For our newest Entertaining Exchange, we’re delighted to introduce you to Carly DeFilippo.  Carly, proprietor of this fine blog and a supper club of her own, has offered to answer questions from the Zokos community on how to throw a stellar dinner party.  So if you’re wondering how much wine to buy, or how many hours to roast your turkey, just ASK CARLY by posting your questions on our Facebook Page.

Zokos: Think back to the most recent dinner party that you hosted or attended. What was the best part of it?

Carly: I recently launched a monthly supper club, which I host in my new Park Slope apartment. It’s been amazing to open my home to old (and new!) friends, and – most importantly – to have the opportunity to introduce such a varied group of interesting, curious and generous individuals.

Regarding the food itself, preparing a meal for fifteen inspires me to experiment with recipes that seem too elaborate for one or two people. It’s a rare and exciting reason to block out a full day and truly dedicate it to cooking. 

                   Zokos: Explain how the most recent dinner party you threw was different than the first dinner party you ever threw. What has changed since you first started throwing dinner parties? Why?

Carly: The first true dinner party I threw was in Paris, where I was living during graduate school. On Sundays, all my Parisian friends would head to their parents’ or grandparents’ apartments for a family meal, a tradition that made me and other non-locals wildly jealous. So I started inviting over a dozen of close friends on Sundays, to cook our own “family dinner.” It started off very simple – meat, cheese and wine – essentially a picnic. But as I got to know the markets and neighborhoods of the city better, I got increasingly adventurous, making everything from veal liver to squid ink risotto.  I think my French friends’ favorite dinner, however, was when I made them a big American pancake breakfast.

What’s different now is that I’m a much better cook (largely thanks to those weekly feasts), from planning, to knife skills, to timing the service of food. That said, the casual feeling of community and the shared ownership of the meal is still there. I always recruit a sous-chef and few friends to come early and help set the table. I don’t believe in keeping people out of the kitchen, so by the time the evening is over, nearly every guest has lent a hand.

Zokos: What are the top two items – not ingredients- at your house that you find yourself using over and over at your dinner parties?

Carly: My record player! And these great burlap tablecloths that actually used to be homemade curtains. The music is a great way to get guests involved, and for my next supper club, I’ve actually asked everyone to bring a record of their choice. The burlap is great because it makes everything feel relaxed. It’s the opposite of white, fancy linens -so if someone spills something, who cares?

Zokos: What is the dish you’ve cooked that you are most proud of?

When I lived in Paris, I went to the market as often as possible, but there were certain ingredients that intimidated me – namely seafood. But eventually, I decided that if something interesting went on sale, I should give myself permission to buy it and experiment. I’ve since cooked everything from octopus to stingray, and it’s actually been delicious, every single time!

Zokos: What does cooking mean to you?

Cooking is one of the few opportunities for true creativity that we all can tap into on a daily basis. I know that when I was in grad school – reading heavy French literature and philosophy – the highlight of my day was a trip to the market or the time I spent preparing a meal. That feeling has only gotten stronger as I’ve moved into the workplace. Even though – working in food editorial and social media – I get to think about cooking all day, there’s nothing that inspires or relaxes me more than grocery shopping and “getting my hands dirty” in the kitchen. And I don’t think you have to love food as much as I do to reap the benefits of cooking. From managing your budget to improving your health – not to mention your relationships – cooking is, in my opinion, the number one way we can all improve our quality of life.

Zokos: How did you first get interested in cooking?

Growing up in an Italian family, if we weren’t preparing or eating food, we were talking about it. So from an early age, shopping for, cooking and sharing a meal we re activities I not only enjoyed, but valued. But what really tipped the scales for me was learning about other food cultures, from the ingredients they ate to the way they interacted with food. Living in France – where good conversation and excellent food are part of the daily culture – it seemed obvious that I should study culinary criticism and really dig into how we communicate about food. The more I read and listened and talked about the “art of the meal”, the more I wanted to be living that experience. So that’s where my intense love of cooking began, and it’s been a runaway train every since.