How a Designer Hosts a Formal Dinner Party That Still Feels Fun

Alexa Hampton throws a dinner with design friends at her New York apartment.

table set with cabbage plates and purple scalloped placemat
Photo: Matthew Benson

Alexa Hampton throws dinner with design friends at her New York apartment.

01 of 15

Impressive Dinner Tablescape

table with chinese lantern linen fabric
Matthew Benson

Regardless of whether the occasion is personal or professional, one thing is certain when design maestro Alexa Hampton entertains. Laughter is in store. And that's just her audio design. She presents an equally pleasing visual statement too.

"Chinese Lantern" linen fabric from Lee Jofa and "Abigail" side chairs with draped backs from Hickory Chair establish the palette for the dinner's design. Mercury glass hurricanes from The Mine and a formal arrangement of flowers in reds and pinks from Ariston Flowers march down the middle of the table.

02 of 15

Creative Crowd

design emporium the mine
Matthew Benson

Alexa gathered a group of industry friends for dinner in her New York apartment. In the spirit of her guests' aesthetic mind-sets, the event was layered with pattern, color, and texture inspired by a chinoiserie floral in rose, purple, and green.

Alexa with designers, from left: Eddie Ross, Thom Filicia, Nick Olsen, Ashley Whittaker, and New York School of Interior Design President David Sprouls.

03 of 15

Pretty Tabletop

table set with cabbage plates and purple scalloped placemat
Matthew Benson

An unexpected pairing of textured cabbage plates and a simple ivory-and-gold plate is grounded by a grape-colored, scalloped placemat that is stylish yet practical with its wipeable surface. A lavender napkin with grape embroidery reverses the color proportions.

Laminated linen placemats with an arabesque edge take a reversed two-tone twist with coordinating napkins from La Gallina Matta.

04 of 15

Sparkling Stemware

antique silver and engraved goblets
Matthew Benson

Antique silver, including the flatware, salt and pepper shakers, and engraved goblets, adds something storied from Alexa's personal collection. The table's centerpiece is a mélange of curiosities: soaring lemon trees, mercury glass hurricanes, red and pink flowers, and spiraling horns. "Soaring plants create a canopy and offer a fun way to contend with a room without a chandelier," says Alexa.

Amethyst and clear stemware from The Mine dazzles with engraved silver goblets.

05 of 15

Cabbage Cutie

cabbage plates and purple scalloped placemat
Matthew Benson

The tasteful menu includes an Asiago cheese soufflé, Burgundy-braised short ribs, and an elegant-but-easy pear tart.

Bordallo Pinheiro "Cabbage" plates are made formal with the gold-rimmed "Eternal" pattern from Lenox.

06 of 15

Sophisticated Sideboard

pink and purple flower arrangements
Matthew Benson

The sideboard boasts a profusion of pinks and purples in floral arrangements and on glass amethyst candlesticks and hurricanes from The Mine.

07 of 15

Designer at Home

the mine creative director alexa hampton
Matthew Benson

Interior designer Alexa Hampton poses at her home.

08 of 15

Business, with Pleasure

menu from thornwillow
Matthew Benson

When Alexa Hampton entertains, it's a formal affair with a casual energy. The menu veers toward classic comfort food with a modern twist. To accomplish this balance, Hampton turns to New York catering leader Stephen Kennard and his prestigious catering firm Canard, Inc.

Kennard gravitated to the world of evolving American cooking in the early 1970s and was executive chef at Wertheim & Co. and Institutional Investor magazine. In the early 1980s he wrote about food and restaurants for GQ magazine. He began his company in 1985 by serving friends, and he has grown and developed Canard into a prominent catering service with a blue-chip client list. Recipes are by Canard Inc. executive chef Jose Delgado.

Placecards and menu cards from Thornwillow Press bring classic simplicity to the dining suite.


