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Filtering by Category: Q & A

Wine + Food Q&A: Insider Edition

Suzanne Pollak

A. K. lives with Jason Stanhope, chef at FIG, and their son Leo. [Photo by John Boncek]

A. K. lives with Jason Stanhope, chef at FIG, and their son Leo. [Photo by John Boncek]

Living with JBFA Winning Chef Jason Stanhope

Q&A with A. K. Lister

Q: Who does the cooking at home?

A: Jason makes our 1.5-year-old son Leo an omelette almost every morning while I have my coffee and get ready, as leisurely as possible. Otherwise I am the home cook, relying on “one pot wonders” like soups, stews, or curries that can be stretched to feed us all for a couple days. I really do look to so many of Suzanne’s tried and true recipes for hearty meals that will fill up hungry people.

When friends are coming over for dinner, I tend to start with an idea then ask J a million questions until he finally takes over and makes it look and taste more amazing than I ever could.

What time does Jason come home at night?

He’s usually home by midnight but I try to be fast asleep by then. Leo, on the other hand…

How often do you eat at FIG?

I would say once or twice per month, but at least half of those meals are “take out” after our pre-service visits with J and mainly include Carolina Gold Rice and vegetables for Leo and something I’m supposed to taste test. #Blessed !

What is your favorite food to eat at FIG?

Oh man, I love the pate. It’s not something I order every time because I think it’s better suited for sharing with a table, yet too many people I’ve met have been burned by bad pate. Even if you do love it, pate for one seems like an intense order. FIG’s is the very best anyway, made with such carefully sourced ingredients and practiced technique, then served with gently toasted brioche! Piquant dijon! Perfect pickles, a little salad, fruity mustard according to whatever is at the height of its season. Fun fact: it’s the only recipe FIG doesn’t seem to share, maybe because nobody’s homemade version turns out quite like theirs.

I could go on...

How does a chef’s life (hours, physical strain, food expertise) impact a partner?

As with any partnership, the lifestyle comes with ups and downs. J’s hours at the restaurant are so long but I’ve learned to appreciate having time to do my own thing. I’m never disappointed to see him, that’s for sure, and we search for little ways to carve out some QT here and there. Learning how to balance our parental duties is a bit more complicated but I think we are calibrating as best we can.

Has Jason ever given you cooking lessons?

Not exactly, but he has given me a million indispensable tips over the years. I wouldn’t know how to hold a knife correctly if it weren’t for him. I would probably still be overcooking my eggs.

What have you learned from Jason, in terms of food? Have your culinary tastes changed since you have met?

We actually met when I worked at FIG as a host while in college, so I think we were both already on the trail of good food and followed our mutual interests from there. J’s style of cooking is all about finding the purest expression of an ingredient, and he works so hard to source only the best product. The motto goes something like, “Don’t F it up!” That’s pretty inspirational for a girl who grew up eating nothing but well-done meat and canned vegetable casseroles at all of our family get-togethers. Now my goal is to make J proud when I cook all my fave soul food dishes with righteous ingredients and as much integrity as I can muster.

Does Jason have pet peeves in regards to food prep or serving or meal times?

Yes! When he does cook at home, he likes to sit down and enjoy the food at exactly the right moment, temperature, place, etc. In a perfect world, I do too. But I am so bad about trying to do one last thing before I eat, whether it’s cleaning the kitchen or situating Leo for maximum food (and wine) enjoyment. Mom probs! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What do you cook for Jason?

Again, I’m always whipping up a big soup or stew. We seldom eat dinner together but I like to know he has a respectable midnight snack option when he gets home -- even if he ends up making a turkey sandwich instead.

What are your culinary rituals at home?

Breakfast is our family meal. Sometimes I get frustrated with myself because I end up feeding Leo popcorn and yogurt on the couch for dinner. The days are long and can feel lonely at the end; I lose start to lose my fight for civility. But I know that no matter what the night holds, we can look forward to being together in the morning, sitting (mostly) at the kitchen table while we eat our eggs, toast, coffee, cereal, juice, fruit, etc., musing on the the day or week ahead. It’s so ordinary but can be a beautiful ballet through a certain lens, i.e. if we’ve all had enough sleep.

What do you serve guests?

Tagine has historically been one of my favorite party foods! J gave me a beautiful pot for it couple years back and it makes for such a spectacular, and yet so secretly simple, feast.

Lately though, we serve guests a “party size” version of whatever we are having for breakfast or brunch (including XL omelettes) because it’s a much easier meal to host when you have a toddler who needs to go to bed on time.

What Charleston restaurants do the two of you like to go to, or do you go out? Any favorites elsewhere?

The only honest answer here is Bagel Nation on James Island for a breakfast sandwich. That might sound kitschy but we truly love it and almost always make a bagel run for guests staying with us. They cook the eggs just right every time.

We like to try something new when we have the chance to go out for a real date, and Charleston is never short on recently opened restaurants. Last great meal happened at Chubby Fish. And Renzo is still on my list of places to try...

Is Leo tasting odd, advanced, or unusual foods for a toddler?

His first real food was gravy two Thanksgivings ago. He had truffles on his omelette yesterday and liked it. He will try most things really, although rice is his most favorite so far. Hands down.

Does Leo hang out in FIG’s kitchen?

Yes, he loves to visit Papi at work! And his Uncle JoJo, and the rest of the wonderful FIG crew. Plus, he is spoon-fed all the rice he can eat while there. It’s like his personal heaven.

What is your motherly or Jason’s fatherly advice on getting kids to try a new food?

My advice is to avoid making a big fuss over eating any one thing. If a kid tries something and refuses, don’t bat an eye. But also don’t be afraid to serve it to them again, because I’m learning that tastes do change. I like to put a new food on Leo’s plate whenever possible, right next to a reliable standby. I’m sure the days of him demanding nothing but buttered noodles will come for us, too. I just hope I can stick to my guns and keep serving up greens.

I think J would say here: take your time, do use your hands, and don’t forget to chew.

How much of your conversation revolves around food?

Food is the greatest common denominator. Everything revolves around food!

Wine + Food Q&A: Graft Wine Shop

Suzanne Pollak

Femi Oyediran, with partner Miles White, of Graft Wine Shop. [Photo: Imbibe Magazine]

Femi Oyediran, with partner Miles White, of Graft Wine Shop. [Photo: Imbibe Magazine]

Academy Q: How does one start a collection?

Femi Oyediran’s A: There are two or more approaches to the idea of starting a collection. The conversations starts by looking at the intent. Is the intent to have a wide selection of wines you are going to drink occasionally, or is the intent to save a collection of wines available at your disposal? [Are you] looking for wines to build an inventory over time and say, “I’ve collected all these vintages of this wine and this wine.” The pedigree to which you are looking to build your collection is another question.

