A big part of successful entertaining at home is being a gracious host.Ellen Wright could write a book on the subject. In fact, she has. Three times.
In “Hampton Weekends: Easy Menus for Casual Entertaining All Year Round” the entertaining guru and award-winning cookbook author shares her fool-proof tips for being the hostess with the mostest. She should know. Not only did she study with legendary chef Julia Child and work with culinary master James Beard for seven years, three-time cookbook author has Tom Brokaw, Mort Zuckerman, Vernon Jordan and Pia Lindstrom—friends who are all quoted on the book’s back cover—praising her hospitality expertise.
“Dining is a major supplement to social life,” Mr. Zuckerman wrote. “This book is a must for entertaining.”
Ms. Wright’s philosophy for having people over for a gathering is straightforward: keep it simple, be prepared, don’t get too fancy and let others help. And perhaps most importantly, hosts should always remember that it’s the overall feeling of the event that makes it a winning affair, not the minutiae.
“Entertaining should be fun … The success of a gathering, be it an intimate dinner for two, a fancy dinner party for 12, or a birthday lunch for an adorable granddaughter turning 1, is more than the sum of its parts,” the Bridgehampton and Manhattan resident wrote in the book’s introduction. “It is not just the food, not just the people and not just the setting. It is how it all comes together.”
During an recent interview in Bridgehampton, while prepping for a book party at the home of a friend, Ms. Wright—who has fed more than her share of dignitaries and famous folk—talked about the art of uncomplicated yet elegant entertaining.
“Everybody can do it. It’s all about the people. It’s about breaking bread with friends and relaxing,” she said. “Set a tone that’s relaxed. Put people to work. If the King of England can pour wine, your guests can too,” she laughed.
In the book, Ms. Wright shares more than just her recipes. She talks about and includes pictures of favorite East End haunts, including several wineries and picturesque vistas. She tells anecdotes about her life, such as learning how to make the simple but delicious White House Saltines and how she fell in love with Bridgehampton. She gives instructions on how to set a table and create a welcoming ambiance. She whips up complete menus for special occasions, and she dishes out “Ellen’s Tips” with every recipe.
Sharing her timeless no-frills recipes, taking the fear out of entertaining was her reason for writing “Hampton Weekends,” she said.
“You will find no frills in any of my recipes and no complications,” according to Ms. Wright. “Instead you have feasible combinations that I have very deliberately kept easy and that have been praised by most I’ve ever served them to.”
From a simple trick to serving the most delicious Hot Crusty Bread to prepping to make an easy but flavorful Chinese Chicken Salad, Ms. Wright’s instructions can be followed by even those who consider punching the microwave control panel to be a culinary challenge.
“I want to help them; those who are afraid to cook, afraid of failing or trying something new,” she said. “I can help.”
Helping others in a passion for Ms. Wright. The author of “Bridgehampton Weekends: Easy Menus for Casual Entertaining” and “Around the Table: Easy Menus for Cozy Entertaining at Home” is also devoted to assisting the less fortunate. All proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the fund she and her husband, Joe, set up—the Joe and Ellen Prosthetic Fund at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.
Ms. Wright said that she created the fund after witnessing a 17-year-old boy with serious foot deformities being turned away when he needed new shoes. He was refused because he didn’t have insurance to pay for them.
“I went home and told my husband, we have to do something about this,” she said. “We wanted to make it so kids like him, without insurance, could get what they needed without any questions asked.”
Everyone should do something in their life to help others, Ms. Wright continued.
“I can think of a million ways to get grabbed by a passionate reason to help; to share our wealth,” she said. “For me, this book was another good opportunity to give the proceeds to the fund. If you think about other people instead of yourself, the possibilities of giving are unlimited.”
Even when it comes to the topic of casually chic entertaining, Ms. Wright said that it’s important to give back and to help others who need it.
“Share the wealth of your knowledge there too,” she said, adding that there is nothing to fear when it comes to entertaining and preparing food for friends and family. “What’s the worst that can happen? It’s just dinner,” she laughed.
Ellen Wright will appear at Loaves & Fishes in Bridgehampton on Saturday, August 3, at 1 p.m. and at BookHampton in Southampton on August 24 at 5 p.m.