Meals in France are a big deal! A celebration of friendship and togetherness, French meals go on for hours with long conversations, full plates, and glasses that never seem to be empty. Entertaining in France is almost like an art form – not everyone can do it. Hosting is a skill that is deeply woven into the French culture and can take a while to get right.
So how do you entertain like the French? Here are six ways to level up your entertaining skills and host à la française:
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Simplify your meals
While the French can be quite picky over things, they tend to be less fussy when it comes to meals at someone’s place. Your dishes don’t have to look like plates straight out of a Pinterest page. Stick to three or four things; the lesser the better.
Plan your menu in advance so you don’t spend too much time in the kitchen when the guests are over. The French prefer to shop more and cook less to spend quality time with their guests (plus their kitchens are usually tiny!). A delicious and healthy option is to head to the farmer's market and get fresh produce that can easily be roasted or sautéd and served with something else.
Don’t forget the holy trinity of French food- entrée, plat et dessert (starters, main course, and dessert). If it seems like a lot of work, don’t feel shy to order the dessert or the starters from your favorite boulangerie.
Embrace l’heure d’apéro
The French can often be late for meals. It is believed to be impolite to show up for a meal at the appointed hour lest you catch your host off-guard or still getting ready. But it can get irksome when guests are always late.
A great way to avoid this is to start with l'heure d'apéro. Providing drinks and some snacks to nibble on while everyone arrives is a great way to relax the guests and wait for everybody. The aim here is not only to bide the time but also to whet the appetite with simple nibbles.
It's the perfect time for a charcuterie board!
No matter how simple your meal is, it is essential to have a well-set table; it makes all the difference. You don’t need too many things to bring some elegance to the table. Make an effort with good cutlery and plates. Cover up with a tablecloth and have fresh linens ready. Mix and match is always a good idea as long as you bring it all together with a common thread.
Don’t hesitate to bring out your grandma’s fine china or the vintage napkins you keep in the closet for special occasions. Add in a few trinkets here and there like flowers or a candelabra to make the table more fascinating. You can always add in a few of your flea market finds, and they make for great conversation starters.
The aim here is to make the table interesting without too much clutter.
Set the mood
A critical element to mastering French entertaining is to set a good mood with the right lighting and music. The trick is to balance the senses without overpowering any of them. Bad lighting can cause great discomfort and quickly become a buzzkill.
If safety is not an issue, light up little tea candles and scatter them around the house to create an intimate mood. Scented candles are also a great way to keep food odors in check, but make sure the scent of the candles is not too overpowering.
To create a more intimate mood for after the meal when the conversations can slow down to a lull, introduce soft background music to relax and aid you in light chit-chat.
Bread, Cheese, and Wine
Can you even call it a French meal without some bread, cheese, and wine? It’s not necessary to go all out and buy five varieties of cheese or wine. Keep it simple but don’t scrimp on the quality. They don’t have to be expensive.
Try to find some interesting brands that you would love to share with your friends or ones with newer textures and flavors that can become a conversation piece. Choose something your guests are bound to remember.
As for bread, it is the heart of any French meal. A simple baguette will go a long way.
Flank your meals with alcohol
Most French meals begin with an aperitif, so it seems natural enough to end a meal with a digestif. An aperitif is designed to open the appetites of the guests whereas a digestif aids digestion.
It’s a tradition to begin meals with kir or champagne and end meals with cognac or port but if some guests prefer to keep drinking wine, that's ok too. For a true Provençal vibe, serve anise-flavored drinks like pastis for apéro.
Et voila! You’re all set to host your meals like a true Frenchman. The French love to entertain, but they also love to keep it simple and have fun while doing so.
Don’t forget the aim of the meal is to be with your loved ones and indulge in conversations. Keep the food simple and the drinks flowing, and you’re all set.
Focus on creating a memorable experience!
How about you? Have you been to a dinner party in France? Would you want to recreate one? Have you hosted a French-style meal? Do tell!
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