I think the easiest way from a novice perspective is to have a conversation with a person you will be buying wines from. If you don’t have a lot of experience buying fine wine, the best place to start is with a retailer you can trust, who can give you valuable information. A lot of collections [happen] on a social scale so people have friends doing the same thing [and] they have conversations on what they are buying. Some of them will find outlets [for buying] wines. Sometimes they will collectively purchase together. “Oh there is a case available. You, you, you, and I can split that that case.” That’s the best way to do it.

There are people who do that for a living; they literally curate wines for collectors. Find those people to do it for you. First step: find a retailer you can trust, [who] can give you great advice. Then second step is the social part -- finding people who can share information, a shared hobby of sorts. It becomes communal. After that it’s getting more information: studying, reading, magazine articles. Books need to have context on what you are doing. Decanter magazine would be great. Find a critic whose opinion falls in line with yours. Antonio Galloni is a great critic and is respected by sommeliers. Another thing you can do to add to that social perspective is download apps. Galloni owns an app called Delectable, embraced by sommeliers. Most consumers use Vivino. See what other people are recommending, what other people are drinking. [This] helps you gain some idea of what you are doing. Start a collection [with a] great point of contact and people who can help you.

If you are trying to build a serious collection and don’t have experience, [it’s] easier to find people you have a sense of camaraderie with. Buying retail if you have a team of people doing it with you it becomes more interesting, and you have more buying power. Grow over time.

What about storing?

If you want to get really gutter with it -- not gutter, low brow -- just find a cool, dark space where your wines can sit on their side. I know people who have developed systems where their wines, nice wines, are in cabinets, under their beds, under their couches. The temperature is cooler and its darker, depending on what temperature you keep your house at. It’s kind of like the best place to put it.

What is the ideal temperature for keeping wines?  

Ideal temperature for maintaining all wines, I would say, is around 55. Best case scenario. If you don’t have the means to store wines then these are the best places in your house to put them. If you want to invest in a wine fridge, you can do that, or if you want to go crazy you can build out a wine cellar in the house. That’s another whole look...

Some people have a wine collection of 20 bottles. They might have five super nice bottles and the rest they drink over the course of the year or two years. It depends on what you want. If you want a big collection then so be it. If you want no more than 50 wines at a time then so be it. I am sure there are apps to help people organize or you can just kind of build an Excel sheet [to] manage your wines [and] tasting notes, etc. If it’s 50 wines, it’s not really a lot. We have probably around 300 here, including wines by the glass. It’s still growing too.

How do you know what to drink now, and what to keep?

We do research but I also have the experience to know when something is [ready to drink] and when something isn’t. You don’t start a music collection just by listening to music; you go to a record store where somebody knows what they are doing, you ask them questions, and you learn. It’s the same thing in wine.

Does it make you sad when you drink a treasured bottle of wine?

No, not at all. I do it all the time. Crack it open! If you want to, let’s have a party. You know, if someone wants to open up a bottle of wine, that is their choice. It’s not my bottle. Who am I to say “Hey, no, don’t do that!” There are certain times when you are around people, buzzed and having a good time, [who say] “I’m going to open this!” [I tell them,] “No no no, seriously stop, you are going to regret this in the morning.” That happens.

Some people like to document their experiences. Some people like to save the labels of the wines they drink, which I respect. They have binders of all the wine they’ve had, maybe photos of the times they drank it. That’s pretty intimate. I just remember -- a wine memory bank, but it’s not perfect.

What is one of the best memories?

They are all different. Experience overall: I had a really great time at Miles’ mother’s house five years ago, where we got a bunch of wine and bunch of friends over and we had a ridiculously good time. It had nothing to do with the wines; it had to do with the company. The wine was good but the company was better. The combination [made] it a legendary night.

There are times when I had legendary wines. I went out to Napa last year and I was in the [company] of sommeliers [at a] round table which is a really coveted experience to be invited to. We opened insane wines, vintages going from the 20s. That was the most surreal wine experience I’ve been part of. I’ve never had wines of that pedigree and that age before. That was really exciting.

Was that a vertical tasting?

No, that was like this wine, this wine, this wine...

Worst experience?

Buying fraudulent wines. Watch that documentary Sour Grapes on Netflix, about the guy who defrauded the Koch brothers and all these millionaires. He went to prison.

Or buying bad wine, when you buy wine from the gray market, meaning you buy from people who have connections. [Maybe] this guy in NY has all these wines in his warehouse. [You] go and pick them up, you don’t know where he got them from, or the person he got them from. The chain of how the wines arrived is always really important, because you don’t know if something was stored in someone’s 70-degree house for years [with] the bottle sitting up; then they sold it when they moved out of their house and it shipped up to Toronto in a car; then the guy in NY bought it from that person. You buy that bottle for five grand, then you open it and you know it’s vinegar. It’s risky. You have to learn how to be smart about spending your money.

A lot of people who buy who are very serious collectors. A lot of them have figured out a way to verify and learn what they are looking for. Sometimes it’s just a crap shoot. I really have no idea. I just have to figure it out. I’ll take a case of this wine and open it up and see what happens.

Corked -- things happen. I’ve seen it in restaurants. Sometimes it’s not anyone’s fault [and] could have been the bottle itself. There are so many variables. That’s why it’s such a gamble. That’s the thrill for a lot of people. They are willing to roll the dice and see what happens. It’s like parachuting.

How long should a red wine be open before drinking?

There are no hard and fast rules. I like to decant most of my reds as a rule because it looks good; and because a lot of wines, especially if they are youthful, need air. It really depends on the wine.

How do you learn -- eyes, nose, or palate?

I think when I began, a lot of it was my eyes. I did a lot of reading, a lot of listening. When I gained more experience, I started to learn more from my nose and my palate. Those are the most important things now because the information, the knowledge is a part of me now. It’s like knowing how to read music and then playing it, the difference between the two. You could read Charlie Parker but can you play him? You can understand burgundy but can you differentiate between what is good, what’s classic, and what’s not good?

I’m not talking about blind tasting, just tasting wine and, “Wow!” I’ve had these wines before and it’s delicious having that contextual knowledge. It’s something you learn from tasting and listening to people and understanding, versus when you read it in a book and [it] still doesn’t mean you understand the wine.

How long have you been doing this?

I decided wine was the career in 2012. I had been studying wine prior to that for a year or two but I decided in 2012 that I was going to make it my primary interest.

Oldest wine you’ve ever tasted?

1921 Chateau d’Yqueum. I’ve had port from 1908, madeira from 1908, but those are readily available. I am sure there is 1908 Madeira by the glass at Charleston Grill.