  • September Sangria
  • Truffled Potato Gaufrettes
  • (Equipment: Mandolines)
  • Tuna Tartare on Sesame Miso Tuiles
  • Fallen Asiago Cheese Soufflé
  • Roasted Pepper Bruschetta with Baby Romaine
  • Burgundy-Braised Short Ribs with Roasted Carrots
  • Creamer Potatoes and Celery Root Puree
  • Caramel Pear Tart

Shopping List

We've organized a shopping list to make shopping for this party menu easier for you. Package sizes are included so you have enough for duplicated recipe ingredients.

Check your pantry for these necessary items before shopping:

Note: Unless specified, when we call for "butter" we mean the unsalted variety. When we call for "olive oil" we are suggesting good-quality extra-virgin. When we call for "eggs" we are suggesting large eggs.

  • All-purpose flour (need about 1 cup)
  • Granulated sugar (need 1-1/3 cup)
  • Eggs (need 4)
  • Butter [need 1 cup (2 sticks) + 4 tablespoons(1/2 stick)]
  • Vegetable oil (at least 2 cups)
  • Light-color corn syrup (need 1/2 cup)
  • Olive oil (need 6 tablespoons + more for drizzling)
  • Soy sauce (need 2 tablespoons)
  • *Salt (need 1/8 teaspoon + more for seasoning)
  • Kosher salt (1/2 teaspoon +more for seasoning)
  • Freshly ground black pepper (need about 1/2 teaspoon + more for seasoning)
  • Ground ginger (need 1-1/2 teaspoons); check jar for freshness
  • Dry mustard (need 1/4 teaspoon)
  • Cayenne pepper (need 1 pinch)
  • Tomato paste

Specialty grocery store

  • 2 pounds multicolor heirloom carrots
  • Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
  • White truffle oil
  • Toasted sesame oil (need 2-1/4 teaspoons)
  • 1 small tube wasabi paste (need 1-1/2 teaspoons)
  • Miso paste (need 1 tablespoon)
  • California caviar (preferably American sturgeon); may need to order online


  • 1–2 apples
  • 5–6 Bosc, Bartlett, or D'Anjou pears (1–2 for sangria, 4 for pear tarts)
  • 5–6 figs
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 medium English cucumber
  • 1 bunch green onion
  • 1 bunch chives
  • 2 medium onions
  • 1 bunch celery
  • 1 bunch carrots
  • 1 (1-pound) celeriac (celery root)
  • 1 each: red, yellow, and orange sweet pepper
  • 1 medium avocado
  • 9 large russet potatoes [3 (1-1/2 pounds) for gaufrettes; 6 (3 pounds) for creamer potatoes]
  • 1 large head garlic
  • 3–4 ounces baby arugula
  • 1 head baby romaine or 1 small heart of romaine
  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 1 bunch thyme
  • 1 bunch oregano
  • 1 bunch rosemary


  • 1 (750-milliliter) bottle sparkling apple cider
  • 1 (12-ounce) bottle unseasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 1 (32-ounce) carton reduced-sodium beef broth

Baking aisle

  • White sesame seeds
  • Black sesame seeds
  • Ground white pepper

Frozen food aisle

  • 1 (17.3-ounce) package frozen puff pastry sheets


  • 8 bone-in beef short ribs (4 to 5 pounds total)

Fish monger

  • 8 ounces sushi-quality ahi tuna steak


  • Whole milk (need 1 cup)
  • 1 (8-ounce) container light sour cream or plain yogurt
  • 1 (1/2 pint) container whipping cream (optional)


  • 1 loaf ciabatta

Cheese aisle

  • 4 ounces Colby cheese
  • 4 ounces aged Asiago

Alcohol aisle

  • 1 (350-milliliter) bottle brandy
  • 1 (750-milliliter) bottle Pinot Noir or Merlot (for sangria)
  • 1 (750-milliliter) bottle good-quality, full-bodied dry red wine (for short ribs)
09 of 15

September Sangria

september sangria
Matthew Benson

This red wine-based sangria from chef Jose Delgado is a lovely way to start a fall supper.

