Two of our favorite books for inspiring recipes and entertaining tips are Park Avenue Potluck and its sequel, Park Avenue Potluck Celebrations — a compilation of recipes and secrets to elegant home entertaining, from the most accomplished grand dames and socialites of New York City. In honor of the first Potluck’s 10th anniversary, we asked some of Lancaster’s party-savvy hostesses to open their homes and share their essential “secret weapons” for home-entertaining success.
Originally from California and now a Lancaster County resident, Jeanette has imported a “California casual” air to her style of entertaining. Rarely hosting a sit-down dinner, she instead allows guests to “enjoy things as they will, when they will.”
A custom-made cocktail is her signature, and it’s different at every party, often setting the theme. When traveling, she takes notes and tips from bartenders and brings innovative mixologists’ recipes home to share with friends in her suburban home. For our photo shoot, she made one of her fave signature drinks, Hibiscus Sparkling Kiss.
Jeanette’s “Bubble Bash,” thrown every February, is well-timed to “bring sparkle to a lull season of the year,” she says. “Guests bring their favorite bubbly, and wear winter white.” And, a diverse mix of vibrant people keeps it interesting for both guests and the hostess.
Mary Chairs — Back to the Classics
Weeks of planning and engraved invitations are not Mary Chairs’ style. She prefers the relaxed elegance of a last-minute dinner party, with “good friends” being the most important ingredient. Her casual dinners often include 15 to 20 guests, and not necessarily couples.
Mary returns to the classics for her menu choices, and a never-fail is her recipe for Tenderloin of Beef with Horseradish Cream. “Served with a simple salad or grilled asparagus, perhaps a bit of olive oil and Feta cheese,” she describes, “it’s no-fuss at the last minute.” All can be prepared well ahead of her guests’ arrivals, then assembled and ready whenever the hostess senses the perfect time to summon everyone to the table.
Her nod to the classics continues in her presentation, the entrée served on a traditional silver platter with horn handle serving pieces. “This recipe felt like home,” she says of her signature centerpiece for her at-home entertaining. From her usual spot behind the kitchen island, she can preside over her free-flowing dinner parties as an observer and a participant, which are centered in her kitchen and dining room.
Deborah Barber – City Chic for a Crowd
“I don’t cook; it’s not my jam,” says Deborah Barber, surrounded by white faux fur pillows, contemporary artwork and retro furnishings in her penthouse loft in Lancaster’s historic East Side. “When food is involved, it’s either because a caterer is bringing it, or it’s super simple.”
Deborah and her husband, Rob, understand the “theater” aspect of home entertaining, with both holding long-time careers in live-event production, design, lighting and set construction. For their entertaining, it’s all about creating an experience — and making it a sensory treat.
“From the moment people hit the door, the experience unfolds,” she explains. Her go-to candle is Labo: Cade 26, an earthy, moody, smoky scent. Music — “the heartbeat of the party” — is “always funky, always edgy and slightly louder than I think it should be.” Guests are visually dazzled by the open space and its eclectic décor, which Deborah describes as “artwork meets industrial meets amazing views. The roof deck is truly something special, offering one of the best views in the city.”
Her signature cocktail may be as simple as a beautiful stem of Prosecco punctuated with a hibiscus flower, or her latest passion, Casamigos Tequila Reposado (the tequila brand created by George Clooney). Whatever the beverage, it is served in glassware — no red Solo cups allowed!
When the menu is of her own making, sweetly simple figs drizzled with honey, high-quality cheeses, rustic bread, almonds and dried peaches often join a spicy Thai beef. When sourced from a caterer, Deborah prefers to offer up something unexpected, like an octopus ceviche. “Nothing beats passed foods and drinks that are ready to go,” she says. “A bartender is a must.”
The Barbers’ guest lists often range from 150 to 350, numbers that are easily accommodated in the committed city dwellers’ spacious loft. They often use their unique space to host fundraising events for local causes that are near to their hearts, including Habitat for Humanity, Music for Everyone and Leadership Lancaster, from which Deborah is a graduate and current board member. “Rob and I want to give back to the community through the organizations we support,” says Deborah. “We are about the spirit of being grateful that we have this space and are able to give back to the city.”
Her advice for a successful party? “Mix up the guest list and let the fun unfold.”
Sherry Qualls – Seasonal Sunday Suppers
With collections of family heirloom china inherited by both she and her Southern-born husband, Scott, Sherry Qualls loves the formal side of entertaining. Sunday Suppers for six to eight are perfectly intimate and strategically timed to allow her the luxury of a day to pull together a visually stunning table of her family treasures.
Sherry keeps the menu simple but elegant, usually offering three courses of a soup or salad, entrée and light dessert. A favorite go-to is Coq au Vin, able to be prepared well ahead and perfect for a winter’s night. Changing her menu with the season, Sherry also opts for the Silver Palate Cookbook’s heart-warming chili. “Spring might be an angel hair pasta with light cream and mint, and summer is all about grill time,” Sherry says. “Fall might be a pumpkin chutney, with or
A career opportunity at Armstrong Industries brought Sherry to Lancaster. Fast forward a few years when she had the opportunity to buy an established advertising and marketing firm, White Good. The couple has lived in their graciously scaled Lancaster city home for just over 20 years. Scott, who serves as her “sous chef for entertaining,” enjoys shopping at Central Market, while Sherry stays closer to the kitchen when preparing dinner.
Her must-have recipe is a savory-sweet hors d’oeuvre she calls “Granny Crostini,” a decades-old classic from Bon Appetit magazine, which is made with green Granny Smith apples and crusty bread, topped with white cheddar cheese and toasted. Simple to assemble, they can be ready in minutes.