What’s your take on speciality glasses?

If you are drinking nice wine, you should drink out of a nice vessel. You can have a universal glass. The glasses we use are a universal. You can use it for everything. Red, white, Champagne. We use Gabriel Glas which is really great. If you want to spend a lot of money, those are the best for your dollar, their standard glass. But if you want to spend a lot of money on superior glasses, you can get Sophienwald, Zalto, Mark Thomas. If you want to spend money, [those are] the top three. Gabriel has a Golden edition that is pretty nice too. These glasses are going to cost $70 per glass.

Would you get a red glass, a white, and a Champagne?

I have Zalto at home. I have a Sophienwald Champagne set. I have Mark Thomas decanters here. Beautiful! We use the Gabriel. I have all of them. I would probably get a white and a red. Honestly, I’d go for a universal for all of them. If I didn’t know, they all make a universal glass.

Do people come to Graft mostly to shop, to socialize, or to just to drink wine?

It’s become one and the same. [When] buying wine, going to a retail store is like one of the most mundane experiences for a lot of people, so we created a social room. It doesn’t make fine wines Disney World, but when you walk in here and you see people, it changes the energy. You are not bored anymore. People are hanging. It feels conducive to whatever you want to do. You can walk in here and get a bottle and leave, or you might run into me here and [say], “Hey, I was just going to come in for a bottle, but let me have a glass of wine and let’s catch up.” Who knows? You might grab more because you are sitting down for a while.

There is something to be said about doing retail, wine especially, in a social room. Completely different! I would never want to do retail any other way. This is conducive to Miles’ and my spirit. If we were just behind a counter all the time, we would not get a lot of fulfillment in life. We would probably hate ourselves. It’s a very different experience. Unless you are the type of store that opens up wines and you hand a glass to your customer when they walk in -- which is cool. But if your relationship is, “Hey, trust me on this bottle to take home,” then the next time you see that person is when they give you feedback.

For us, we get to see immediate feedback from people. A lot of people who come in for retail [build] relationships and I met them because they sat at the bar and they talked to me about wines. They are like, “You know what? I am going to come in tomorrow and buy some bottles.” It’s one hell of a way to gain a customer. They have to like you. If you are a very anti-social but brilliant wine person, a traditional wine store is for you. Since we are very social people, this gave us ability to do more.

Is there any kind of food that is terrible with wine?

There is a wine for everything.

What’s the wine for romance?

Depends on the person. I would never make any assumptions about what a woman wants to drink in general. So I mean as a sommelier, I ask questions and then I find what I think would be appropriate for that person.

What questions do you ask customers?

What do you like to drink? What was the last great bottle of wine you had? For me, if I hear a couple of things I am like, “Okay.” That’s my job. I make a bet. I bet this person would love this wine. That’s the game, right? A good sommelier knows how to ask people questions and find out what they want. It’s like music, the same thing. If you like Fela Kuti, you will probably love Ebo Taylor. It’s an easy bet.

Thanks Femi O. & Graft Wine Shop!

Wine + Food Q&A : Counter Cheese Caves

Suzanne Pollak

Holiday+Board+.jpg

What are your best tips for arranging a cheese plate, in terms of beauty, taste, and color? What the most important aspects in your opinion? [Use a] variety of textures and milk types. Otherwise bright colors are vital: citrus, radishes (watermelon radishes are great), tomatoes, etc. The other essential aspect is pattern/symmetry. Using inspiration from nature, art, or some of your favorite aesthetically pleasing [objects] always helps!

 Do you have a particular balance you prefer regarding hard cheese and soft? I always like to include [one or two] soft cheeses and vary the texture from there. From semi-soft cheeses like washed rinds (i.e. Meadow Creek Dairy Grayson) that are "soft" but will hold their shape, to super hard cheeses like gouda (i.e. Forx Farm 12 Month Gouda) that you can leave whole or portion into bite-sized pieces for easy snacking.

 What extras do you like to include on the cheese boards? We try to stay as seasonal as possible but will also skirt the line a bit for beauty's sake, using hydroponic tomatoes for color. Olives, various nuts, dried cherries and citrus are other favorites. When I am making a cheese board at home, it is often as simple as three different cheeses, sliced baguette and olives. Bright, full, patterned boards look great, but simplicity on a beautiful board can look just as good.

 What are your rules/ideas about cutting vegetables like radishes and cucumbers in slices or wedges? Do you cut for looks or taste? You have to cut for both. No matter how good something looks, if it's difficult to eat, you've lost the plot.  Again, symmetry is key so you want all of the pieces to have an identical shape and be placed in a symmetrical manner. With radishes, cucumbers, citrus, etc., we will often slice quite thin for layering. Mandolins can be very handy.

 What are your favorite crackers or breads on a cheese board? Roots & Branches Sesame Crackers (from Asheville) and Tiller Baking Co. baguette or sesamo loaf!

 What are your favorite olives and meats on a cheese board? Castelvetrano olives and liverwurst or pate.

 Do you have particular go-to boards or trays (wood, porcelain, metal, certain makes)? We use high-quality but still disposable (or reusable) square wooden boards for our business, but I like any heavy cutting board. We have one we got as a wedding gift that is a super heavy handmade butcher block with a psychedelic wood pattern across it. Marble slabs also look great!

 When do most of your customers use cheese boards -- an appetizer before a dinner party, on a buffet for a cocktail party, for a picnic? I would say most of them are for cocktail parties where the appetizers are the main event, but many use them for an easy way to greet guests or begin a dinner party. We've also made several for wedding-related snacking, whether at [a] bachelorette party or to have out while the reception dance party rages on.

 When a cheese board starts getting picked over, do you as a host rearrange the cheeses on the board? Add more? Bring out another board? I tend to put out everything I intend to offer on the board at once, so once it's done, it's done...but there are no rules! This is part and parcel with always making sure you have more than you think you need. There's a cheese-hound at every party. I like to have it ready ahead of time which is handy for being able to socialize, but also for allowing the cheeses get up to room temperature.

 What is the proper way for a guest to cut into a wedge of cheese? If everyone knew about rind to paste distribution, the world would be a better place; but an overbearing host is no fun. Most rinds are edible and delicious (besides those that are waxed or clothbound), so the idea is to get rind and paste in each "slice.”  I'll typically portion a bit of the chunk while leaving the rest whole to provide guidance to the uneducated.

 How do you get a non-foodie to taste an unusual or stinky cheese? Truthfully, I prefer not to force anyone to try something if they are simply not a cheese lover. Some folks just don't like trying new things, and that is okay.

 What was your most unusual request? Cheese without salt! Salt is an essential ingredient to cheese making. No salt = no taste.

