If you ever have the chance to have dinner with Julia Reed, do not hesitate. Chisel the date in your calendar and don’t let anyone or anything waylay you (yes, I am looking at you, cFl and dNz). Julia Reed is a hoot in the most delicious sense of the word. If you have an appreciation for witty Southern storytelling, she will have you spinning from chuckles to guffaws as I was last Thursday evening when the Ladies of St. Stephen’s hosted an Evening with Julia Reed. An avid fan of Ms. Reed’s columns in Garden & Gun and Southern Living for many years, I was joined by similar admirers at the sold-out dinner, who, like me, left thoroughly entertained and inspired to do some entertaining.
Through friendships with an array of dazzling friends and now three books on food and entertaining, Julia has become a leading arbiter on how to host the best parties not just in the South but throughout the nation. She came by her inclination to entertain honestly at her mother’s apron strings. The folks in her Mississippi Delta hometown of Greenville made their own fun, and Julia witnessed first-hand, then participated in, some rip-roaring parties in her formative years.
Fast forward to her college days and Julie found herself
in the right place at the right time with a little bit of luck
as the token young thing at the dinner table of Georgetown doyenne and hostess extraordinaire, Susan Mary Jay Alsop. Surrounded by Washington’s elite movers and shakers, Julia observed the evening’s success: unassuming food that tasted good, especially to the men. Ms. Alsop was not afraid to serve frozen food that she loved like Stouffer’s French Bread Pizzas cut to serve as passed hors d’ oeuvres and Spinach Souffle as a side dish. Put on a silver tray or fine china, and no one knew but the help in the kitchen.
When it came time to start hosting her own parties as a young adult, Julia heeded her mother’s advice that ditto’d what Julia had witnessed in the Alsop salon:
just serve something that tastes really good!
To Julia that food was the same food that her mother served at the many cocktail suppers she had hosted while Julia was growing up: food that could be held in one hand while the other held your drink. Prime example is the ubiquitous beef tenderloin on yeast rolls that stars in most good cocktail parties in RVA. Julia even touts Sister Schubert’s frozen yeast rolls as the perfect cradle for the tenderloin.
This entertaining attitude accompanied Julia when she moved to NYC to work for Vogue. After several years as the magazine’s political editor, she happened to host a celebration cocktail supper in honor of Michael Boodro’s appointment as the editor in chief of Elle Decor. The glitterati swooned over her simple yet delicious Southern cocktail fare. The next day the food editor at the New York Times called Julia to offer her a position as a food columnist, and a food star was born.
You can tell that Julia loves writing about food. To her it is writing about life and memories, much how Proust rhapsodized his madeleine as the starting point to share his memories. And does Julia have some hilarious memories to share.
Whether in the pages of one of her books,
or my favorite Garden & Gun, Julie’s magical word-smithing paints vivid pictures of settings peopled with characters we vicarious readers long to join. Her verbal storytelling talents leave me feeling the same way. Though I will likely never have the chance to break bread at the same table with Julia, her stories serve as reminders that we all have the power to create an entertaining evening.
pic from Julia Reed’s South
Featuring eleven different events styled from a variety of places and relationships, Julia Reed’s South sets each in a memorable location, like the farm outside Nashville pictured on the book’s cover and Hollywood Plantation in Benoit, Mississippi, pictured above with Julia at the door. Other ingredients for an unforgettable party include a signature drink and an apropos playlist. Though the tabletop might feature fine china (she’s an insatiable collector), her menus are peppered with reasonable recipes that she shares throughout the pages, and she is not afraid to include items from the frozen foods department or her favorite take-out joint. She reminds her readers that if you can be relaxed, then your guests will be relaxed, and that’s when the high-style fun really begins.
That attitude sounds like one of the tidbits Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, shared when she came to town last year. Comfort food makes for comfortable company; leave the fancy food to the professionals. With two such experts preaching similar advice, it really must be time to take note and put their insights into practice.
February 23, 2017
*contains affiliate links
p.s. Don’t forget our Embossed Graphics sale thru Monday, February 27th!