by Jennifer Sosa

2. Aperitivo Hour

Building in time to greet your guests with cocktails is the warmest way to welcome someone into your home. I find that if you can allow time to enjoy conversation and a drink with friends, it sets the tone for a more fun and relaxed evening. Having a large batch of cocktails pre-mixed so that you can pour the liquid over ice makes your job as bartender even easier.

Try this cocktail… Bianco (White) Negroni

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3. Wine & Food Pairings

Even the simplest wine pairing can really elevate an event. While some guests or family members might prefer stick to their preference of white or red, try offering different varieties of grapes that enhance the flavours of your dish. It might sound obvious, but I find the best place to start is often the local wine shop. It can be really helpful to get some expert advice based both on what you’re cooking and the kind of atmosphere you’d like to create.

This Christmas I’ll be drinking… a Barolo in Tuscany.

woman preparing a salad

Photograph by Jennifer Sosa

4. Approaching Cooking Like a Pro

People always ask how I make cooking and entertaining look and feel so easy, my answer is always prep! I begin the shopping and the cooking days before the party so that when it comes to the evening, I get to actually enjoy the event.

I start by reading the recipe through a few times to make sure I’m not missing any specific produce or complicated processes – you don’t want your guests arriving just after you’ve discovered the main dish needs 3hrs in the oven. Then, I prepare my mis-en-place (a French culinary term that refers to a chef’s “set” station) so that I have each ingredient pre-measured and ready at my fingertips.

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There are often things that can be done the morning of the event, or even the day before, which will, again, save you time and stress when your guests arrive. Vegetables, for example, can often be precooked and a salad (undressed) can be ready in the fridge. Personally, I like to make the dessert a day or two prior to the party.

I also highly recommend trying to stay on top of your washing up during the cooking process – having an empty dishwasher is a lifesaver for that late-night clean up. Or else, opt for a glamorous approach (it’s Christmas, after all) and hire someone to help out with serving food, pouring wine and clearing away dishes.

The most thumbed cookbook in my kitchen… Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California by Travis Lett

curated dining table

Photograph by Jennifer Sosa

5. Decor

I’m a collector by nature. Over the years, I have amassed all sorts of dishes, serving platters, vintage glassware and eclectic trinkets. Personally, I think life’s too short to be precious about Grandma’s china, but if you have a slim collection at home, there are numerous rental companies from which you can source beautiful dishes, glassware and flatware (and most let you return it dirty).

Outside of the necessary items on the table, I like to add small vases with delicate florals, or larger clusters of sparse branches arranged in clear vases so guests can still see each other across the table. A simple, dark velvet ribbon tied around a napkin is a quick way to add texture, colour and sensuality to a table.

My favourite homeware shop… Il Buco Vita in New York City.

Olivia Muniak is the founder of La Cura, a Los Angeles-based catering and events company. For more information, visit: thisislacura.com