Prep: 15 minutes

Chill: 2 to 4 hours

  • 2 cups sliced apples, pears, and figs
  • 1 cup brandy
  • 1/2 cup Simple Syrup*
  • 1 (750-milliliter) bottle Pinot Noir or Merlot
  • 1 (750-milliliter) bottle sparkling apple cider

In large pitcher, combine fruit, brandy, and Simple Syrup. Stir to combine. Add wine. Cover pitcher; chill 2 to 4 hours.

To serve, add sparkling apple cider. Stir gently. Pour sangria over ice. Garnish with some of the fruit. Makes 8 servings.

Tip: To make Simple Syrup, in small saucepan combine 1/3 cup water and 1/3 cup sugar. Cook and stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture just comes to simmer. Cool completely.

10 of 15

Truffled Potato Gaufrettes

truffled potato gaufrettes
Matthew Benson

These salty, crisp potato chips from chef Jose Delgado are an elegant complement to cocktail hour, especially if dinner is an elaborate affair. They'll satisfy hunger pangs without filling up your guests.

You'll need a mandoline to make these gaufrettes.

Start to finish: 20 minutes

  • 3 large russet potatoes (about 1-1/2 pounds)
  • Vegetable oil for frying (preferably peanut unless allergy concerns)
  • Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
  • White truffle oil

Peel potatoes; reserve in cold water. Fit mandoline slicer with ruffled or zigzag blade; cut narrow ends off potatoes. Carefully slice potatoes 1/16 inch thick, rotating potato 90 degrees with each slice to make waffle-cut slices; reserve slices in cold water.

Fill large heavy saucepan with 1-1/2 inches vegetable oil. Heat oil to 350°F on deep-frying or candy thermometer. In small batches, drain and pat dry potato slices. (Slices need be dry to prevent splattering.) Fry until golden brown and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes per batch.

Remove; drain on paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and drizzle with white truffle oil. Makes 3 cups (about 30).

11 of 15

Tuna Tartare on Sesame Miso Tuile

tuna tartare on sesame miso tuile
Matthew Benson

Michael Wainwright's "Tempio Luna" canapé plates serve up tuna tartare hors d'oeuvres. A riff on both classic steak tartare and sushi, these delicious hors d'oeuvres are loaded with umami flavor.

Start to finish: 25 minutes

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons wasabi paste*
  • 3/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 8 ounces sushi-quality ahi tuna steak, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 1 medium avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 1 cup (1/4-inch cubes) English cucumber
  • 1 green onion, finely chopped
  • Sesame Miso Tuiles (recipe follows)
  • Toasted white sesame seeds
  • Chopped fresh chives for garnish
  • California caviar (preferably American sturgeon), optional

In medium bowl whisk together soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, lemon juice, wasabi paste, and sesame oil. Add tuna, avocado, cucumber, and green onion; stir gently to coat. Spoon mixture onto Sesame Miso Tuiles. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and chives. Top with caviar, if desired. Makes 24 servings.

*Tip: Wasabi paste (horseradish paste) can be found in Asian markets and most supermarkets.

Sesame Miso Tuiles from chef Jose Delgado

Prep: 20 minutes

Cool: 1 hour

Bake: 8 minutes per batch at 325°F

  • 1/2 cup light-color corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 tablespoon miso paste
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons black sesame seeds

In small saucepan, combine corn syrup and butter; melt over medium heat (do not boil). Remove from heat; whisk in miso paste and sesame oil.

In small bowl stir together flour, ginger, salt, and pepper. Add flour mixture to butter mixture; whisk until smooth. Stir in black sesame seeds. Set aside to cool (about 1 hour).

Preheat oven to 325°F. Place rack in center of oven. Line large baking sheets with parchment paper. Using about 1 teaspoon mixture for each tuile, spoon twelve portions of the mixture into 1-inch circles 3 inches apart on each prepared baking sheet. Bake about 8 minutes or until golden brown (tuiles will spread and become lacy). Remove from oven. Let stand 30 seconds or until easy to remove. Quickly move tuiles onto rounded surface (rolling pin, end of whisk, etc.) to create curved effect. Let cool thoroughly. Makes 36 tuiles.