 What is the best way to store cheeses? If the cheese was wrapped in paper when you bought it, you can rewrap it in that same paper and secure it with a piece of scotch tape. Store in the drawer or devoted bin in your fridge. Otherwise, wrap the cheese in parchment paper and then in saran wrap. This will keep the cheese from drying out but not let it take on the "plastic-y" gross flavor that can happen if the plastic is directly touching the cheese.

 How did you become interested in cheese? Just out of sheer love for it! A fortuitous internship at Vermont Creamery got me into the cheese world and I never looked back!

Where did you get your exceptional visual sense from? I would say both Eric and I have an artistic background but his visual sense mainly guides us. Luckily, our aesthetics coincide nicely.

 Was yours and Eric's wedding cake a cheese tower? Yes! We drove up to New York from Charleston for our wedding with a trunk full of cheese. We had a bunch of cheesemonger friends in attendance, so immediately after the ceremony we called all of them up to portion the cake so that everyone could snack on it throughout the rest of the party. It was one of our favorite aspects of the day.

 Could we do an all cheese dinner party together? I have ideas… Certainly! With such a range of textures, flavors and colors, we feel like there is no reason cheese can't be part of every dish on the table!

Do you eat cheese every day? I certainly do eat cheese every day. I have found that the more I work with something the more I crave it. At the end of the day, whether coming home late from FIG or finishing our deliveries, I set some cheese out, let it come to temp, and open a beer or pour a glass of wine. It's a nice unwinding ritual.

Thanks Counter Cheese Caves!

XO, the Dean

Taking on #Towelgate for Town & Country

Suzanne Pollak

white-spa-towels-on-blue-from-above-royalty-free-image-938759402-1550856876.jpg

“All humor and Twitter one-upmanship aside, how many towels does one need to own? Is the count influenced by how many times you use them before washing? And what of the guest towel vs hand towel debate?

For answers, we turned to a doyenne of the domestic arts—Suzanne Pollak, who runs the Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits—and asked for her thoughts on Ali’s bathroom arithmetic…”

Read the article by Liz Krieger regarding #Towelgate and the Dean’s final word on the subject, via T&C HERE

Ask the Dean: Life is Too Short for Perfection!

The Deans

June

Dear Dean, 

I am giving my husband a 40th birthday party. I inherited antique china from my mother-in-law but don't have enough soup plates for our many guests.  We are serving three courses and only have enough china for main course and dessert. Do you know the make of the china (photo and details included in letter) and where I could order some more soup plates?

-Mrs. P.

Dear Mrs. P.,

I suggest serving the men the antique rim soups (because they look super large) and going to a totally different look for the ladies soup bowls. Why don't you look at Pier 1 for a crazy alternative regarding color and choose a different shape (e.g. a true bowl instead of a large shallow bowl)? Two different soup plates on a long beautifully set table will add an element of surprise. Elements of surprise are smart for many reasons; you are seen as a chic and original, plus they can spark a conversation. 

Dear Dean, 

I am a working mom of two daughters. My husband and I travel all the time for work and have no time for a social life. We have gotten to be friends with our neighbors and want to have them over. What is a super easy but fun way to have a dinner party? No one wants to get babysitters. All the kids are in elementary school.

-Ms. M.

Dear Ms. M., 

Why don't you serve a one-pot meal that you can put in your oven in the morning and then not think about for the rest of the day? Your daughters can set the table (under your direction) and make place cards. Maybe they could create a centerpiece using fruit or bunches of herbs from the grocery store. The children can sit at their own table and then watch a movie, or sit at the dining room table and then be excused when they get restless. One pot choices that take a few hours to cook and always a hit include a classic pot roast, chili, or pork butt. Alternatively, you can put together a zesty fish stew in front of your guests while they sip their wine or cocktail in your kitchen.  The children could have grilled cheese sandwiches if they turn their noses up at anything fishy. 

Dear Dean, 

I love to entertain — cooking, socializing, etc. However, the thing that stresses me out is the feeling that I need my home in tip-top shape, cleaned from top to bottom. I have an 8-year-old son, and he does a wonderful job keeping his room up and picking up after himself. Most of my entertaining is hosting other couples that have children. How can I get out of this "perfectionism" mindset regarding my house? My husband says we must have the cleanest home on the block.

-CNM

Dean CNM,

Waiting for your house to be perfect is akin to waiting for the perfect time to have a baby. There is no true state of perfection. You just have to commit to a party at your house and follow through with it. Guests are not judging. They will be glad for a night out and they don't want to criticize, they want to have fun. We will make a bet that you are not nearly as harsh about other's houses as you are about your own. Go a bit easier on yourself. And have a great party. After the first one or two, you will get in the groove.

Be sure to let us know how it goes.

XX the DEAN

The Art of Gift Giving for VIE December

Suzanne Pollak

Three Wise Men at Strassbourg Cathedral, Germany (c. 1940)

Three Wise Men at Strassbourg Cathedral, Germany (c. 1940)

“The Three Wise Men Understand the Art of Gift Giving…”

Suzanne asks three experts — a world-class chef, one renowned jewelry designer, and a stylist to the stars — to share their wisdom on what to get your loved ones (knives, anyone?), when to give it (surprise them!), what to do when you forget (it happens), and how to give the really big one (diamonds, of course.)

Read the full article in the latest issue of Vie Magazine HERE.

No One Can Enjoy Delicious Food through Gritted Teeth

Suzanne Pollak

Unless your oven conks out, your Thanksgiving meal will get cooked. Everyone puts so much thought and effort into the food that we just know that the flavor of your meal will be wonderful, wherever you eat it. 

What causes our annual breakout of holiday hives is that Thanksgiving food is endlessly thought about but the entirety of the day can be overlooked. Children need to be entertained, elderly people need to be comfortable, lonely neighbors and acquaintances need to be invited, not to mention you yourself must be taken care of! If you are in charge of the day and you break down, well then, everyone is in trouble. No one will mind if there is no creamed cauliflower, but they will mind if no one is getting along and the children are screaming and the sister-in-laws are bickering and the table is rushed to and and then abandoned in a total of fifteen minutes. No one can enjoy delicious food through gritted teeth. 

  • Start grocery shopping days before and be sure to get to the store first thing in the morning. Do not try to accomplish all your shopping in one fell swoop.

  • Make sure everyone has a task to do. This is no time to be a hero. People like to help. Let them.

  • Set the table the day before if you can. If not, be sure to delegate it to people not actively involved in cooking.

  • Assign the turkey carving to a person of competence as early as possible.

