An Affair to Remember
Published in Chester County Town and Country Living Fall 2008
the air grows crisper and the daylight dwindles, my thoughts turn to
fall and all the luxurious foods that this time of harvest
brings. From curvaceous, yellow and green squash and plump,
purple potatoes to glossy orange persimmons and rich brown dates autumn
provides me with an endless array of foods, and reasons, to host one
last hurrah before the harsh winter months creep in.
toast these cooler months has long puzzled me. Huddled around a
roaring bonfire, roasting marshmallows on freshly carved sticks no
longer holds much appeal for my friends and family. Too
cold. Too dark. Too smoky.
Likewise, they have
grown tired of dipping their heads into tubs of icy water, mouths
gaping open, groping for a hard, slick apple to eat. The same
holds true for risking blood loss, fingers, and pride at annual
pumpkin-carving functions. Don’t even mention an afternoon of
picking and pressing bushels of those luscious red orbs and then
filling plastic gallon jugs with fresh, homemade cider. Been
there and done that oh-so many times. What they – and I – crave
is a novel way to revel in the bounty of the season.
for entertaining ideas, I looked to my English forebears. Since
pre-Christians times they have celebrated this period with feasts
featuring roasted geese, savory onion and sage stuffing, a mildly sweet
gooseberry sauce and an assortment of locally grown fare including
quince, apples, mushrooms, figs, walnuts, arugula and oysters.
While the culinary offerings sounded scrumptious, the customary autumn
activity caused some hesitation. Fashioning dolls from sheaves of
corn to honor the goddess of grain didn’t sound like an event that
would fly with my cronies.
Since tradition failed me, I turned
to a party professional, a chef with over 23 years of planning and
throwing seasonal fetes under his toque. The executive chef at J.
Scott Catering, 189 Pennsylvania Avenue in Malvern, Jon Jividen takes a
playful and innovative approach to parties. “I love the whole
staging, the theater of it. I want people to feel as though
they’re somewhere else, whether it be Morocco or Vietnam,” says Jon,
who is an alumnus of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park,
N.Y., an ardent traveler and a fan of international
Whether wishing to transport my
guests to another continent or just have them soar sky-high over the
crimson and amber tree tops in a hot air balloon, Jon and J. Scott can
provide me with a multitude of entertainment options. If
ballooning seems too daring for my demurer friends, feats of
prestidigitation – with everyone’s feet firmly planted on the ground –
can be arranged. Then again, why stop with magic acts when I
could beguile party-goers with belly dancers and hay rides, too?
to say, with over 600 events catered last year alone, the staff at J.
Scott Catering knows a thing or two about throwing memorable, seasonal
soirees. Best of all, this five-time winner of “Best Caterer” in
“Main Line Today Magazine” does everything from decorating to cooking
to post-party cleaning. Talk about easy entertaining!
not organizing galas for clients in Philadelphia, New Jersey, Delaware
and New York or inspiring frustrated hostesses such as I, Jon and his
wife Irene Silver entertain whenever possible. “I would do it
every night of the week if I could. I enjoy bringing friends
together, the joy of the food . . .. There is nothing more
satisfying than sitting down with the people you love and eating.
It’s almost a religious experience,” he says.
On a recent night
in his Radnor home Jon and Irene treated their friends to a fall fete
with a decidedly global feel. Belly dancer, professional
photographer, and “all around ‘foodie’” Rima Synnestvedt sashayed
through the well-appointed rooms, setting the evening’s mood with her
elegant yet provocative moves. Violinist and teacher Alexandra
Cutler Fetkewicz transported guests to another place and time with her
eerie yet melodious
Along with exotic entertainment, Jon whipped up a plethora of
dishes inspired by the cuisines of Thailand, Vietnam, Morocco and the
Mediterranean. He also snuck a little taste of Pennsylvania Dutch
country onto his menu. Upon arriving, guests were greeted by
lacquer sushi platters brimming with pomegranate cider, pretzel
crackers, and apple pap, which is similar to but thicker than
applesauce. “It’s important to have a little food set out for
when the guests come. It makes them feel welcome,” he says.
Moving into the family room, the welcomed revelers nibbled on
Vietnamese lobster spring rolls with ponzu citrus and sweet red chile
sauces. They noshed on a Mediterranean cheese platter,
Moroccan-influenced spicy lentil dip, red pepper hummus and slices of
beef tenderloin. Resting atop banana leaves, the Asian-inspired
tenderloin was sprinkled with sesame seeds, black bean sauce, scallions
and sugar cane skewers. It was both a visual and gustatory
Elsewhere in the house celebrants
dined on Moroccan butternut squash soup, Thai shrimp served on a bed of
coconut rice, and a North African tagine of duck, preserved lemons and
the spicy chili-garlic-tomato sauce harissa. To cool their
palates and clinch the sense of the season, they imbibed chilled
pumpkin and pomegranate beers.
particularly like to incorporate ethnic cuisines as most everyone
travels and they return wanting to have these foods back at home,” Jon
Should I wish to stick with traditional harvest fare, Jon
advises cooking game such as pheasant, quail, duck, and venison and
grain dishes consisting of barley, wheat, corn, or rice. I should
additionally spice up these dishes with such aromatics as rosemary,
thyme, sage, saffron, cinnamon, clove, bay leaves, allspice, juniper
berries and mace, he says. All typify the earthy yet zesty
flavors of the season.
For a simple but far from
commonplace entree, he suggests serving buffalo shepherd’s pie.
