The host extraordinaire is sharing all his secrets to throwing a party with pizazz in his latest book.
What do you think is the secret to throwing a great dinner party?
ALEX HITZ: It’s not such a mystery. It’s a wind it up and watch it go thing that starts with generosity and being really organized. Turn the lights down, serve a chicken pot-pie and never run out of red wine because how bad can that be?
Is red wine your drink of choice?
Yes. I love the French Bourdaires, I love the French Burgundy’s and also those great wines from what they call the New World.
What are some common mistakes that people make when they throw a party?
One mistake is asking your guests what their food allergies are. It is the death of any sort of fun happening, because it’s not a restaurant. You are going to someone’s house, they are sharing their best dishes and, if you can eat them, that’s great and if you can’t you’re not going to die. So don’t make your problems, your host’s problems.
Is there a philosophy you approach entertaining when it comes to parties? Maybe, also, something a party has to have?
Yes. It has to have really indulging food. And I’ll tell you why, because the magic and psychological thing is to say no. Not to have someone else already saying no for you. That’s no fun. This is about the power of temptation.
Are you super selective with who you invite to parties, because I imagine the right combination of people could be great, but the wrong combination of people could be pretty bad…
Well, yeah. Like the government’s to the world, right? You pick your battles, but don’t ever have too many difficult people at a party at one time. We all know who they are, but if you have people you really love, invite them again and again. Remember a dinner is your own private theatre so you might as well be entertaining.
Ethel Kennedy told me once that when she throws a dinner party, she puts all the boring people at the same table.
My father said it a different way and I don’t know what she’d say about this, but he said “Listen, all the horse’s asses always find each other.”
Are there things that people do that bother you most at parties?
Listen, I don’t think we can minimize this… the tyranny, the mounting tyranny that is a cellphone addiction. It’s something we must combat vehemently as people at tables.
And what do you do? I mean you can’t quite snatch their phone away…
I have a lot of different ways I do it. If I have to say more than twice, “Let’s put the phone away,” then I’ll get up and leave the table. It’s so boring. I cannot stand to watch anybody work their phones. There’s no evening that has ever been made better by watching people work their phones. I don’t care about the pictures, I don’t want to see the pictures. And most people spend hours and hours trying to find the fucking pictures in the first place.
I imagine you’ve been invited to many fabulous parties, but is there a party you’ve been to in the past year or so, that was a favorite?
I’m going to shamelessly say my 50th birthday. There were no paybacks in the room. Everybody there was somebody that I loved and had loved for a long time. It had all my favorite food. February is a great time to have a birthday because there’s absolutely nothing else going on, so people are ready for it. And I had a cake table to beat the band.
Have you ever been to a party where something got out of hand?
I can’t think of any, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. That just means I may have had too much red wine.
Things always happen, but it’s how you handle the pitfalls that separates the weak from the great hosts.
And now that old cliché question: If you could invite anyone, alive or dead, to a dinner party, who would it be?
The way to handle this is not to answer this question on the nose, not to be to spot on about that because it could go on forever and ever, and ever, and there’s no way to limit it. I’m going to say, the people that I’d invite, I hope they’re alive, but some of them I might wish were dead. [Laughs]
Alex Hitz’s latest book is The Art of the Host: Recipes And Rules For Flawless Entertaining.