|Marina Birch is known for her ability to mastermind an unforgettable big day-she has done everything from fashioning a reception in a "forest" with lifelike tree centerpieces to building wedding canopies so plush they feel like luxury hotel suites. Her creativity is boundless, so we asked her what she would do if her task was to throw a shower for a betrothed couple. Her answer? An Iron Chef–meets–Martha Stewart affair, wherein a dozen friends would fete the bride and groom by participating in a mini gourmet cook-off. Of course, it wouldn't be a Birch affair without the inspired presentation. Here's how it would all go down.
To carry out her battle-of-the- sexes theme, Birch incorporated two different patterns-paisley for the gals and stripes for the guys-into everything from aprons and a tablecloth to place cards and recipe cards (above). She ordered the white aprons from zazzle.com, which also printed the patterns on them. Another feat of detail work-remembering to provide all the tools and ingredients necessary for the guests to successfully prepare their recipes (below).
THE IDEA "I'm starting with the traditional notion of a kitchen-and-bar shower," says Birch. "But from there, we diverge into untraditional territory." (Which, according to Birch, absolutely necessitates skipping the whole tired ritual of opening gifts. "It's always so awkward," she says.) The idea is to have "a cooking competition that will build camaraderie among the guests while at the same time resulting in the preparation of some of the cocktails and hors d'oeuvres for the party itself." The added twist: Divide the guests-Birch envisions about 12-into two teams, women vs. men.
THE PREP "Each team assembles one hors d'oeuvre and a corresponding cocktail," Birch explains. The host needs to have recipes ready for each team and stock the kitchen with all the necessary ingredients and tools. "Arrange the prepped ingredients in bowls at cooking stations on either side of the kitchen," Birch suggests. The real competition, however, will be centered around dessert, which the teams must dream up themselves.
Birch set her table with a split-personality seamed tablecloth and two different types of flowers (from The Flower Firm), visually transferring the competition theme from the kitchen into the dining room. In addition to the hors d'oeuvres that the teams make for the game, Birch suggests setting the table with premade nibbles.
THE ACCOUTERMENTS Don't let the party end in the kitchen. The dining room must fit the theme as well, starting with a tablecloth seamed down the middle. On one side, a striped pattern, perhaps, and on the other, paisley, in the same color scheme. "Along the seam, on the men's side, line up tiny cube vases with branches or grasses in them, and, on the women's side, similar vases, but round, with flowers in them," Birch suggests. "These elements create a line of division-the frontline of the battle of the sexes!"
THE LOGISTICS At the start of the party, greet each guest with an apron (paisley for women, stripes for men), but don't say what's up. "Once all the guests arrive, invite them into the kitchen and explain the rules," Birch says. Provide plenty of good music, good wine, and perhaps some cookbooks for inspiration. Then let them have at it. "When the battle is over and the hors d'oeuvres, desserts, and cocktails are ready, present them on trays in the dining room, and invite everyone to taste their creations. Everyone votes on their favorites and then relaxes, eats, and drinks, toasting the couple of honor and hanging out with a group of new friends."
Photography by Katrina Wittkamp
Birch's Tried-And-True Recipes
- 1 pound sashimi-grade ahi, cut into small cubes
- 1 tablespoon minced jalapeno pepper
- 1 tablespoon minced red chile pepper
- 1 tablespoon minced orange habanero dulce pepper
- 1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- 4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium ripe Hass avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced
- 1 medium tomato, diced
- 1⁄4 cup red onion, chopped
- salt to taste
- freshly ground white pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a nonreactive bowl. Let sit, covered, in the refrigerator for one hour to let the flavors combine. Place small amounts of the mixture in porcelain Chinese soupspoons. Serve chilled, with saketinis. Makes 12 hors d'oeuvre–sized servings.
- 1 bottle sake
- 1 bottle vodka
Vigorously mix equal parts sake and vodka in a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour into miniature martini glasses. Makes 12 three-ounce servings, plus.
- 1 package slender grissini (breadsticks)
- 1⁄2 pound prosciutto
Use only unbroken grissini for this presentation, as you want them all to be the same length. Trim the excess fat from each slice of prosciutto. Wrap the ends of the grissini with the prosciutto-using one slice for each. Present breadsticks in shot glasses with the wrapped ends sticking up. Serve with Bellinis. Makes 12 to 15.
- 2 bottles of Prosecco, chilled
- 1 bottle of white peach puree, chilled
Pour a small amount (approximately one ounce) of peach puree into each shot glass. Fill with Prosecco. Serve immediately. Makes 12 two-ounce Bellinis, plus.
Ingredients to have on hand for the last phase of the game:
- confectioner's sugar
- brown sugar
- baking chocolate
- cocoa powder
- vanilla beans
- heavy cream
- fresh mint
- assorted fresh fruits (berries, apples, bananas, figs)
Photography by Katrina Wittkamp