Have you ever played the fantasy dinner party game? The one where you hypothetically get the chance to fill your seats with whoever you fancy, past or present. You might dream about inviting a world leader, a silver screen icon or a great thinker. While us mere mortals enjoy the fun that comes with these imaginary dinner party scenarios, one man who hardly has to dream up his is Valentino Garavani – one of fashion’s most loved figures. With the release of his new book At The Emperor’s Table – a stunning monograph of the designer’s private hosting career, published by Assouline – Valentino proves that he’s not just a master of the catwalk.
In his introduction, André Leon Talley writes, “Valentino Garavani designs his luncheons and dinners the way he has created crescendos and allegros vivace throughout his forty-plus-year career as one of the greatest haute couture designers and high-fashion leaders in the world.”
The fashion writer and close friend continues, “When you enter his world, you enter the world of luxury; you enter a rare and opulent, yet warm space.” There exists a “joy of sharing, and the joy of delivering a magnificent dining experience in a setting of wonder and originality; sharing with family, friends and guests; sharing good conversation that is quite often animated; and sharing beautiful flowers, especially from Valentino’s own gardens.”
Sharing sage dinner party tips, beautiful photos of his various homes (he has houses in London, New York and Paris as well as a yacht) and a collection of his most favourite recipes (can you say mouthwatering?), Valentino instructs in the art of fine dining in a way only he knows how.
Numbers Are Irrelevant
“Entertaining thirty or one is the same,” Valentino explains in true Italian fashion, “the food has to be on a beautiful plate.” This mantra permeates throughout every aspect of his life with the designer seemingly even considering himself a guest. “No matter which home he is in, he reflects alone in his bedroom each morning,” the book makes mention of, “It is then that he tells Jonathan, his chef, what the meals of the day are to be, which silver and crystal will be used, which embroidered tablecloth will provide a background, and which silver tureen will become a centrepiece, perhaps filled with fresh dark grapes and pomegranates cut open to show the rich inside of the fruit.”
Beauty Is Everything
Whether in table settings or the recipes you serve, Valentino is them master of a beautiful table spread. “I have to tell you, I am in love with beauty. I have always loved beautiful objects,” the couturier explains, “Beautiful things are important and can bring joy to life, and I’ve been encouraging myself to appreciate beauty since I was young. To me this book is not just about my passion for table decorations. It’s a book about recipes and food that I love; it’s about the beautiful things in my life.”
André reveals, “He rarely shares the breakfast hour and often eats lunch with only one or two companions, but his table is always beautifully arranged and, even for these intimate affairs, abundant with marvellous food.”
Keep Things Light
“[My food] is always very light,” Valentino says of his culinary choices, “Risotto, for instance: Many cook [it] to make it heavy, with lots of cream. I love typical risotto Milanese, but it has to be less heavy than normal.” The designer revels in organic cooking, and doesn’t eat red meat or traditional wheat. When enjoying pasta dishes he opts for pasta made with kamut – a high-protein, nutrient-rich wheat grain.
As if his sartorial creations weren’t enough, it’s clear that Valentino is a natural perfectionist and, in an age in which dinner parties are becoming more and more informal, he continues to fly the flag for traditional gatherings. “There is a code of light formality in England today,” he admits, “It is something the modern world forgets. Codes and rules of etiquette gave your life a structure and balance. If I had to lunch alone, my staff knows what I like, and there would still be a table with the same attention to detail: beautiful crystal, beautiful vermeil or silver, and beautiful linens.”