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R. S. V. P.: Menus for Entertaining from People Who Really Know How

R. S. V. P.: Menus for Entertaining from People Who Really Know How

by Nan Kempner, Quentin Bacon (Photographer)
What defines a truly great host? Is it the quality of her surroundings, her china and linens, the savory surprises at her table, the diversity of the people she gathers around her, or simply her ability to put guests at ease? As Nan Kempner shows in R.S.V.P., it is all this and much more.
New York hostess extraordinaire and inveterate guest of some of the


What defines a truly great host? Is it the quality of her surroundings, her china and linens, the savory surprises at her table, the diversity of the people she gathers around her, or simply her ability to put guests at ease? As Nan Kempner shows in R.S.V.P., it is all this and much more.
New York hostess extraordinaire and inveterate guest of some of the world's most accomplished, Nan Kempner offers a tantalizing glimpse into the homes -- and entertaining philosophies -- of more than two dozen of her favorite hosts and hostesses. With twenty complete menus, R.S.V.P. divulges tried-and-true strategies for a large range of events, from a dockside breakfast to a gala sit-down dinner. Here is a casual city luncheon hosted by Crown Princess Pavlos of Greece; cocktails on the Grand Canal in Venice with Larry Lovett; Anne Bass's fall-inspired country menu; the raucous Texas-sized cookout served by Lynn Wyatt; and a full-scale boar hunt on the Loire Valley estate of Count Hubert and Countess Isabelle d'Ornano.
For each event, Nan recollects the mood at the table and the individual elements that made each gathering so exceptional. She has also convinced her friends to share their most closely guarded recipes, most of them simple to replicate and all certain to please even the most discerning partygoer. R.S.V.P. also gives an enticing tour of some of the world's most brilliant houses, with an insider's view of Oscar and Annette de la Renta's Santo Domingo villa; Ross Bleckner's art-filled New York City loft; and designer Valentino's sumptuously appointed yacht. Stunning color photographs showcase each house and vividly re-create these events.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
To be accurate, the subtitle should be "Menus for Entertaining from People Who Really Know How and Have Lots of Money To Do So." Kempner, a well-known New York society hostess, presents 20 or so menus from dinner parties and other events hosted by her friends around the world, from "Sun-Soaked Days with the de la Rentas" to "A Birthday Surprise for Gordon Getty." The book is lavishly illustrated with photographs of the settings for these events and of the people hosting and attending them, as well as of the food. Most of the menus list the names of the cook who actually prepared the meal (or the chef--the food for "Cocktails on the Canal," for example, came from Harry's Bar in Venice). Of interest to those who want to see how the "other half" (five percent?) lives but not a necessary purchase for most libraries. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
8.93(w) x 11.29(h) x 0.81(d)