  • When someone asks what they can bring assign bottles of wine, or to bakers, a homemade pie.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are the two days you have people over who may be difficult whether you want them to or not. Although sometimes easier to bite your tongue when someone says something truly offensive, it’s not always best to remain silent. Remember your example to the younger generations, and that some things we should not simply let go. It is possible to respectfully present an opposing view, and then pivot to another subject so the tense moment dissipates. Or better yet, save your discourse for a private moment. Thanksgiving dinner is no place for politics after all, but a time to be thankful for friends, family, and good food!

Frequently Asked Wedding Etiquette Questions for NYT (!!!)

Suzanne Pollak

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In the excellent company of top etiquette experts from along the East Coast, Dean Pollak answers our burning wedding FAQ’s for the New York Times this week. Among other tips for how to proceed, Pollak advises against micro-managing in-laws who may be paying for a rehearsal dinner (although sharing your preferences is certainly allowed), explains the “no phone policy” trend, and instructs attendees on how much to spend on gifts when they have been invited to multiple events. This article is a must-read for anyone planning a wedding or even simply planning to attend one! Read the full piece via NYT HERE on their site…

World of Etiquette: Common Sense

Suzanne Pollak

Now we give you the third and final installment in our World of Etiquette series, covering a few points of (what should be) Common Sense. Etiquette is a social ballet and keeps people from spitting on the table. Learn to be an active governor of your actions and cognizant of how you conduct yourself.

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PAY ATTENTION. Be a good listener! When a friend talks about what’s going on in her/his life, it’s worthy of listening actively and becoming a participant. Instead of one-upmanship -- which means you listen initially and then think this happened in your own life way more dramatically -- just be quiet and actually listen. Do not respond with, ‘You think that’s bad? You have no idea what I’m going through!’ This is the ugly art of turning yourself into the center of the conversation. That is always bad form and people notice. It’s self-centered and self-absorbed.

ASK QUESTIONS. It’s simple; basic manners! Asking questions is how you charm people. Being curious makes others feel important. Being curious makes you a more interesting person and means you are not self-absorbed. Being curious gets information. How to know people’s secrets in five minutes? Play dumb. Smile. Get the details. Hone in to what makes this particular person tick. We call curiosity emotional intelligence. You will get far in life by being charming and deeply curious. You can literally charm people’s pants off. Romantics beware!

Teenagers: Engage your friend’s parents. Try ‘Hello, how are you?’ Don’t just sneak up the stairs when visiting friends and pretend the parents don’t exist. Parents need help too. Academy research shows that in many instances adults don’t take the time to ask their child’s friends questions, like, 'What interests you?' Don’t treat your children’s friends like they are little kids. Give them an opening and start a conversation.

NO WHINING! 'I am so busy,' 'I am in the weeds,' 'You can’t believe what I am up against...' Who cares? Tally how many times you have heard these kinds of excuses. We are all busy, some people way more than others. These statements lead nowhere. They cannot ignite an interesting conversation and do not improve a relationship.

SMILE. Even guerrillas do it. People read facial experiences. They also hear smiles. Smiling changes the tone of your voice. Try it! Record yourself saying something, Then record the same sentence while you smile. The difference might astonish you...

MAKE EYE CONTACT. Even if you are not entirely sure of your position, remind yourself that everyone wasn’t always overly competent. They practiced and they learned. Stay calm and collected. Remind yourself of your own worth, then you can think of others around you.

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Last but certainly not least: SELF CARE. Without it, you cannot take care of anyone else. Say, 'I am sorry, I cannot go out. I need to be on my own for an evening.' Burnout is all too common. Avoid it by creating pockets of space to allow yourself to recharge.

Talking Top Sheets with Town & Country

Suzanne Pollak

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Town & Country contributor Liz Krieger knew who to call with her burning questions on whether or not a top sheet is an absolutely necessary addition to the make of a bed. Although Krieger cops to her own 'millenial' disregard for a top sheet, Suzanne remains steadfast in her admittedly old-fashioned devotion to the extra layer. Read the article, including all the pros and cons of having a flat linen to keep you cool (or warm, depending on the season), HERE via T&C! 

World of Etiquette: Sharing a Meal

Suzanne Pollak

The Dean returns with a second installment in our “World of Etiquette” series, this time with her notes on dining in and out. Once again: etiquette is for life, not just special occasions...

Exactly where your family eats dinner when AT HOME means everything! Do you all gather at a table in your kitchen? Or does everyone get their own food, take it to their bedrooms, and eat at different times? These habits may develop slowly, for perfectly understandable reasons. But the trend continues, and the problems that develop might snowball over time and wreak havoc later.

Because you never know who you'll end up seated next to at a dinner party later on... (L-R: Claire Danes, Giancarlo Giammetti, Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Valentino, Anne Hathaway)

Because you never know who you'll end up seated next to at a dinner party later on... (L-R: Claire Danes, Giancarlo Giammetti, Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Valentino, Anne Hathaway)

Dinner time is prime time for a family to communicate, get to know each other, realize that all people have daily ups and downs. It is a time to learn empathy, manners, nutrition, listening skills. What happens when a family never eats together, at least a few times a week, without their cell phones on the table? When the children become teenagers and then young adults, they will 100% embarrass themselves at a date’s house, their job interview, or other social occasion. In the future you may receive a call from your child accusing you of never teaching him how a table is set or the importance of waiting to dive in.

Always serve your company first. (L-R: Keith Richards, Tina Turner, David Bowie)

Always serve your company first. (L-R: Keith Richards, Tina Turner, David Bowie)

Here are mistakes we see far too often IN RESTAURANTS: forgetting to put the napkin in your lap first, or to close the menu signaling the waiter you are ready to order; and asking questions like What beers do you have? when the list is right in front of you. There is nothing tackier than being disrespectful to the service staff or acting too privileged to say Please and Thank you. People who talk with food in their mouth, fail to wipe their face with a napkin, or help themselves before passing come off as completely gross. Always offer the platter to your neighbor, serve them with a fork and spoon, and then keep it going around the table. Your plate will soon have plenty of food on it, too. P.S. Always pass the S&P together.

Settle the the bill with a game of ping pong, if you must. (L-R: Paul Newman & Robert Redford) 

Settle the the bill with a game of ping pong, if you must. (L-R: Paul Newman & Robert Redford) 

Who pays? Especially if it’s a negligible amount, offer to pick up the bill and let your company treat you next time. It will all even out eventually. (People will notice if you always let them pay, regardless of how much money they have.) And anyone who has worked in F&B knows that splitting the check for more than a couple of people is a total pain and can slow things down, especially in the age of Venmo. Better yet, bring cash and settle your dues the old-fashioned way. Remember that if you order an expensive wine without consulting everyone at the table, you are responsible for paying for it regardless of who else drinks. Even if you do split the bill, ask to add the cost of the bottle to your half of the food total.

