On a recent evening, Marissa Lanier, a publicist, was pulling together the elements for a party at home. The biodynamic rosé and craft beers were on ice, the artisanal cheeses and raw vegetables were prettily arranged on a board. Later, when the dozen or so guests had arrived, she grilled organic beef patties, toasted brioche buns, and served the burgers with a quinoa and kale salad. The picnic tables were swathed in butcher paper and burlap, while the flowers were wild and native. The whole affair was as breezy as the Motown tunes she streamed.
Lanier, a recent émigré from the US who has worked for a clutch of leading LA restaurants, admits to being initially concerned about how to entertain in her newly adopted home. “I started thinking that it would be a lot of research,” she admits. “But then I realised that everything that makes for an intimate party at home is what I already had – simple food, fresh flowers, good music and casually dressed tables.”
Lanier’s instincts embody the spirit of the times. Small at-home events that use food as a focal point are a major trend in domestic dining. Farm-fresh ingredients and comfort dishes are now the shining stars, with increasing attention being paid to the same paddock-to-plate credo found at the country’s top restaurants.
“Party pies and dips are no longer acceptable options,” says Aaron Teece, the chef and creative director behind catering company and events space Studio Neon in Sydney. Teece, a native of Byron Bay who spent time working as a private chef in London, has cooked for the likes of Kate Moss and Keira Knightley. “In Australia we have a real appreciation of food and the quality of local produce,” he says.
At Studio Neon, Teece directs multicourse dinners, including one that took place in a beach cave in southern NSW. “Raw seafood is a hit at the moment,” he says, citing kingfish, sea urchin and octopus. “It’s light, tasty and beautifully photogenic.” Teece once catered for a Russian billionaire who insisted on serving 10kgs of Almas caviar; the pearly white variety is the rarest type of Beluga available and costs over $30,000 a kilo. But oligarch style is an anomaly.
In terms of drinks, you don’t need to have a selection of booze rivalling the bar at the Four Seasons to keep guests happy. “Serving only one or two types
750ml rosé wine (full-bodied is best) 1 cup (220g) caster sugar 125g raspberries ½ tsp vanilla extract Pour rosé into a plastic container, cover with a lid and freeze overnight. The next day, place sugar in a saucepan with 1 cup (250ml) water over medium heat, stirring to dissolve. Simmer for 5 minutes until slightly thickened. Cool, then place in a blender with raspberries and vanilla and blend to a smooth puree. Strain through a fine sieve. Place puree in the blender with 2 cups ice and blend on high until ice is crushed. Scrape the frozen rosé with a fork to form a granita and combine with the puree. Spoon into glasses and serve.