Note: Tuiles can be made a day in advance and stored in an airtight container.

12 of 15

Fallen Asiago Cheese Soufflé

fallen asiago cheese souffle
Matthew Benson

For this recipe from chef Jose Delgado, you'll want to have everything ready to go before you start cooking: eggs separated, ingredients pre-measured, stand mixer set up, and oven preheated. Chill the mixing bowl and the beaters for the egg whites in the freezer beforehand.

The peppery arugula garnish adds snap to the richness of the soufflé.

Asiago cheese soufflés are baked in Emile Henry ramekins.

Hands-on time: 30 minutes

Bake: 40 minutes at 350°F

  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 ounces Colby cheese, shredded (1 cup)
  • 4 ounces aged Asiago, grated (1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup baby arugula

Allow egg yolks and egg whites to stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. In medium saucepan melt butter; stir in flour, dry mustard, and cayenne pepper. Add milk all at once. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat. Gradually add cheeses, stirring until melted. In medium bowl beat egg yolks with fork. Slowly add cheese sauce to egg yolks, stirring constantly. Cool slightly.

In large mixing bowl beat egg whites with electric mixer on medium to high speed until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight). Gently fold about 1/2 cup of stiffly beaten egg whites into cheese sauce.

Gradually pour cheese sauce over remaining stiffly beaten egg whites, folding to combine. Pour into 8 ungreased 8- to 10-ounce soufflé cups or ramekins.

Bake 40 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean.

Remove soufflés from oven. They will puff, then fall in center. Garnish each soufflé with small amount of arugula. Serve immediately. Makes 8 servings.

13 of 15

Roasted Pepper Bruschetta with Baby Romaine

roasted pepper bruschetta with baby romaine
Matthew Benson

Served directly on bread, like a tartine, this course from chef Jose Delgado has a different (and modern) approach to a traditional salad. It's still a knife-and-fork affair though.

Start to finish: 35 minutes

  • 1 loaf ciabatta
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup each chopped red, yellow, and orange sweet pepper
  • 1 small lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 leaves baby romaine (or small heart of romaine)

Preheat broiler. Place rack in center of oven. Bias cut ciabatta into eight 1/2-inch slices; brush lightly with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Place ciabatta under broiler; toast until golden. Set aside.

In large skillet heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. Cook garlic 1 minute or until softened. Add peppers. Cook and stir 4 minutes or until tender. Remove from heat.

In small bowl combine 1-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice, salt, and black pepper. Whisk in remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Toss sweet pepper mixture with lemon juice mixture. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon lemon zest.

Top toasted ciabatta with romaine leaves. Spoon peppers onto romaine. Makes 8 servings.

Tip: Ciabatta slices may be toasted ahead of time. Wrap toasted slices in plastic wrap and reserve until serving time.

14 of 15

Burgundy-Braised Short Ribs with Roasted Carrots

burgundy-braised short ribs
Matthew Benson

Rich, aromatic, flavorful—does fall cooking get better than this? Don't leave anything to chance: Order the short ribs from your butcher a few days in advance for this recipe from chef Jose Delgado.

Prep: 30 minutes

Cook: 30 minutes

Bake: 2 hours to 2 hours 30 minutes at 350°F

Sauce: Simmer 30 minutes after bake time

Carrots: Roast 30-35 minutes while sauce simmers

  • 8 bone-in beef short ribs (4 to 5 pounds total)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped (2 cups)
  • 2 large stalks celery, chopped (1-1/2 cups)
  • 3 medium carrots, chopped (1-1/3 cups)
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 (750-milliliter) bottle good-quality, full-bodied dry red wine (preferably burgundy, cabernet sauvignon, or blend)
  • 1 (32-ounce) carton reduced-sodium beef broth
  • 6 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 sprigs fresh oregano
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 2 pounds multicolor heirloom carrots, leaves trimmed, large carrots halved lengthwise
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Creamer Potato and Celery Root Puree (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Sprinkle ribs with salt and pepper. In 8-quart Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook ribs, in batches, 3 minutes per side or until browned. Remove from Dutch oven. Drain all but 2 tablespoons fat from pan.