Finally, if you have real FOOD ISSUES, including illness or serious allergies, be confident in yourself. Call your host ahead of time to let them know. Although this is a considerate gesture, your issues are still your problem and you must take care of it yourself. You are not asking for a menu change. If you do not eat something on the plate, they will know that it’s not because you do not like the cooking. Bottom line: it’s your job to be self-sufficient!  

World of Etiquette: Cell Phones

Suzanne Pollak

This is the first installment in our World of Etiquette series exploring the art of how to conduct oneself on a daily basis. Etiquette is for life, not just special occasions.

First of All, a Few Words on CELL PHONES...

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Today, the worst etiquette clearly involves the cell phone. People are simply ungovernable when it comes to their phones! Be aware of how the phone takes up just as much space as a person. Effectively you are inviting everyone you could contact to the table.

In BUSINESS, ever meet someone for lunch and the first thing out of their mouth is “I am expecting a call” as they put their phone on the table face up? No. Instead, preface answering with, “I am sorry, I hate to do this. This call will be very quick.” Having the phone on the table means you are not being fully present. This leads to a feeling of having forgotten what’s said, or of not being a good listener. No one is good at listening to two things at the same time. It doesn’t happen, and even if it does, it’s rude! Give your company your full attention. Be present.

(P.S. Don’t think we don’t know when you are reading your Apple watch! When you get a message and look at the watch, we know you are not looking at the time. It’s very awkward for the other person, but they cannot say anything.)

When it comes to FAMILY,

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High school students and young adults have reported to the Academy that they won’t talk to their parents until they put their phones away. Kids will walk out of the room until said parent puts down their cell, lest they have to repeat things twice. Perhaps your children are more cognizant of core manners then you might suspect. As tech develops, kids are surprised to discover their parents are rude. It’s impolite to have a phone at the dinner table, especially when it pings with every new notification.

FYI Parents without a clue: you can turn off these alerts, app by app, so everything isn’t buzzing constantly. Notice that younger folks only turn on the ones they need to know. Keep the phone on silent, with no vibration either. Better yet, shut it down completely. When the dinging is going on, it agitates and makes people feel anxious. Is this what you want to do to those around you? 

For their part, parents have shared their rules of no phone in the car because that’s when a lot of the best conversations takes place. With kids and their friends all using their cells, the parent might feel like an Uber driver.

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Finally, FRIENDS: so what is the criteria? When is it okay to check something on your phone -- while watching a show together? Yes, then it’s okay to check your phone. You don’t need your friend’s undivided attention for that interaction. But if you were out to dinner, it is not okay. Whenever you are one on one, or at a party, do not check your phone.

Different places may require different thinking. In New York City people rely on their phones to check trains, pull up the map to get fastest way. Yet we have noticed that people are slowly becoming more mindful of their technology usage and consumption. Do not check the phone because you are bored, as if it were such an awful thing to be! The Academy feels that no one is bored anymore and that is bad news, because it cuts out daydreaming.

Suzanne Pollak for The Roads Travelled

Suzanne Pollak

[Image: Mary Gilbert, The Roads Travelled.]

[Image: Mary Gilbert, The Roads Travelled.]

Many thanks to blogger Mary Gilbert of The Roads Travelled for writing all about her recent culinary lesson with Suzanne Pollak, starring frisée, bacon, and the renowned Academy croutons...(guest-starring a red scarf by J. McLaughlin!) 

Gilbert sat down with the Dean after her tutorial on Tradd Street to ask a few Qs on everything from growing up the daughter of a diplomat in Afraica, to entertaining in historic homes around the world -- including how Pollak's distinctive entertaining style has been shaped by her large family, lifetime of travel, and love for Charleston.

Read the full post HERE on The Roads Travelled (and contact us to book a cooking class of your own!)

Q&A with A.K.

Suzanne Pollak

In an all-natural state, wearing a jumpsuit paired with an incredibly chic towel turban, plus best accessories Baby Leo and Moses the family dog.

In an all-natural state, wearing a jumpsuit paired with an incredibly chic towel turban, plus best accessories Baby Leo and Moses the family dog.

A.K., short for Anna Kate, is Suzanne's right hand gal! She keeps the wheels turning on the Academy blog when not busy with her chef babe J, new-ish baby Leo, and cooking for friends at Side Hustle Supper Club. She doesn't consider herself half as fashionable as Suzanne but nonetheless she's learned a few things in her stint at the Academy. Below she answers the Dean's burning questions about life, love, and style...

Q: What is your personal style for parties? at home, on your body?

A: I grew up with three brothers and now live with my partner and baby boy, so I feel like I'm always surrounded by dudes! I suppose that's why my personal style tends to be a little tomboy-ish, at least in the sense that it's practical and action-ready for everyday. But perhaps it also explains why I like to contrast that for a special dinner or other festive occasion, opting for flow-y, silky dresses and a few special pieces of jewelry and a spritz of nice (not too sweet) perfume. Regardless, I like to feel comfortable and free to move, in case a dance party breaks out at a moment's notice.

At home, I collect, in a decidedly non-minimalist way. I am tidy and organized but definitely love books, baubles, and the right tool for any job under the sun. I have a need for order, but I am learning to let go when company comes over. I used to follow a rule that no one must clean or do dishes after a big meal. Now I permit close friends to entertain Baby Leo while I put on a record and load the dishwasher. ; )

Has your (personal and house) style changed since you were single, married, now as a mom?

Honestly, probably not as much as you'd expect, although I do care less than ever what anyone else thinks of my outfit. I'm actually working on finding a middle ground there, as my mom keeps reminding me that a little effort to spruce yourself up goes a long way! Pregnancy threw me for a bit of a loop, naturally, limiting my range of wardrobe and isolating a few favorite items. I tried to retire some of that stuff postpartum but it's hard to let go of faves like my super sexy silk drop crotch cargo pants.

How do you accessorize for parties? Versus what you wear at home? Or when you go out to your guy's restaurant? 

I like bright, fun jewelry, high and low for sure! I always wear the emerald necklace my sweetheart gave me a few birthdays ago, and the gorgeous tanzanite ring he proposed with this past Spring. Then I like to add big colorful bangles or rings, even costume jewelry. I love one I found that is probably a knock-off of Delfina Delettrez (sorry to say) and looks like a crystal hand with shiny red nails wrapped around your finger! It's so ridiculous. I love fun earrings, disco hoops or Hart tassels, too but lately I've had to take a break, knowing Leo would probably yank them out of my head.

Any go to necklaces, earrings, shoes, your mother's or grandmother's pieces? 

