The Rebirth of Entertaining

And we’re baaaack! Marshall Erb indulges our line of questioning on post-pandemic hosting, and shares his tips for tip-top entertaining.

By Elise Hofer Shaw

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Claret accents perfectly offset riotous pattern in this tablescape by Mila London. (Photo: Mila London)

Everyone is seeing a spike in their social calendars. Why do you think that is?

Marshall Erb: In part, it’s the tease of warmer weather. The sunshine has put a spring in all of our steps. All I’ve been able to talk about for the last two months is the return of entertaining and how I’m excited to be gathering and hosting again. And it’s not just me. Everyone is dying to lay out their tablescapes once more—their pretty dishware, the colorful napkins—and they are energized to get creative in the kitchen again, too. I also think it has a lot to do with the fact that everyone has spent the last two years improving their homes, and they want to show them off.

Two years of staring at the walls will push anyone into home improvements. How did your clients respond?

ME: It has run the gamut from full-house renovations to spiffing up the main living and entertaining spaces. At a minimum, we saw people repainting, updating light fixtures and upgrading their furniture to be more comfortable for their inner circle. And now, everyone wants to widen that circle and entertain more at home. Before the pandemic, entertaining at home was mostly for special occasions. Entertaining regularly at home is a new concept for us. We’ve been experiencing a social pregnancy. And now that we’re free to move around and to have proximity with more people, something we were starved of for so long, it’s exciting and sparks creativity. I’ve found myself looking at menu planning and new recipes of late. A lot of people got into cooking during the pandemic and want to show that off, too.

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The Big AF charcuterie board from Board AF in Chicago incorporates housemade spreads, tapas-style bites and more. (Photo: Board AF)

What are the makings of a stylish, post-pandemic gathering in 2022?

ME: From interior design to fashion, maximal style is in—and it’s extending to our tablescapes. We’ll be seeing more and more elaborate, artistic expressions of self through coordinated tabletop themes. On the flip side, I think that painstaking party planning and fancy invitations will be dialed back, and instead that energy will be put into more relaxed affairs at home. For 2022, it’s all about comfort: comfortable furniture, comfortable pants [laughs]—more casual entertaining at home without the same level of formality. This trend has already impacted the hospitality industry. I went to Leña Brava recently, chef Andres Padilla’s restaurant on Randolph Street. When it first opened, it was a white tablecloth restaurant, and now things are super casual. They peeled off the tablecloth, so to speak, because nowadays people want the comfort of family-style, come-as-you-are dining when they go out.

You mentioned that you’ve been menu planning and looking at recipes. Are you planning on hosting a party sometime soon?

ME: I am. It will be our first coming-out-of-the-fog, celebration-of-life event that we are hosting at our house. The plan is to have a hybrid-cocktail/dinner party instead of a formal sit-down, which was always my go-to in the past. We’ve hired a caterer to make it a moveable feast. The buffet is back. In a way, it’s a return to the tradition of Sunday evening dinners where everyone shares. This style of help-yourself service is both convivial and comforting. In fact, there’s a whole new crop of curated charcuterie board vendors out there like Board AF and Mr. Charcuterie who are responding to the heightened demand for more casual, grazing-style entertaining.

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The ANOVA Precision Oven is a countertop combi steam oven that cooks like a chef so you don’t have to. (Photo: ANOVA Culinary)

Any cutting-edge kitchen appliances or gadgets we should know about for ease of entertaining when we want to take it on ourselves?

ME: The ANOVA Precision Oven is the current rage. It’s a ​​countertop combi steam oven that cooks like a chef so you don’t have to. It does everything you’d expect—steam, bake, roast—and includes other professional level features you wouldn’t like sous vide, dehydrate and convection bake. And of course there’s an app so you can remotely set and monitor your cooking progress from anywhere, and browse a library of recipes. You can even preheat your oven from the car on your way home! We’re also seeing requests for integrated wine stations. The Dacor WineStation is the first automated, temperature-controlled, four-bottle wine dispensing and preservation system for the home. You can select a tasting amount, a half glass or a full glass all while keeping your wine fresh for 60 days and not wasting a drop.