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La Grande Bouffe: Tips for Entertaining in the French Style

Laura Dowling
By Laura Dowling
Posted on Jun 18,2009
Filed Under Fashion , Local Style,

The setting – Versailles, circa 1700.

In a mirrored salon overlooking the gardens and fountains of the Palace of Versailles, an evening of unprecedented splendor is about to unfold, replete with glamorous guests, exquisite décor, and haute monde cuisine.

The glittering soiree launches with a champagne fete set against the backdrop of hundreds of flickering candles, lavish bouquets of roses and lilacs, and ornate furnishings of gold, silver and vermeil, creating a magical ambiance.

After musical and theatrical performances, the evening will continue in the grand dining room, where the opulent table, laid with exquisite hand-painted porcelain, linens, cut crystal, and finely chased silver, elicits cries of delight from the guests.

At La Grande Bouffe a Versailles, the revelry and pageantry will extend well into the early morning hours, setting a new high standard for sophisticated, elegant and glamorous entertaining in the French style.

Now that many of us are contemplating simpler, scaled-back lifestyles in response to the global financial crisis and are looking askance at ostentatious displays of self-indulgence, it may seem odd to promote the lavish French style as the paragon example to strive for in contemporary entertaining.

Especially when the greed and corruption of certain corporate officials are evoking a public mood that is decidedly more conducive to revolutionary uprisings than that of wistful longing for royal-style splendor. Yet, in terms of pure style and panache, few cultures can out-do the French with their inherent knack for aesthetic achievement in haute couture fashion, nouveau cuisine, or l’art du bouquet.

The classic French style transcends time or place to set the ultimate standard for living luxe and living well.

Whether you’re hosting visiting royalty at your grand country estate or planning a casual barbecue for friends in your urban back yard, the secrets of hospitality and stylish entertaining, as elevated to a high art form in France, are surprisingly the same for “la petite bouffe” as for a grand affair.

Whatever the occasion, the elements of entertaining in the French style can be pared down to three essential points: 1) create a magical ambiance, 2) exude a warm spirit of generosity and 3) add elements of surprise and whimsy – all of which will result in a festive occasion that your guests will enjoy, remember and wish to repeat.
Here are some specific tips for incorporating chic and timeless French style into your dinner party and event decor this season.

1. Develop an overall theme or concept. Start with a cohesive vision or color scheme and choose specific elements (menu, china, linens, flowers, candles, etc.) to carry out your theme. For a “Spring Luncheon in the Loire Valley” setting, for example, choose a cheerful combination of yellow and orange Old Paris and Sevre porcelain, antique French linens, and a pair of yellow rose bouquets.

For another spring concept, try an “April in Paris” theme, with a color scheme of hot pink and fuchsia accented with silver flatware, chargers, and wine coolers. Add bouquets of peonies, roses and orchids set in antique silver vases to complete the lush and lavish look.

2. Create a beautiful ambiance. Louis XIV invented the use of mirrors as decorative objects and they remain a beautiful and popular idea for party décor today. Use chic mirrored cube containers for bouquets of garden roses and trailing ivy, and surround them with votive candles for a romantic centerpiece idea. Decorate with flowers and candles throughout your house to create a warm and welcoming ambiance. Mix and match decorative elements, including linens, stemware, china, serving pieces, etc. but stick to monochromatic colors in flowers to create more visual impact.

3. Serve a simple, yet elegant meal. The formula for a French-inspired meal is simple and straightforward: Always start with champagne as an aperitif, since champagne elevates any occasion to make it special. For the main course, create an elegant or rustic dish and pair it with seasonal vegetables. Here, you can show off your cooking skills or buy prepared foods at the gourmet store. Serve a green salad after the meal a la francaise, followed by a cheese course and a simple dessert of fruit and mille feuille pastry. Add fun and lively guests, a bottle of wine, and Voila! You'll have perfect La Grande (or Petite) Bouffe in the French style.

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