In the tradition of Louis XIV’s famed multicourse 17th-century feasts (legendary meals would include more than 20 plates per person) and the powdery, pastel confections that defined Marie Antoinette’s banquets in the popular imagination (if not in historical truth), the French dinner affair has an extravagant, mannered reputation that precedes it. Jamie Creel and his partner, Marco Scarani, have done away with these conventions, however, redefining French entertaining for their modern set of friends. Their guests will be arriving at their 17th-century apartment in Saint-Germain-des-Prés tonight, where Creel (an American) and Scarani (a French Italian) have created an ex-patriate’s rendition of the French dinner party as a free-flowing, casual get-together done with humor and charm—albeit with dinner cooked by chef Claude Colliot, whose eponymous restaurant in the Fourth Arrondissement is a Michelin Guide favorite.
Creel and Scarani often host gatherings such as this for close friends, all of whom represent a glittering creative class. Creel himself co-owns Creel & Gow on New York’s Upper East Side, and Scarani is an interior designer (most recently, Chris Burch’s surf resort Nihiwatu, in Indonesia). Their close- knit group includes fashion designer Giambattista Valli; interior stylist Carlos Mota; architect Jean-Louis Deniot; Jane Pendry, owner of the boutique Dovima; artist and designer Hervé Van der Straeten; Bruno Frisoni, creative director at Roger Vivier; and fashion entrepreneur and hotelier Burch. Here, a few notes on how they did it.
Before the party, Scarani and Creel select flowers at their favorite store, Christian Collin Fleuriste: ranunculus and fresh garden roses for the dining room and unopened pink lilies for the living room. “Obviously it’s best to go with what’s fresh and in season,” says Creel. “And I like to go the day before dinner so the flowers are in bloom the day of. For tonight, I actually like the unopened lilies, though— they remind me of a bird’s beak.” As for the George V–decreed notion of one hue for all buds, Creel disagrees: “I prefer to have one color in different shades—dark pinks, hot pinks, pastels. It’s so much more interesting.”
In true European fashion, a steady stream of arrivals means that cocktail hour extends to two, with guests drinking Champagne, wine, whisky, and vodka (Deniot’s favorite, the Russian brand Beluga, is a mainstay). Tonight’s hors d’oeuvres include fresh-cut hams (Ferrari Parma, aged 24 months, and Coppa di Parma, both from Comptoir Gourmet) as well as cheeses from Les Fromages de Raphaële. (“Everyone in Paris knows Bartholemy,” says Creel. “But I like the girl at Les Fromages de Raphaële because we’ll have a chat and she’ll just make a great selection of a few cheeses for us.”) Even though the crackers served with ham and cheese were made by Colliot, the spread is a decidedly low-key, unfussy affair with ready- to-eat foods that Creel and Scarani purchased around the neighborhood. Considering the tastes (and the tastemakers) in the room, the simplicity is surprising. “We don’t like anything too elaborate or overwrought,” says Creel. “Everyone here is kind of like family and everyone is easy, so when you have them over, it’s nice to just be comfortable.”
Once everyone has arrived (except for Valli, who is busy at work on his spring collection), Scarani gathers everyone in the dining room. Though he doesn’t cook the meal—the menu of squash velouté, boeuf Hereford with roast beets and potato cappuccino (a signature dish of mashed potatoes served in a cup and topped with cream), and chocolate truffle mousse made with Samana chocolate from the Dominican Republic will be prepared by Colliot—it is Scarani’s job to communicate with the chef and oversee the evening’s “schedule.” (“It’s France, so everyone’s at least an hour late,” says Creel.)
The guests dine tonight off marbleized plates from Sylvie Saint-André Perrin, in Paris, with silver flatware that Creel inherited from his grandmother. It was Scarani’s idea to use something other than name cards to assign people to their seats; he’ll often use old postcards or old photographs, writing names in black Sharpie marker on the back, but tonight it’s clementine place settings. Scarani has decorated the table with, yes, flowers but also various beautiful things lying around—minerals, taxidermy birds, miscellaneous silver pieces—thanks to Creel’s day job and knack for bringing objets into the house.
The guests retire to the living room (and Valli finally arrives, with apologies), where they sip Champagne, caffeinate, and help themselves to ganaches and pralines from French chocolatier Patrick Roger to extend the evening until two o’clock. “I feel like people in Europe tend to stay longer than people in the United States,” says Creel. “But it also helps to have the right mix of people.” That’s the key to Creel and Scarani’s dinner parties: a good crowd with the easy energy and social chemistry that feels effortless but takes careful consideration—the right number, the right combinations, the right temperaments. “I usually like to invite over 10 to 12, all from different places and backgrounds and professions,” says Creel. “The secret is to have at least one new person to the group. Nothing makes me happier than introducing best friends who haven’t met yet.”
Image Credits: © Xavier Bejot