In my family, the best hand-me-downs come from the kitchen. I have my great-grandmother's handmade wooden bowl, perfect for the giant salad that must accompany all of our family's rather heavy Southern dishes. I love my Granny's niche glassware, including an egg dish that looks like a chicken. My mom just passed down a bundt pan I can't wait to bake a good old-fashioned pound cake in. And of course, there's the skillet collection, each of which have been well-seasoned by our matriarchal cornbread recipe.

Beloved chicken dish...

Beloved chicken dish...

& potted herbs in the backyard.

& potted herbs in the backyard.

Favorite source of inspiration? A person? A place? In Charleston? 

I've just moved from a beloved third floor apartment in an over 200-year-old house on the Peninsula, to the house & land we bought out on James Island in advance of baby arrival. It's a whole different lifestyle, but I'm inspired by this new 'burb-y situ. and want to homestead on a small scale. We already have a little vegetable patch, some flowers, some herbs -- with plans to grow more, get some chickens, install a ceramic oven outdoors. I dream of being a kind of domestic goddess like Julia, Martha, Ina, Suzanne : ), Meryl Streep in It's Complicated! It may sound provincial but I just want to cook and garden and be a mama for now...

Favorite hostess gifts for parties, as a house guest? What do you like to receive, besides baby boy clothes? 

I've suddenly become very forgetful about gifts, both giving and properly receiving them with a thank you card to follow. (Blaming this on Baby Brain!) Historically, I like to bring a fridge-able roll of chocolate chip cookie dough and ice cream to a dinner party. There is nothing more delightful than cookies fresh out of the oven and just-melting frozen cream. Even if it's too much for the moment, still delicious later on. I find nice wine, pretty flowers, one or two good records are always welcome. Once a guest brought fresh flower crowns for all of the guests and that made for a magical night, indeed.

Best way to wind down a dinner party? Lounging around listening to a good record...

Best way to wind down a dinner party? Lounging around listening to a good record...

Q&A with Dierdre Zahl, Owner of Candy Shop Vintage

Suzanne Pollak

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Q: What is your personal style? At home, for parties, in the store?

A: My personal style is feminine with an edge. I like girly details, like peplum or bishop sleeves. I love wearing heels, skirts and stockings, but I always like at least one bold print or accessory -- usually in the form of statement jewelry!

Has your (personal and house) style changed since you were single versus now as a mom?

I would say that in my early twenties, living in NYC with musicians on the Lower East Side, my style was definitely edgier, more rock and roll. Lot's of cut T-shirts and ripped denim. In my late twenties, after I got married and moved to Charleston, I softened my look a lot with more feminine cuts like peplum sleeves and flared skirts but always with a bit of an edge, usually in the form of statement jewelry! Since becoming a Mom, my style has remained pretty consistent. I like to dress up and since I own a shop, I definitely have to put some thought into my outfits as I can't just roll out of bed and sell jewelry. My daughter has really picked up her own strong sense of stye too; she likes to pic out all her own clothes and is very opinionated!

How do you accessorize for parties? A dinner party at your house? Going to a restaurant? 

Cocktail party: a fun party dress, big earrings and heels. A dinner party at home: leggings, heels and a silk blouse with some Charleston Rice Beads and red lipstick. Dinner out: a skirt with maybe a bodysuit and cute blazer or fitted jacket and stacks of bangles plus a fun purse.

Any go-to necklaces, earrings, shoes, your mother's or grandmother's pieces? 

I usually wear a piece of Candy Shop Vintage, often a Charleston Rice Bead bracelet wrapped multiple times around my wrist. I have some very cool vintage earrings in a few styles by MAM', a designer from Texas who used to make fun, colorful statement earrings out of resin-coated paper. They are very lightweight, but big and whimsical. I also have these great woven palm tree earrings by Mercedes Salzar, a Columbian jewelry designer who is just incredible.

Favorite source of inspiration? A person? A place? In Charleston? 

Daphne Guinness is definitely my ultimate style icon. She is so elegant, so edgy, so high fashion but still soft and feminine and very unique. I love following Beyoncé's Instagram account. Her outfits are so on point and of course I look to a lot of vintage clothing, jewelry and home accessories for design inspiration.

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Do spouses come to the store for Valentine gifts/ideas? What do you recommend? 

We get a lot of spouses very close to the holidays. Usually they are last-minute buyers. I usually recommend the Charleston Rice Beads because they are always a crowd pleaser. We have them in a wonderful Kelly Green and light pink this spring -- perfect for Valentine's Day! We actually did the light pink a number of years ago and brought it back.

Favorite hostess gifts? For parties, or as a house guest? What do you like to receive? 

I always love candles as a hostess gift, or a bottle of wine. We have some great embroidered cocktail napkins in the shop and of course, your Handbook is always a wonderful gift for a hostess. We can hardly keep them in stock!

A Few Indispensable Tips on Cocktail Party Attire

Suzanne Pollak

It’s chic to wear a fantastic ‘something’ over and over to make it your signature. Just as smart hosts cook their favorite recipe again and again, no matter who comes to dinner, because they know their guests look forward to their culinary specialty; the chicest women throughout history know the style repetition secret. 

Even a simple ensemble can become your signature with the right attitude and accessories...

Even a simple ensemble can become your signature with the right attitude and accessories...

That 'thing’ can be an accessory, a dress, a shoe. The Dean learned from native and expatriate ladies swanning into her parents 1960's cocktail parties all over Africa. Women wore cigarette pants for casual affairs and jewel-toned satin mini cocktail dresses at fancier parties. Along with real hair dos (coifs, up-dos), eye liner flaring out just like Cleopatra, brilliant lips inhaling pearl or golden cigarette holders, perhaps even a huge cocktail ring or elaborate earrings...none of these beauties boasted a colossal wardrobe with unlimited choices but they had a cocktail uniform that took them anywhere. Once vital decisions are decided, brains are free to tackle life’s thornier problems: whom to invite to the party, which stranger to talk to first at someone else’s, how to grab attention, connect, ignite a fire, or tactfully end a conversation that's headed nowhere.

One  Taffin  ring...

One Taffin ring...

and another.

and another.

The teenage Dean appropriated the tip immediately and forever. Deciding and simplifying what to wear wherever is cheaper and quicker once you you know what suits you. Dressing becomes a snap, so be loyal and stick with your style. Adding that something extra, or taking it off, makes the outfit appropriate for the particular party and place. 

