By Lindsay Warner
The green at Spruce Peak takes on a soft, luminous glow as the day draws to a close and welcomes in the dark—and inevitable chill— of evening in the mountains. As the light slowly turns from golden to dusky blue, it illuminates long wooden benches and farm tables garnished in local flowers and greens. Guests fill the tables, helping themselves to locally sourced food prepared by Sean Blomgren, executive chef of Solstice at the Lodge at Spruce Peak, while servers keep glasses—and spirits—topped off with the local libation of the evening. Live music plays softly in the background as the stars come out overhead; a final flourish on one of Spruce Peak’s most treasured summer events: the Farm Table dinner series.
Every host or hostess aspires to host a magically memorable party. And while you may not be able to summon Mount Mansfield as your backdrop or fall into a bed at Spruce Peak after the guests leave, you can create your own alfresco dinner party with some advice from the pros at Spruce Peak. Here’s a peek into what it takes to host a beautiful summer party, whether it’s an intimate affair, or you invite the whole neighborhood.
Let the Garden Inspire Your Theme
One of the most delightful aspects of summer dining is the opportunity to truly eat in season. When tomatoes are plump and as brightly colored as jewels by the end of August, they’re dazzling topped with nothing more than a drizzle of good olive oil and salt and pepper. So take full advantage of what’s ripe and readily available. If you have a garden, look to see what’s thriving—or at least producing—and build a menu around that. Or get ideas from what you see in bounty at the farmer’s market.
Select Outdoor-Friendly Meals
No one wants to chase windblown lettuce onto their neighbor’s plate, which is why Blomgren skips leafy greens in favor of grain-based or roasted vegetable salads. (Bonus: These often taste even better as they sit in dressing, so you can make them in advance.)
“Look for hardy foods that will keep their texture if you prep them ahead, and that can be eaten cold or at room temperature,” Blomgren says. “I also go for meat with a higher fat content—pot roast or whole chicken instead of fish or chicken breast—so it won’t dry out.”
And while you may be seeking to elevate your menu from burgers and ’dogs, you should still put your grill to good use. Cooking outdoors is part of the appeal of alfresco dining, whether you’re charring veggies to pile on grilled bread, spatchcocking a chicken, or serving a flame-licked prime roast.
“Anything I can possibly grill, smoke, or cook over a fire pit, I will; you really just need a grilled protein and a delicious sauce to make the meal a success,” Blomgren says. “Plus, the grill adds entertainment—people love seeing the cooking process.”
The joy of using fresh, local ingredients is that they’re, well, fresh and local. But that also means you’re gambling on them being ripe and abundant on the day of your party. So adopt an attitude of spontaneity and be open to last-minute changes or substitutions. “I do my best to plan out the menu, but sometimes I have to just roll with it and cook with whatever’s ready and available,” Blomgren says.
The same goes for weather. You can’t control it, but you can plan for it—which means having an indoor space to move the party in case of rain. And if something goes wrong, don’t sweat it. It might pour and you might incinerate the main course, but your guests will still have a great time. If nothing else, keep the wine—and conversation—flowing. Everything else is a bonus.