In this variation of the English classic, I would substitute ground
buffalo for the customary ground beef or lamb and top the pie not with
mashed potatoes but with mashed pumpkin. Without a doubt my
guests would be bowled over by this unique and hearty treat.
to be overlooked are the vivid vegetables of this period, including
squash, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and root vegetables such as
beets, turnips, rutabaga and parsnips. Here I could allow my
imagination to run wild, scooping out pumpkins to create whimsical soup
tureens or roasting and then pureeing beets to sweeten and intensify my
tried and true vinaigrette. As Jon reminds me, fall is all about
During these cooler months I can
think of no more enticing hue than the eye-popping, ruby red of a
beet. Rather than roasting beets as I usually do, Jon proposes
that I dig out my mandoline and, using its razor sharp blade, thinly
slice the rotund root veggies. I would then soak the slices in
cold, salted water for a few minutes, pat them dry, and fry them in
vegetable oil until crisp. Sprinkled with salt or a spice blend
and partnered with a flavored sour cream dip, beet chips would be a
delightful snack for any event.
likewise contributes to the palette of a fall function. Colorful
kumquats, quince, tangerines, figs, blood oranges, apples and champagne
grapes can enliven the menu as well as adorn the buffet, side, and
dinner tables. Hot apple cider, apple brandy, or a Moroccan fruit
dish of dates and blood orange sections drizzled with rosewater, the
spice blend ras el hanout, and almonds all highlight the breathtaking
fruits of the season. Whether used in a dish or as a decoration,
the choice of how to utilize these beauties is all mine.
an open mind and allow yourself to be daring. Look at an
impending party in the aspect of creating theater and art. You
are the artist and playwright. Create magic,” Jon
“Most, if not all,
of these foods and seasonings share a common bond – intensity of flavor
and/or color . . . just like fall, with its intense colors, aromas, and
excitement. What does this all have to do with
entertaining? Everything!” he says.
Jon points out that
autumn is renowned not only for its foods but also for its bright, rich
atmosphere. To put guests in the right mood, he suggests trimming
my rooms with the opulent colors – and products – of the season.
“For color choices, defer to nature. If you open your senses,
your creativity may be found in your own back yard. Decorate with
cut dried grasses and seed pods or scatter leaves around the food or on
the table. You’ll be amazed by what you have on hand, right in
nature,” he says.
To help set the scene at Jon and
Irene’s gathering, designer and florist Colin Baer of Colin Baer Events
draped silk pillows and swaths of fabric in shades of orange and red
over the couches and chairs. He also placed vibrant arrangements
of orange and red ranuculus, orchids, winter magnolias, red monkey
flowers, moss and branches covered in lichen throughout the
Linens likewise reflected the rich, autumnal
tones. Napkins came in orange and mustard while the tablecloths
featured orange, crimson and gold. All of these touches
further enhanced the “theater and atmosphere” of the evening.
I am more inclined to plan and cater my own affairs, I found myself
wondering how I could conjure up a soiree as ingenious as Jon’s.
Once again, he offered a brilliant tip. For inspiration he
peruses through gardening, cooking and design magazines. “If the
ideas just won’t come, take a walk in the woods, in your garden or at a
garden center. What do you smell, feel, hear? What colors
do you observe? Take notice of what produce is available at farm
markets during the fall. For every season nature has a way of
telling you what your choices in color, pattern, look or food should
be,” he says.
Long associated with fiery foliage and hearty
foods, autumn additionally possesses close ties to the intrigue as well
as outlandish activities of All Hallows Eve.. Originating in the
ancient Celtic festival Samhain, which translates as “summer’s end,”
Halloween provides idea-strapped party planners with a host of fun
pursuits. From costume parties and competitions to haunted
houses, hayrides and hoe-downs, I have an array of festivities from
which to choose.
Thankfully, I don’t have to
splash out and spend a fortune in order to plan these activities or
host a fantastic bash. In Jon’s case, talented friends supplied
both entertainment and decor. What serving ware, favors and
decorations that he bought most likely came from a dollar store.
In fact, guests ate from glazed sushi plates purchased at a local
dollar shop. “I’ve gotten some beautiful things there,” he says.
with frequenting the dollar store, he advises rummaging around flea
markets for old jewelry and crystal chandelier pieces. “Scatter
the crystal over your table, add some candles and you’ll have tons of
light without ever switching on a lamp,” he says, adding that the
chandelier fobs can also dress up dull napkin rings or be draped over
the edge of tables to give them an extra bit of sparkle.
inexpensive and unconventional decoration that he employs is a
blackboard. Placed in the dining room, he and his wife write
messages, draw pumpkins and turkeys, and post menus on it. When
guests' eyes catch the blackboard and its cheery motif, it makes them
feel more in the moment, Jon says.
At the end of the night, when
mere crumbs are left on the buffet table, the decorations droop and all
energy has been spent, I like to hand out favors to departing
friends. Yet, I invariably grapple for weeks beforehand over what
to give. Often I think that rather than bequest the same old
things, I should skip the mementos altogether. Candles.
Votive holders. Kitschy ornaments. Homemade truffles and
breads. Like the marshmallow roasting, pumpkin carving and cider
making-themed nights of yore, these presents have had their days and
Thankfully, Jon is not at a loss for gift
ideas. For a turn-of-the-20th-century party hosted by Irene, he
acquired porcelain bud vases at a dollar store, put a rose in each and
presented one to every attendant. For other events he has created
hand-written menus that he rolled into a scroll, tied with bits of
raffia and presented to each guest. “It doesn’t have to be
expensive. It’s just a token of appreciation of your friends," he
After years of dithering over menus, trinkets and
activities, I now, thanks to Jon Jividen, see how fun and easy autumn
entertaining can be. With a little imagination and effort even I
can host a fall affair to remember.