A great dinner party, at its best, should master the balance  between slightly chaotic and completely polished. If it’s too unruffled and loose—““Here’s a bag of chips and there’s some beer in the fridge,” —we haven’t elevated past the Dorm Dinner. Too refined ( “Our appetizers have been organized by phylum and class, we do hope you have fun exploring our selections”) and we can set guests up for an anxiety attack they wish they had pre-medicated for. 

I am here to assure you after decades of dabbling in both ends of these styles of hosting, it’s possible to find the middle ground. But it shouldn’t rest entirely on your shoulders.This month, we’re aiming for Three Basic Dinner Party Essentials for hosts and guests alike. 

1. Make What You Like to Eat and Know How to Make

I try to be experimental and make brave choices in menu making, but sometimes I just want to make what I know. I’ve mastered a few things to the point I can shop for it, chop it, prep it and serve it in whatever mental condition the day has presented me with. I’ve made this month’s Torte di Mele cake (see recipe below) while my babies have run a fever and Pasta Aglio e Olio for twelve completely jet lagged; I could make a great Caesar salad in hostage-like conditions with limited natural daylight and a dull blade. 


“My obsession with the Revol story is real. Two lovebirds, Pierre Revol and Magdelene Carrier, both from potter families, get married and begin a culinary ceramics legacy that has lived on since 1768. I love the longevity of craftsmanship of this French brand and that the plates feel traditional but super chic and fresh.” Sources: Table Runner: Wheaton Striped Linen/Cotton Table Runner, Navy, Pottery Barn; Oval Serving Platter: Alessi; Dinner Plate: Revol, Blanc Cumulus, Ming Wo; Linen Napkin: Lastlight, Flax; Cutlery: Vintage Regency Silverware, Birks

Sometimes there is no room for bravery, just secure conditions. These are the recipes you know how to make and taste great—so make them for your friends and loved ones! You can participate fully in conversations, have a little more wine and still stay sharp. I had an aunt who made the best chocolate marshmallow icing cake, a recipe so legendary she reserved it in her will. I don’t remember anything else she ever made, which proves my point: making one thing exceptionally well will be the draw for your guests. Find it, practice it, serve it!

Sources: Serving Set: Goa Serving Spoon and Fork, Cupitol, Atkinson’s Vancouver; Entertaining Tray, Clotet Foix Round Stainless Steel 44cm, Alessi; Glasses: La Rochere, Bee Wine Glass, 24cl, Gourmet Warehouse; Dinner Plate: Revol, Blanc Cumulus, Ming Wo; Oval Serving Platter: Alessi

2. Hey, Guest! The Conversation Is Your Job. 

Rule No. 2 for your successful dinner party? Everyone invited should know it’s their job to Guest. So, Guest, before you think about what to bring as a gift, or plan your outfit: it’s your duty to go into a gathering with the right mental attitude, and that can only be done with thoughtful consideration and a general preparedness of things to talk about. In some cases, you may know all the friends invited and opt to skip the small talk: just deep dive into who’s on Ozempic. But if you’re not well acquainted with everyone, diplomatically find out their interests by asking questions or listening to casual remarks. 

“Marble stays cool naturally. Pro-tip: pre-chill your cake stand in the freezer to keep it extra cool for service of runny cheeses or that DQ Ice Cream Cake that needs to stay cooler than room temperature.” Sources: Table Runner: Wheaton Striped Linen/Cotton Table Runner, Navy, Pottery Barn; Monogrammed Linen ‘B’ Cocktail Napkins: Vintage; Pedestal Cake Stand: 29.5cm Marble, Natural Living, Gourmet Warehouse; Cheese Knife: Sabre, Bacci’s Vancouver; Glass: Boston Coloured Goblet, Green, Villeroy & Boch, The Bay

When I’m asked as a Host, “How can I help?” what I really want to say is, “Go Great Guest, Please.” I usually have things relatively under control in the kitchen, I just want you to groom your mind in the same way you have groomed yourself before coming. And your To Do List is not a conversation starter. “So I got up at 6:03am, had a coffee, got that leash on Binky and walked him till about 9:34am. Then before I knew it, I had to pick up Tyde With a Y at soccer. I don’t know where the morning went but by 2:07pm I saw the laundry needed a little attention and at around 3:45pm I emailed Brenda.” This is not a conversation. “Do you like prunes?” can work, but “If you were stuck at Burning Man, what would you conserve first?” is better. In a broad sense we’d like to aim for the essentials, a little knowledge on current events and an open-minded, curious demeanour to meet the people you are at the table with. Guest Like You Mean It. 

“Steelwood cutting boards look great and function even better. I’ve arranged everything from carefully curated cheeses and charcuterie to Five Guys burgers and fries on these boards and it all looks equally as elegant.” Sources: Pink Linen Napkin: Westcoast Handmade, Rhubarb Designs; Cutting Board: Steelwood Design; Bowls: Williams Sonoma; Fork: Sabre, Bacci’s Vancouver

3. Try Everything Unless You’ll Die Trying. 

Rule Three is a two-way street. Guest, here is where you’ve hopefully connected with your host beforehand to relay any life-or-death allergies. We haven’t left this to the last moment when the course is presented to announce, “Oh, I don’t eat closed-cup mushrooms.” If it’s a vanity request, such as a cleanse, preparation for colonoscopy, or a current micronutrient balancing programme that requires a calculator, stay home. Do yourself and your host a favour and take the pressure off all involved. Come back when you’re hungry and willing to try it all.  Conversely, Host, if your Guest has reached out with a valid allergy, I am sure you have considered this and either eliminated that ingredient entirely or quietly prepared something else for them. 

Above all, as a host I love nothing more than seeing committed, great eaters at my table. The next morning, I love to see napkins with sauce, lipstick and wine markings. Get into your food, make a toast and ask for seconds. It’s the ultimate compliment. 

Until next month, my friends, I toast to you securing your Very Best Recipes and finding that sweet spot of hosting but not collapsing into martyrdom, and as a guest, to truly Guesting Well, and to having the most fun around your own table.

Torta di Mele: Italian Apple Cake Recipe


1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup plain whole milk yogurt

1/2 cup (113 g) butter, melted and cooled

1/2 teaspoon (2 g) vanilla extract

2 cups (240 g) all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons (14 g) baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 

3/4 teaspoon (pinch) kosher salt

3 large peeled (or unpeeled) apples, cut into smaller pieces

Confectioners sugar for dusting


Line a 9.5 inch round baking pan with parchment paper, or spray with cooking spray. 

Preheat oven at 350 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, with an electric mixer, cream the sugar and eggs until you obtain a creamy and fluffy texture, about 5-8 minutes. 

Stir in the yogurt, butter and vanilla extract. 

Use a fork or spatula to combine until smooth (not the electric mixer). 

In a separate bowl mix the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture. Stir gently until well combined. Add the apples and mix gently. Place the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

If the cake starts to brown too much on top, tent the top with foil during the last 10 minutes of cooking. 

Cool and dust cake with confectioner sugar. And yes, it is necessary to serve with freshly whipped cream or really good ice cream. Enjoy!

An expert in interior design with a passion for cooking, Mary Burgers, Creative Director of Burgers Architecture, will be sharing timely recipes and easy-yet-elegant table settings each month—ready to inspire your next dinner party.