Because, of course, it makes a difference where the cocktail party is: Hollywood, California, Hollywood SC, Beirut, Tripoli or Paris; the Ambassador’s residence or your neighbor’s garden? "When in Rome," so the saying goes. You don’t want to be dramatically different than everyone else unless you can handle it. For example, a man does not wear a motorcycle jacket when he attends a soirée at Charleston’s  Yacht Club. Men there wear the proper uniform of khaki pants and a blue blazer. The Dean once knew two young American beauties visiting the south of France who were assured that everyone, absolutely everyone, went topless to parties at a certain place. Perhaps a little naïve, they showed up appropriately undressed to a party filled with elegant older couture-covered guests. Still embarrassed decades later! 

Dressing comes down to the first impression. What can a first impression tell us about someone whom we only met for a moment at a party? Of course we all know human beings are complex and contradictory, but you don’t have to live with someone to sense immediately if you want more of them or less. The package of you starts with eye contact, the smile and what is draping your body. Identify what you want out of the engagement. Something, or nothing? There to sip one bourbon, or to possibly meet your next business associate or romantic partner? You don’t want your clothes to get in the way. A woman does not want to be so flashy others are distracted from substance, but neither does she want to seem too dowdy. 

Figure out your primary assets -- cleavage, neck, arms, hair -- and choose cocktail attire accordingly. For your own engagement, you will need to move, sit and stand. As a guest you can swan around or sprawl on a sofa as you wish.

For reference, here is the Dean's summer cocktail uniform: Hart tassels, J. McLaughlin white blouse and cigarette pants, with extra pointy shoes to make legs look longer. This pair of Balenciaga mules harkens back to the time of Robin Hood! Because they are extravagant, they will be worn with jeans all fall and winter, for hosting ladies luncheons and gumbo dinner parties, with a Halloween costume, for a Thanksgiving feast and Christmas dinner, even just for hanging out at home.

I Heard You Twice the First Time

Suzanne Pollak

When it comes to managing uncommunicative teenagers, your home is the ideal place to get this surly age group to start talking to you. The second most ideal place is your car, essentially the family home on wheels.

A well-known fact is that everyone feels comfortable in anyone's kitchen, even young adults. So set up an environment that puts teens at ease around a kitchen island or countertop, and organize a project making gnocchi together.  Making and forming gnocchi will be a learning experience, no matter how expert you are already. (If you are frightened by the prospect then get the Academy to do the teaching.)

Here's what happens when you are creating something with your hands and concentration is needed: brains are 75% occupied with task at hand, which makes the other 25% of motor functions relax. Don't ask the Dean why but she knows this is a proven fact after raising four of her own children. Talking subjects can be about the steps to making the gnocchi, a completely non-threatening topic which offers lots of areas for delving into -- food, culture, nutrition, taste. Not to mention that a hands-on experience is always more fun to do with someone else, because you become pals in a project instead of adversaries.

If you can get into a routine (maybe once a month) a one-on-one tradition may start and memories will be made, believe us! Once a skill becomes more familiar and less scary, there is always opportunity for laughing at mistakes which will definitely occur, being proud of the final product, and creating a delicious dinner. With patience, the space will arise for talking about other, more personal subjects...maybe not on the first try but eventually. Number one key: don't ask penetrating questions, which moms can be expert at doing.

Nightly dinners are the time and place to become an active listener. Ask questions that need more than a yes or no response, but remember, not too personal! The big mistake is to do all the talking or give too many opinions. Allow these teenagers of yours time to answer a question so they can formulate what they want to say and how. Let these guys be the smartest ones in the room. Every person needs that. 

Blow Open Your Tabletops

Suzanne Pollak

Now to address a few burning Bridal FAQs re: table settings, centerpieces, and personal style. A wedding registry is no time for strict guidelines, but rather a chance to begin building your collection for decades of dinner parties to come. No matter what stress should ever consume your day, you can ease out of it by cooking dinner, sipping a glass of wine, and setting the table (and mood) for the night ahead.

No need to register for two china patterns, one fancy and one for everyday. Way too old school! Far better to delve deep into your inner being and suss out all the aspects of your person. Think color, moods, passions, place...

For example, maybe you appreciate hand-carved wood -- consider a collection of handmade bowls. There's no end to what you can do with these. Use smaller ones for olives and nuts at cocktail hour, or for individual starter salads at dinner. Fill larger bowls with BIG salads, or perhaps something else interesting (citrus, hankies, pens and paper for a parlor game) to set as a centerpiece. Or, choose wooden chargers. And you know what looks good with wood? Gold, of course!

Just look at this extravagant, marvelous, opulent Royal Crown Derby. Who can afford to collect a whole set? And besides that, who wants to? It is so too much, simply over the top. All that gold cancels out to equal a big let down, where a one-size plate sizzles and shines on the table. Perfection! A gold salad plate looks amazing filled with greens for a salad course, chocolate tart for dessert... Actually, everything looks good with gold.

Okay, how to satisfy your love of birds? Consider Ginori. There is nothing as wonderful as a set of 8 or 12 or 24 dinner plates featuring birds. These beauties yearn for a Thanksgiving dinner to be placed on them, but dazzle even under an everyday roast chicken. These plates say something about you; your passion for nature, individual style, love of design. What could be more boring than a whole set of one china pattern covering the table? The older the Dean gets, the more she thinks, YUCK. This person has let someone else tell her what to do, and ignored that inner voice of what she likes.

What appeals most to us? Anything but flipping through ad-filled magazines, shopping at bridal superstores, or listening to friends and family who have never identified true style. Plates and objects on a table are a way to express yourself. So are centerpieces: flowers mixed with fruit, bunches of veggies and greens that will become tomorrows main course, a handmade pie that will become tonight's dessert.

Have fun with the rest! Modern flatware choices might include horn (so chic) or bronze (gleams on the table and unique to boot) but there is still something to be said for a classic silver pattern. The most popular through the ages? Francis the First has that swirly Baroque feel which pairs so well with plain, stark, straight. Don't be afraid to mix high and low. As for napkins, it's all about juxtaposing different colors, textures, and aspects of your personality. Sometimes you feel flirty and fun, other times more composed and traditional. Sometimes girly, sometimes a huntress.

Let it all out on the table, loves. These kind of style decisions will get you well on your way to bolstering your confidence. No one needs to tell you they approve. If you like it, then go for it. That’s exactly what the Dean does, and it has always worked for her. 

On Serving Nuts

Suzanne Pollak

One tip the Dean picked up this Summer in France and adopted at home in Charleston is an elegant way to serve nuts during cocktail hour. Fill one bowl with nuts and another with little spoons -- for instance, those sterling demitasse spoons your grandmother left you that lay hidden and unused in their felt rolls. Show your guests how to take a spoon, fill with nuts, then place nuts in their hands and snack away. The French approach accomplishes two results: individual portion control and avoiding fingertips in the food. YUCK!