Sunday, March 3, 2024

The Dinner Party Series: Winter With Jess Molina – Pasta, Pinot Gris & How to Get All the Goss

So much of life’s best memories are shared around the dinner table, and no matter what season it is, it’s always a great time to gather your favourite people, share some good food and great wine, and spend some quality time. 

But everyone’s dream dinner party looks a little different, so we’ve gone to some of our favourite people to ask just what they’d be serving up at their ideal evening soiree, as well as all the little, juicy details of who’d make the guest list, what’s on the playlist and what’s on the table itself! 

This month we chat to influencer, writer, thought-leader & Sunday cooking lover Jess Molina about her dream table. (And click here for our previous instalment with the gorgeous Kanoa Lloyd!)

Proudly brought to you by our pals at Villa Maria

What is your secret to throwing a fun but non-stressful dinner party? 

Assume your guests are super hungry and shop accordingly! That way you’re not stressing if you have enough food or not… also you’re covered in case more people turn up! Try and do as much prep as you can in the morning so you can have a nap in the afternoon before you prep the big feast. 

What is the best dinner party you’ve ever been to and why? 

Back when I was living in Hamilton, my friend group consisted of people I met on Twitter through a hashtag called #lovethetron. Hamilton is such a fabulous city with the most interesting people! I was the youngest in the group and it was an eclectic mix of people from CEOs to the Bishop (who is the coolest person ever and had her own Twitter hashtag as #mybish). My favourite one was our Christmas lunch at the Lido Cinema in Hamilton. We sat at the long table and someone brought a casserole from home and dessert and we ate there! 

What is your go-to meal to cook? 

If I’m in a pinch, I’d make pasta. If I had more time I’d go with a nice steak and side dishes situation. 

Do you have any particular chefs/cooks/cookbooks/cuisines you would 100% trust to make a meal from for a dinner party? 

I’m not so much a cookbook person as I don’t like following recipes. I guess that’s why I’m crap at baking. Measuring and all that takes the fun out of cooking for me haha. I’ve only ever made an Ottolenghi recipe. I think it was the eggplant with pomegranate salad which was so good!

Do you have a go-to conversation starter? “So what’s the goss?” – vague, broad, and open-ended. People just spill whatever when I ask them that!

What topics do you love to talk about at a dinner party? Anything and everything. It depends who I’m with! My favourite though is when the conversations get deep and we start talking about our big dreams and goals. Also I know it’s controversial but I like to talk politics and social justice over a meal, usually with close friends!

What’s your favourite food and wine pairing for a dinner party? I love a good Pinot Gris and luckily that works on so many levels! It’s even the secret ingredient to my mushroom sauce that goes nicely on top of steak and mashed potatoes!

What’s your menu? Chips and dip for grazing, salads, a main with side dishes. If I’m serving pasta, I have to serve it with some sort of meat or protein otherwise I feel like it’s not complete. Then dessert and coffee afterwards plus more grazing with chips and chocolate etc

What’s your tablescape theme? I love a white linen tablecloth situation! I collect dinnerware so it depends on what I’m serving. The food usually dictates what type of look I’m doing with the tablescape. I have two different sets of black dinnerware and I tend to go for the oddly shaped, organic looking one! Then mismatched glassware!

What is the most memorable dinner party you’ve ever thrown? 

I decided at the very last minute to host a dinner party for the season finale of The White Lotus. I looked at the people who responded to a “should I have a dinner party’ poll on Instagram and just put them all on a group chat late Sunday and asked if anyone would be keen. None of them really knew each other and some I’ve never even met IRL, but just followed on IG! That’s how I ended up with a dinner party with a cool group of gals who were strangers to each other at the beginning of the evening. They left at around midnight on a Monday so it was a very successful night! I really didn’t have time to prepare so I looked in my fridge/pantry to see what I had. I always have ingredients for my famous spaghetti bolognese and it fit the Italian theme. My mum helped me style the table and we brought out family heirloom pieces like a water jug from my grandma who I never got to meet. I went to a farmers market the day before so I decided to use fresh produce as a tablescape element and scattered these gorgeous fruits and veggies around the table.

Who are your top three dream dinner party guests and why?  Michelle Yeoh because she is everything, Sophie Kinsella because she made me want to be a writer and I would like to pick her brain, and Jennifer Coolidge because I feel like she would make the night very interesting!

If you can impart one piece of advice for hosting a dinner party, what is it? Relax and have fun with it! If all else fails, get good takeaway, lay them out family style, and bring out the good dinnerware and candles!

What is the role of wine at a dinner party? It turns eating into an experience when paired with food!

What is your go-to comfort wine for a dinner with friends? Pinot Gris forever! With a few bottles of sparkling thrown in for good measure.

A Girls’ Guide to Wine by Villa Maria winemaker Kat Jankowiec: All there is to know about Pinot Gris!

Looking for the perfect white wine for your dinner? Look no further, Pinot Gris has you covered. There is thirst around the world for this style of wine. Not many people are aware that Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are one of the same thing, just in different expressions. The Pinot Grigio style is typically a light, acidic wine with subtle aromatics of lemon. Pinot Gris on the other hand turns the volume up. It is a true crowd-pleaser and a perfect dinner companion. Pinot Gris matches a wide range of food beautifully and can also be enjoyed just on its own. 

The Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Gris is a wonderful expression of the variety. The wine is laced with beautiful aromatics of pears, apples and heady florals. Ripe stone fruits mingle with honeysuckle notes and end in a pleasing, slightly off dry finish that leaves you salivating for more.

Table styling by Holly Page at Lay Me Down, photographs by Robert Trathen

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