Read an Excerpt

My love affair with food goes back to my childhood days in San Francisco. I was the only child of only children and when my nanny tired of keeping me amused, she parked me in the kitchen. As it happened I enjoyed mixing, measuring, and licking bowls more than playing with dolls or on swing sets. And instead of reading fairy tales I read cookbooks. My favorite pastime was to read of fantastic desserts made with masses of eggs, butter, sugar, and chocolate. Somehow it was just as satisfying as eating them.
With that experience began a lifelong mania for collecting cookbooks as well as recipes from magazines and those of my mother's and grandmother's cooks. As a result of reading, watching, and helping our family cook—in other words by osmosis—I picked up a little knowledge and developed a love for haute cuisine.
I grew up in an era when young women took cooking classes before they married. So, fresh from college and before my marriage to Tommy Kempner, off I went. As I had a foundation, cooking school was really a way to fine-tune my skills, and I concentrated on learning to make the special things that I had drooled over in books. To this day, I still think my soufflés and pasta carbonara are as good as anyone's.
When Tommy and I moved to London for a year, right after we were married, I put my culinary skills to the test. Food was still rationed in 1952, and I realized that quality ingredients make a huge difference when you cook. In those days, I charmed a lot of butchers and greengrocers to get the extra lamb chop or a few more eggs. Rationing, however, did not prevent me from cooking up a storm, and oddly enough it's how I developed my lifelong love ofentertaining. As is my nature, I made fast friends with a lot of people and soon I was inviting them to share in the weekly food packages we received from our parents, which were filled with delicacies like roast beef and tinned hams—things Londoners hadn't seen in years.
We lived in an eccentric little town house where the ill-equipped kitchen was in the basement and the dining room was on the first floor. I had to use a dumbwaiter to bring the food up and then rush to get it to the table before it became cold. I had my share of disasters due to a poor oven and a limited supply of pots and pans.
When we moved back to New York, and as a result of having three children in rapid succession, Sylvina Barrasso came into my life to be my cook and to my great good fortune has been with me—with one short intermission—for almost forty years.
Through the years, we've really experimented together. Sylvina is a natural and she can interpret any dish I've eaten in a restaurant or at a friend's house. Our menu planning has no formula; instead, we cook what we think our guests want to eat, which, of course, is what I want to eat at that particular moment. Along the way, we've adapted a wealth of recipes that I've collected and others we've invented ourselves.
For years, I've wanted to write a cookbook and share some of these recipes. When my fantasy came true, I realized that this book should include more than just my menus. I wanted to share with readers where I find my own inspiration to create new recipes and keep my food imaginative.
As it happens, the biggest influence comes from the memorable meals I've had all over the world in some of the most beautiful houses belonging to my friends—lucky me. This book, however, is more than just a cookbook. In many ways, it's a memoir—a reflection of a part of my life that has given me extra pleasure not only because of the meals I've eaten with my friends, but also because of the way they entertain. My own style of entertaining has evolved from my happy experiences with the people I've profiled.
For the past four decades, in New York, I've given more dinner parties than I could possibly count. As a result, I'm often asked to impart my tips or secrets to great entertaining. I'm always stumped to give some brilliant quote. As for my menus, I have no formula for entertaining. Throwing a dinner or lunch party is a spontaneous happening that stems from a love of people and enjoyment of friends. For me, entertaining is part of the "living well is the best revenge" theory of life and gives me an opportunity to share what I do best. Offering good food and decorating with lovely flowers and pretty linens are ways of giving my friends happiness.
As a guest, what I notice as much as the food is presentation. Everything from the tablecloths to the way the food looks is as important as how the meal tastes. The last ingredient of successful entertaining and the one I prize above all others is the warmth of the host and the ambience he or she creates. You can have the best meal in the world, but without that personal touch, you may as well have gone to a four-star restaurant—not a dreary alternative, I know, but nothing in my view can compete with a well-executed dinner party at home.
Every menu illustrated in this book is highly personal and unpredictable. Nothing has been prefabricated for the camera, although in some instances I asked my host to re-create a favorite dish I'd had before. Best of all, the photographs vividly capture the way my friends live, and though I was on a professional mission, my visits were exactly like any other weekend, evening, or afternoon I've spent with them.
All these people have in common a generosity of spirit and friendship. For all of them, mealtime is happy time; the dining table is the place where friends meet to exchange ideas and relax. Though the majority of my friends have a cook and domestic help of some variety, they do not delegate the planning of their parties to staff. These hosts devote attention to every aspect of the event, from the menu to table settings to flowers to the ambience of the house.
Best of all, the food these people serve is food that's meant to be enjoyed and not just looked at. It's cooks' food as opposed to chefs' food. For me, that means straightforward, classically based cuisine. It's hearty; it's comforting and never fancy. Every recipe in this book can be executed by anyone.
This book offers a rare glimpse into the world I've been so fortunate to inhabit. In some instances, asking the hosts to participate in the book was my own sneaky way of getting them to part with recipes they've never given away. And so from the kitchens of my generous and skilled friends, I would like to share some of the better eating with you.

