Whether it’s a private dinner party with friends, family for Christmas dinner or a full-blown New Year’s shindig, the holidays usually involve plenty of entertaining. And after all the tree wrangling, light tweaking and slaving in the kitchen, who wouldn’t want to show off? We caught up with lifestyle consultant, tailor and host with the most Jason Sarai of Style By Sarai for hot tips on wowing our guests throughout the season! —Rachel Johnston
Hi Jason! Tell us about the best holiday party you've ever thrown?
It’s tough to choose a favourite because every party is unique. This holiday, we were fortunate to partner with Black Sage Vineyard to host an intimate holiday dinner for our clients and friends. It was special to bring everyone together to share my perspective on styling a holiday table and the result was a timeless evening with bold wines expertly paired with dishes by the L’Abattoir team.
What are your top tips for creating a stylish festive home?
The first element you want to take into account is your personal style, drawing out details from your existing colour palette. Your event should feel like a representation of you. For example, think of the style of jewelry you like—is it gold or silver? Why not start there for your festive colours—pick a piece you love (something you own or something new) and build your décor around that. Next, integrate holiday colours in a sleek way. Bold can still be elegant. For our festive dinner, the gold from my brand’s logo was the accent, while the venue was quite muted in colour. Burgundy is a winter favourite of mine and also happens to be a great holiday colour, so we chose this for the centrepiece. Not only did it complement the wine, we accented it in the flowers, napkins, in my suit and pocket square. As with everything, the details matter and nothing should be left to chance. During our latest dinner at L'Abattoir, we marked the end of our meal by pairing Black Sage Pipe with a rum and raisin dessert. Gold spoons were laid out for our guests as a final touch to the evening. This subtle change of the utensil is enjoyable to me because every detail within your abilities is accounted for. Small accents like this are noticed, even if they’re not mentioned. Really, they’re more for of a satisfaction to you as the host.
What are some of your favourite looks to incorporate into holiday decor?
I always gravitate toward classic pieces that are timeless and become a recurring part of my holiday decor. These are often rich, characterful pieces that satiate the eyes. For my home, this includes a curation of accent furniture, table settings, and paintings that remind us of holiday moments passed. Flowers tie everything together and bring a focal point to table settings or counters. During the Black Sage Vineyard holiday event, Sonia Beeksma of Fleurs J'Adore created bouquets that tied in red, green and rich browns, elegantly nodding to the season. Scent plays a large role in setting the atmosphere and in forming impressions, so place candles with a memorable fragrance through the home. My recent favourite is a burgundy encased velvet candle by Culti Milano from Secret Location.
Can you share some of your favourite seasonal dishes?
The colder weather makes you appreciate warm and hearty meals. One of my favourite dishes is Steak Diane with smoked potato and savoury seasonings which I enjoy with Black Sage Cabernet Franc. Another would be vol-au-vent au champignons and sauce mornay, which is decadently paired to the Merlot.
What are your favourite holiday cocktails to serve?
A recent favourite of mine is mixing Cognac with French champagne, and tying it all together with a cube of brown sugar. The sugar infuses into the drink, slowly sweetening it and adding to the aesthetic. Of course, you can never go wrong with a negroni—mixing gin, Campari, and high-quality vermouth with an orange twist. Both are wonderful welcoming cocktails that will surely be a hit.
How can we combat the stress of entertaining?
The more you can do to simplify the process, the better. Slow down the evening by breaking up the meal and spacing appetizers, small dishes, entrees and desserts over a longer period of time. With family and friends, the holidays are a time to reflect, we don’t need to rush people in and out in two hours or less. Also, create a seating plan—for a number of reasons this is my go-to. Not only can you seat friends with common interests next to each other, but people’s dietary preferences can be accounted for ahead of time. This factors into any menu substitutions you need to make and where they are placed on the table (especially if you have servers!). If it is an informal gathering, find ways to involve your guests in the process and limit the stress. If you’re preparing a special meal, ask guests to bring a bottle of wine that means something to them, or be a part of the cooking process. Each person at the table can speak to their contribution and spark conversation.
And your favourite holiday traditions?
Decorating our Christmas tree at home marks the season, as do nostalgic holiday films, setting out stockings, organizing Christmas Eve dinner, and taking time to reflect on the past year with friends and family.