Jenni Kayne is the modern entertaining genius behind a complete lifestyle brand—from wardrobe essentials to everything that makes a house a home, Jenni creates effortless staples without sacrificing style or comfort.
Executive Head Chef, Rafaelle Lenzi helms Sereno Hotels’ Al Mare Restaurant at Le Sereno St. Barts and Ristorante Al Lago at Il Sereno in Lake Como. Chef Lenzi has earned his stripes working in Michelin-starred restaurants worldwide, aiming to both surprise and delight guests through the use of various consistencies and contrasts.
We chatted with Kayne and Chef Lenzi on how to take a gathering to the next level.
“I want everyone to feel welcome and cozy,” says Jenni in the feature. “Winter and holiday gatherings are so special because of the celebratory nature that’s in the air, and I try to bring that sense of the season to every event. Sit-down dinners are great when you’re wanting something a bit more intimate, but I always like to keep these types of gatherings more casual by serving dinner family-style and making sure the guest list is a bit more limited. Informal parties with hors d’oeuvres are perfect for the busy moments of the season when you want to keep your gatherings simple yet impactful. I like to make a large, batched cocktail for self-serve ease and a few different appetizers, and then mingle with my guests freely. I think the visuals and overall aesthetic elevate any experience, especially when you’re indoors. That of course comes down to the tablescape and décor around your space.”
Go for the Unexpected
“In describing the dishes I make on the menu, I tend to be very basic,” says Chef Lenzi. “I don’t want to communicate the message that our food is too difficult or elaborate. When the dishes arrive at the table, however—perhaps precisely for this reason—customers are blown away: from the gustatory point of view, because my recipes are both tasty and light, but also from the aesthetic point of view. When customers expected gnocchi served in the classic way, I served them plattered and when reading cardoncelli mushrooms, they expected them already cut, I served them whole. Another aspect of my cuisine that pleasantly surprises customers is amuse bouche and petit-four. We anticipate the amuse bouche in the menu and serve them at the beginning of dinner, as small, more structured plates rather than as actual snacks. As for the petit-four, however, the same speech made before is valid. The attention to detail is obsessive, even more so for the size of the desserts we bring to the table. Now, my petit-four is made up of tiramisu with chicory coffee, cream puffs with porcini, black peel root with licorice, Tarte Tatin of peaches and rosemary and pumpkin and chocolate. Here too, at the end of the meal, customers have the opportunity to experiment with new tastes and feel pampered simultaneously.”
Find the Right Flavors
“Undoubtedly, simple flavors inspire me around the holidays,” says Chef Lenzi. “Two holidays to which I am particularly attached and which I particularly associate with gastronomy, for my origins in Campania and for my childhood spent in the region, are Christmas—in particular, Christmas Eve dinner—and New Year's Eve. In both cases, the flavors of the sea inspire me, because they are the ones I grew up with on these occasions. In addition to the ingredients that you can commonly eat throughout the year such as seafood and some fish—red snapper, sea bass, sea bream or turbot (each house has its own tradition)—there are others that I only link to an occasional consumption connected to the party: sea truffles, fried capitone and cod. The latter are two real musts, and the cod can be prepared stewed.
“In Italy, white truffle of Alba is a prized ingredient both economically and gastronomically. I always recommend using it moderately in very simple dishes—risotto, long fresh pasta or egg on the stake. Other opulent products that can enhance the experience are caviar, oysters and saffron in pistils. Finally, another highly prized and therefore rare ingredient on the tables, practically absent in homemade ones, is finger lime, a particular citrus fruit of the Australian subtropical eastern coastal area. Its peculiarity is to internally resemble caviar, but also to be characterized by a citrusy taste, with very strong acidity.”
“I always try to make sure that everything a guest will want is taken care of,” Kayne notes. “I’ll serve a crowd-pleasing cocktail in incredible glassware, make sure there’s plenty of food, and create a flow that allows guests to wander and catch up beyond the bustle of the party.”
Delight In the Details
“It’s all about the experience, which always comes to life through the details,” says Jenni. “Florals go a long way, and I always try to draw on my surroundings by bringing in branches and other blooms that feel festive. I also think that smaller touches like personalized cards at every place setting and parting gifts make every guest feel special. I like to drape our Jenni Kayne Sheepskins on sofas and dining benches for guests to get cozy and light our Glass Candles throughout the space to create a luxe experience. Our Pacific Dinnerware and linen tabletop accessories can pull any tabletop scene together instantly, and you can’t underestimate the power of a great playlist!”
Chef Lenzi agrees: “If we take the atmosphere for granted, which must be appropriate to the location, I would say the attention to detail is what takes a dinner party to the next level. In revisited traditional dishes, I believe that the extra something is the touch that each chef chooses to add. In my version of babà [Neapolitan confectionery], for example, the leavened product is soaked with Strega—an Italian liqueur with 70 herbs such as saffron, fennel and mint—instead of rum and combined with the local taste of saffron, served here in ice cream powder. In signature dishes, on the other hand, people are faced with something more personal and intimate, but nothing changes in regard to attention to detail. For example, in my Porcini mushrooms, ovules, lovage and coffee there are two different varieties of mushrooms: porcino and ovulo. The latter is presented raw, while the porcini mushrooms are present in the form of broth, baked in the oven and in a crunchy pastry.”
Written by Sarah Jansen-Mount.