Seared Pork Loin with Herb Lime Butter
The herb lime butter melted into the sliced pork loin gives it a delicious flavor that balances the sweetness of the yams.
Serves 4 to 8
¼ cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons grated lime zest
1 teaspoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
13 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2½ to 3 pounds boneless pork loin
2 tablespoons olive oil
Lime slices, for garnish
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
Herb Lime Butter
12 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons grated lime zest
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a glass dish that is just large enough to hold the pork, combine the lime juice, lime zest, ginger, cilantro, and olive oil. Trim all the fat from the pork, removing as much of the top layer in one piece as possible (if the fat has already been trimmed, ask your butcher for extra pork fat). Set the fat aside in the refrigerator. Next, use a sharp knife to remove any silver skin (the shiny, silver sheath that coats part of the pork). Place the pork in the marinade, turning to coat, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, turning once or twice. Meanwhile make the herb lime butter.
Place the softened butter in the container of a food processor and pulse several times until light and fluffy. Add the lime zest, lime juice, cilantro, parsley, salt, and pepper. Process until it begins to turn bright green and the herb leaves are visible. Using a plastic spatula, scrape the butter mixture onto a piece of wax paper and shape into a 1-inch log. Roll tightly in the wax paper and refrigerate.
Remove the pork from the refrigerator and let stand in the marinade at room temperature for 1 hour before cooking.
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Remove the pork from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Tie the pork loin with cooking string every inch to hold its shape. Next, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a cast-iron pan over high heat, until very hot but not smoking. Sear the pork until brown on all sides. Remove the pan from the heat and place the reserved pork fat on the top side of the pork, covering as much of the pork as possible. Place the pan in the middle of the oven and roast for 45 minutes, or until the pork's internal temperature reads 160°F. when measured with a meat thermometer.
Reduce the oven temperature to 250°F.
Remove the pork from the oven, tent loosely in aluminum foil, and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes.
Slice the pork thin and arrange on a sheet pan, overlapping the slices and dotting between with thin slices of the lime butter. Heat the pork in the oven for 5 minutes, just until warmed through. Use a spatula to transfer the pork to a platter garnished with lime slices and cilantro for serving.
Salad with Roasted Pears and Fennel with Walnut Vinaigrette
On an Indian summer day this salad would be delicious with toasted pumpernickel bread and soft cheese. Infused with the aroma of rosemary, the pears are a welcome complement to this flavorful salad.
Serves 6
½ cup walnut halves, for garnish
1 head of frisée, washed and torn into pieces
1 bunch of watercress, washed and tough stems removed
3 heads of Belgian endive, washed and separated into leaves
3 medium pears, peeled, cored, and halved
6 fresh sprigs of rosemary
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 medium fennel bulb, cored and sliced 18 inch thick lengthwise
¾ cup Walnut Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for 5 minutes under a broiler heated to medium. Cool on a wire rack.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the frisée, watercress, and endive.
Spear each pear half with a rosemary sprig and place on a baking sheet. Brush the pears with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and bake for 40 minutes, or until tender. Remove from the oven and discard the rosemary. When the pears are cool enough to handle, cut each half into 18-inch slices and set aside.
Meanwhile, place the fennel slices on another baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and bake for 20 minutes, or until soft and lightly golden. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Combine the greens with the fennel and pear slices. Pour the walnut vinaigrette over the salad and toss lightly to combine. Divide the salad among 6 individual plates and garnish with the toasted walnuts.
Walnut Vinaigrette
makes ¾ cup
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 shallot, finely minced
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup walnut oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
In a small mixing bowl, combine the red wine vinegar and the shallot. Slowly whisk in the olive oil and walnut oil until well incorporated. Season with salt and pepper.
Caprese Cake
This flourless chocolate cake, a specialty of Capri and a favorite of Valentino, is delicious served with vanilla ice cream.
Serves 8
10 tablespoons (1¼ sticks) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the pan
Flour for dusing the pan
3½ ounces mini Melba toasts (available at most supermarkets)
2 tablespoons margarine
5 large eggs
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup ground almonds
1 pound bittersweet chocolate, grated, plus more for garnish
Confectioners' sugar, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Grease a 10-inch round springform pan with extra butter and dust it with flour.
Place the Melba toasts in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely crushed.
In a small saucepan, melt the 10 tablespoons of butter and the margarine over low heat. Set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the crushed toasts, baking powder, salt, and almonds and stir to combine. Add the chocolate and the melted butter and margarine and mix together until well blended.
Pour the cake mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 50 to 55 minutes; a toothpick inserted in the center should come out almost clean. Cool the cake on a wire rack. Invert onto a serving plate and garnish with a sprinkle of confectioners' sugar and grated chocolate.

Meet the Author

Originally from San Francisco, Nan Kempner attended Connecticut College before moving to New York. She currently acts as an international representative for Christie's and in the past has consulted for Tiffany as well as contributed to Harper's Bazaar and French Vogue. She counts among her charitable commitments the Lighthouse for the blind and the Society for Memorial Sloan-Kettering for Cancer Research and is an ex-board member of the American Ballet Theater. She has lived in London and Paris and currently divides her time between New York City and Purchase, New York.

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