Héloïse Brion dedicated her book My Art of Entertaining: Recipes and Tips from Miss Maggie’s Kitchen to her father, as it was his love of life and people that inspired her to carry the torch for large lively gatherings around the table to enjoy delicious meals. Fortunately for those who enjoy visual and gastronomical feasts, she also has a talent for ornamenting tables and infusing recipes with beauty, as you can see on her Instagram feed. Settings and dishes in this book, published by Flammarion, were captured poetically by photographer Christophe Roué.
The Art of Entertaining
Raised in Florida, Brion was also influenced by her mother, who proudly upheld the tradition of the French family dinner; and her grandmother, whom she would visit in the Pyrenees during summertime to enjoy dishes cooked over a wood-fire oven. After a successful career in fashion in France, she and her young family settled into a beautiful old hunting lodge in Normandy and she began what seemed at first to be a whimsical pastime but would turn into a brand that blends cooking, travel, and lifestyle in a brilliant alchemy—Miss Maggie’s Kitchen.
We at Design Diary celebrate the talented entrepreneur for achieving such cohesion with the triad of subjects by way of sharing her newest book on the blog today. She opens her preface with the directive “À Table!” Explaining her choice of the call to eat, she adds, “As a child, I always loved hearing those words: ‘Dinner time!’ I relished the prospect of a delicious meal, of course, but I also sensed that, at the dinner table, I was about to embark on a journey of discovery.” Though the entire experience of dinner is centered around food, she intuited very early that the table setting is just as essential to the pleasantness of a meal.
“Together, they constitute a moment captured in time,” she goes on to say, “an unforgettable experience, and an invitation to share.” This word is at the very heart of what she offers readers—sharing recipes and tableaux she created on an array of tabletops by season. Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter unfolding with recipes and décor that reflect the unique aspects of each slice of the year. She begins that presentation with “Seven Tips for Creating Beautiful Tablescapes.” These include “Set the Scene,” “Decorate Your Table with Flowers,” “Play with Different Materials,” “Consider the Height of Things,” “Mix Styles,” “Break Some Rules,” and “It’s All About the Details”.
Which rules does she advise breaking? “According to certain rules of etiquette in France, champagne glasses don’t belong on the dining table, but I find champagne dinners rather joyful,” she writes. “When it comes to napkins, though, I always make a point of using cloth napkins, even for picnics!” She follows these with Tips for Hosting a Party, illustrated by a bountiful image of a lush cheeseboard; then her advice for creating the perfect arrangement for one. She shares advice for shopping—the moment a meal really begins to take shape—and then launches into her recipes for springtime.
“The sound of birdsong is everywhere and once more nature turns a vibrant green,” she says in her introduction to this chapter. “This gentle season brings with it a feeling of lightness: it is a time of rebirth in nature, when its palette of joyful, vivid hues awakens after months of hibernation.” Cut flowers are tied into nosegays that cinch cloth napkins to adorn the table and the recipes open with Grapefruit and Rosemary Refreshers, the sprig of the herb jaunty as it rises from the pale coral liquid. Brion’s talent for styling makes this book a joy to experience.
One of her first dishes, Egg Salad, is on our list to prepare, the addition of capers and radishes tempting our taste buds, as does the Parmesan and Garlic Loaf. Other recipes include Roasted Radish Salad, Brussels Sprout and Pancetta Pizza, Orecchiette with Hazelnuts and Sage, Pasta Al Limone, and Gâteau au Chocolat. Her Iced Orange and Pistachio Cookies illustrate her flair, the way the icing covers them and the blood-orange zest is sprinkled on them lending them added artfulness.
As the season turns, she highlights Summer Vacation and Garden Parties, suggesting flowers, table décor, and place card and gift ideas. Summer Bites are on the menu, as is Honeydew Melon and Tarragon Juice. Grilled Sardines with Lemon-Mint Sauce, the fish arranged on a vintage wooden platter, are earthiness personified. Other recipes that round out this season are Tomato and Smoked Bacon Salad; Peach, Zucchini, and Burrata Pizza; Grilled Peach and Avocado Salad with Goat Cheese; Carrot, Cilantro, and Coconut Cream Flan; and Coconut Chicken.
As Brion launches into Fall, she turns her attention to Warm Autumnal Colors and Cozy Gatherings, presenting ideas for bringing branches into interiors and for celebrating Thanksgiving. Lush recipes include Greengage Plum, Bacon, and Burrata Crostini; Corn Gazpacho; Artichokes with Olives and Feta; Grape and Fig Pizza; Roast Chicken Legs with Grapes; and a Veggie Tagine. Table settings are earthy and warm, soft orange hues are combined with eucalyptus, linen table cloths, and elegant glass candlesticks—the mix of patina and crystal forming a perfect pitch.
Winter arrives with advice about how to celebrate the season without stress, which includes begin thinking about holiday cards by the end of October, planning the gift list at least six weeks before Christmas, and having everything for wrapping at hand by the first week of December. An inventory of decorations and ideas for table settings are also on Brion’s early December list. She shares her turkey roasting tips, and ideas for making homemade kitchen wreaths and potpourri to fill a home with festive fragrance.
Recipes include Coffee Chai Disco, a milky liquid topped with cinnamon sticks and slices of dried oranges; a Mushroom, Spinach, and Goat Cheese Wreath; Mini Cheddar, Spinach, and Caramelized Onion Scones; Poached Pear and Roquefort Crostini; Fennel and Onion Soup with Coppa Chips; Razor Clams with Spicy Herb Butter; a hearty Winter Soup; and an Orange and Pistachio Salad. Her take on a time-honored dish for the holidays is a Fennel, Pea, and Sausage Stuffing.
As the book draws to a close, we are sorry to see it end. Holiday cookie recipes include Lemon-Thyme Shortbreads, Biscotti, and Pecan-Pistachio Bites. Her recipe for Homemade Fortune Cookies is illustrated with strips of paper filled with positive messages written and drawn by her children. “I love asking my sons to help write the messages and decorate the slips of paper with colorful drawings,” she says in the kitchen notes that follow the recipe. Closing her preface was a sentiment that Brion embodied throughout the book: “So, have fun, trust your creativeness, and enjoy and share the delight. That’s what life is all about!” You can order this heartfelt book from Rizzoli or on bookshop.org.