Generally speaking I avoid Beverly Hills like most
people avoid South L.A. The air feels different there and the sheer number of Lexus’s
and Benz’s and rich old women is overwhelming. I get the distinct feeling that
I do not belong.
This past Friday, however, I went straight into the
belly of the beast to chat with Cheryl Najafi, author of the New York Times
Best Seller You’re So Invited: Panic
Less, Play More, and Get Your Party On, at her book signing.
It took place at the Pottery Barn which, incidentally,
had no noticeable pottery for sale and did not even abstractly resemble a barn.
I had never been to a Pottery Barn before, a fact that would not surprise anyone
who has ever stepped foot in my apartment.
Upon approaching the store and walking through the barn
door (as it were), I almost immediately noticed a tall, attractive
blonde-haired woman whom I assumed to be Cheryl Najafi. She was putting the finishing
touches on a demonstration buffet table which was loaded with attractive-looking
dishes and drinks. I introduced myself and she suggested that we chat for a few
minutes before she began her presentation.
I made the mistake of opening with a question about her
background – not because her background isn’t important, but because she went
into a stump speech that included many of the gems that she would go on to use
in front of the small crowd at her presentation. It would be unfair not to
mention that this was day 29 of a month-long publicity tour that saw her
speaking in Pottery Barns all across the country, so she can hardly be blamed
for falling back on the material she had used constantly for the past month.
Cheryl is a first-time author, and her expertise in
being a hostess stem from spending her entire adult life entertaining guests.
She also claimed to be a less-than-stellar cook – “couldn’t boil water” is the
way she put it – which, taken at face value, makes her status as a hostess with
the mostess that much more impressive.
The book’s value seems to be in its practical tips for
serving and presenting food and drinks in unorthodox ways and putting,
“creative spins on ideas.” One suggestion that stuck with me was to freeze a
cake so that it can easily be cut into bite-sized portions, then serve the
bites of cake in individual shot glasses. It’s a pretty clever idea given the
number of times that I have been too stuffed to eat an entire piece of cake but
would not have been able to resist just a bite, if given the option.
The highlight of her half-hour presentation was a
retelling of a time when she had none other than Martha Stewart over for
dinner; her experience with Martha went less than perfectly. The soup was too cold
when it was served, and after dinner Martha was ready to dig in to a piece of
cake when, oh my good lord in heaven, she did not have a desert fork; Cheryl
paused between each of her last four or five words for emphasis (“she did
not…have…a…desert…fork.”) Judging by the gasping and laughing, the fifteen or
so middle-aged women in the crowd appreciated the horror of the situation more
than I did. Of course, since her message is one of not striving for a dinner to
be flawless, the story ended on a high note because Martha had a great time
despite the fork fiasco.
“In the end it’s all about
letting your guests relax and just have a good time,” Najafi relayed. “And your
guests react to you. If you’re having fun, they’ll have fun. If you’re all
worried and uptight and constantly running around fixing this and that, they
are going to respond to that.”
The presentation, according to Najafi’s philosophy, can
help create a more fun and relaxed atmosphere. “The napkin is the first place
you can engage your guests,” she proclaimed.
The book itself is a nice,
glossy white hardcover book with vibrant colors, short, easy-to-read
descriptions, and enough high quality food images to keep any lady busy pinning
and instagramming for a week. If there’s a hostess in your life who would enjoy
a fresh take on playing host, You’re So
Invited would make a nice gift. Use this link (https://www.cherylstyle.com/book/)
to order it online and spare yourself the trip to Beverly Hills.