Themed dinner parties with that little something extra (such as a professional to lend a hand with the entertainment or the food) are en vogue, and can take some pressure off hosting duties. Here are a few suggestions that are fun for you (yes, you!) and your guests.
Like many New Orleanians, chef Amy Sins' idea of an enjoyable evening is sharing food and laughter with friends. But not everyone wants the stress of hosting a dinner party — or the hassle of cleaning up afterward. As the owner of Langlois, Sins brings the culinary entertainment to you.
In about two hours, she conducts a "live cooking show," where she talks about the history of New Orleans and Cajun and Creole cuisines. She also prepares a dish, describing each step from start to finish.
"I like to think that we're alleviating the pressure and creating a fun environment, while staying true to who we are in south Louisiana," Sins says.
- Photo courtesy The Murder Mystery Co.
- Participants at a murder mystery dinner solve a crime during the meal.
She's performed demonstrations for large groups and for intimate gatherings at local restaurants and in clients' home kitchens. During smaller affairs, guests can help prepare the meal by stirring a roux or flipping crepes, while others sit back and relax.
"We realized that even though people say they want to be hands-on, after the first glass of wine they don't want to be hands-on," she says. "They don't want the stress of thinking they can't eat dinner if they don't (cook) it."
When the dinner party takes place at a restaurant, Sins collaborates with the chef to create a menu that fits the restaurant's cuisine and her presentation. One of her favorite places to host demonstrations is Arnaud's.
"It's old. It's classic," she says. "It's everything you think of when you think of New Orleans Creole cuisine." There, she welcomes guests with a French 75 cocktail and toasts "the resident ghosts, to make sure that they're happy with us being there."
Sins also hosts Iron Chef-style cooking competitions. Guests are divided into teams, and each group must come up with and cook a dish using a mystery basket of ingredients and present it to the judge. The winner is announced after dessert. That way, Sins says, they all get along.
- Photo courtesy Langlois
- Chef Amy Sins, the owner of Langlois, hosts traveling “cooking shows.”
Give me a clue
Care to do a little sleuthing while you dine? Let The Murder Mystery Co. provide a cast of actors and a good story for guests to ponder over cocktails and a meal.
The Murder Mystery Co. is interactive, theatrical entertainment for dining events of all sizes, in both public and private venues. The group has staged events at Ruth's Chris Steak House and Copeland's Cheesecake Bistro, among other locales.
"It allows people to experience a murder mystery theater firsthand," says Michael Sauviac, director of the New Orleans branch of the company.
He describes a typical play as a whodunit set to one of a variety of themes — from a Prohibition motif to a 1950s sock hop. The actors single out audience members as suspects. Those suspects are given a binder containing clues, which they share with the guests at their tables. Each table works as a team to solve the crime while they eat, and the actors facilitate the mystery.
"Being an actor for my whole life, I found that when I go to theaters, there's a huge part of me that's jealous that I'm not up there doing it," Sauviac says. "I think a lot of people feel that way. This is a way for them to participate."
The type of fare that's served depends on the venue. But when the event is held in someone's home, the food is catered or prepared by the host. Dishes can follow the theme for the night (think cheeseburger sliders and root beer floats for the sock hop motif).
- Photo by Anne Hall
- Joel Catering matches cuisine to the theme, like red snapper ceviche with fried wontons for a Spanish-themed party.
As the president of Joel Catering and Special Events, Sarah Hall works with clients to create a one-of-a-kind themed dinner party with an immersive feel.
Hall likes to incorporate the architecture and design of an event venue into the event's theme and says hosts should consider this as well when planning a party because the space may inspire in creative and unexpected ways.
For example, Joel Catering's Uptown venue Il Mercato features an open floor plan and Spanish colonial-style architecture, so Hall and her team are planning an Iberian- themed celebration there. Women wearing flamenco gowns and men dressed as bullfighters will circle the party, dancing to Spanish music.
Wait staff will serve Spanish wine and chilled sangria along with tapas and other items. Different food stations featuring Spanish and Mediterranean fare will be set up to allow guests to interact with the chefs and create a meal tailored to their tastes.
"Spain has an amazing culinary tradition," Hall says about the possibilities for the evening's menu. "Taking something that's not a traditional dining space and making it a special one-night-only experience for people and having the menu to match, that sort of thing really interests and excites us. We love doing that."