Reduce heat to medium. Add onions, celery, and chopped carrots to fat in Dutch oven. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add flour and tomato paste. Cook and stir 1 minute. Add red wine. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer about 15 minutes or until wine is reduced by half. Stir in beef broth, fresh herbs, and garlic. Return ribs to Dutch oven with any accumulated juices. Bring to boil, cover; place in oven.

Braise 2 to 2-1/2 hours or until beef is fork tender and just falling off bone. Transfer ribs to platter; cover with foil. Strain cooking liquid into large saucepan and skim fat off surface. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer until reduced by half, about 30 minutes.

While sauce is simmering, place heirloom carrots on roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in oven 30 to 35 minutes, or until tender.

To serve, spoon Creamer Potato and Celery Root Puree onto serving plates. Top with short ribs; spoon sauce over. Serve roasted carrots on side. Makes 8 servings.

Tip: This recipe may be made a day in advance and reheated slowly, covered, on stovetop—the flavors will concentrate.

Creamer Potatoes and Celery Root Puree

Prep: 25 minutes

Cook: 20 minutes

  • 1 (1-pound) celeriac (celery root), ends trimmed, peeled, and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup light sour cream or plain yogurt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Ground white pepper

Place celeriac pieces in 5- to 6-quart pot; cover with water and season with salt. Bring to boil; reduce heat and cook, covered, 10 minutes. Add potatoes. Return to boiling. Reduce heat; cook, covered, 10 to 12 minutes more or until potatoes and celeriac are tender, but not mushy.

Drain potatoes and celeriac. Use ricer or food mill to mash until smooth. Return to pot. Stir in sour cream and butter. Season with additional salt and white pepper. Serve immediately or cover and keep warm over low heat up to 1 hour. Makes 8 servings.

15 of 15

Caramel Pear Tart

caramel pear tart
Matthew Benson

These pear tarts from chef Jose Delgado are works of art without much work. Just watch over the sugar syrup and caramel carefully. Choose blemish-free pears that have just a touch of give when pressed—you don't want them too under- or over-ripe.

Prep: 25 minutes

Cook: 15 minutes

Cool: 30 minutes

Bake: 25 minutes at 400° F

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut up
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 4 medium-firm, ripe Bosc, Bartlett or D'Anjou pears, peeled, halved, and cored, leaving stems intact
  • 1 (17.3-ounce) package frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed (2 sheets)
  • Whipped cream (optional)

In 12-inch heavy skillet, heat sugar over medium-high heat, shaking skillet occasionally to heat sugar evenly. Do not stir until sugar starts to melt (it should look syrupy). When sugar starts to melt, reduce heat to medium-low, stirring occasionally with wooden spoon, gradually incorporating unmelted sugar into melted sugar until all sugar is melted and golden, about 5 minutes. (Reduce heat if syrup browns too rapidly as it melts.)

Add butter to melted sugar in skillet, stirring until butter melts and mixture is combined. Carefully add water to skillet, stirring to combine. Bring to boil, stirring to dissolve any lumps. Add pear halves in one layer. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes or until pears are tender, turning once. Remove pears from skillet, reserving liquid. Set pears aside to cool.

Meanwhile, bring sugar mixture in skillet to gentle boil. Cook, uncovered, for 8 to 10 minutes or until thickened and reduced to 1 cup, stirring occasionally.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place rack in middle of oven. Line large baking sheet with foil or parchment paper; set aside. Unfold puff pastry sheets; cut each sheet in quarters. Place on prepared baking sheet. Place one pear half, cut side down, on each piece of puff pastry. Trim pastry to leave 3/4-inch border around pears. Brush each pear half lightly with some of the caramel syrup. Bake 25 minutes or until pastry is puffed and golden brown.

Serve tarts warm drizzled with remaining caramel and whipped cream, if desired. (Caramel may stiffen; warm caramel in microwave if necessary.) Makes 8 servings.

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