How to Entertain the French Way with Minimal Effort, Maximum Cheese

With a scene-stealing party favorite that basically makes itself.

October 18, 2018
Photo by Rocky Luten

We're pretty sure we've made our love for all things French clear on this site. The food, the culture, the beauty products, even the way they do laundry—Francophilia is a very real thing, and we're here for all of it.

One of the things we most admire about the French way of life is the simplicity in enjoying the small pleasures of the everyday. Whether that's taking in an early evening apéritif or a more leisurely Sunday supper, the focus is always on slowing things down a bit to take it all in.

I had a chance to chat with Elisa Marshall, one of the two founding partners of the popular, highly Instagrammable French café, Maman, about her favorite low-effort ways to bring French country charm into her home during this time of year, when temperatures begin to drop and the convivial start of the holidays can just be seen on the horizon.

"The standard for French fashion also applies to French home decorating and entertaining," she tells me. Here are a few key rules to keep in mind:

  • Keep things simple: Use what you have. Skip the tablecloth for a more relaxed ambience. If you happen to have fresh flowers, great; otherwise, Elisa is currently loving dried florals and greens, which really evoke a fall feeling.
  • Stick to a limited color palette: Don’t overdo the décor and color schemes. Pick two colors, like gray and white or blue and white, and work from there.
  • Throw in a vintage element: Nothing like a special heirloom or well-loved (and well-worn) copper for a fun conversation starter and a touch of elegance.
  • Always treat your guests like family: "Start a meal with an assortment of delicious breads, crudité, and charcuterie followed by family-style dishes that involve the guests, and is a bit more interactive as opposed to formal," Elisa explains.

And if you're short on time (quick―last-minute guests will be here in 20 minutes!), relax, uncork your favorite bottle of wine, and get going on just a couple of tasks:

  • Find your light: "Lighting is so important to set the mood that you want for your party and candle light instantly turns a room into a cozy, intimate setting and makes it more special," Elisa explains. "I like to put tall, unscented candles in varying heights on the bar and at the food station, and use small votives and tea lights to place around the house on my shelves and other surfaces. Tall candlesticks have more visual impact in a dimly-lit room and can provide additional lighting for tables. Tea lights provide an ambient glow. If you want to add more light and sparkle to the table, I love repurposing white holiday tree lights on the tables or in vintage glass jars."
  • Prep a fun, scene-stealing main: Just because you're throwing a last-minute gathering doesn't mean you have to resort to takeout. Do like Elisa and turn to fan-favorite, cheese. "Fondue is one of the simplest meals to plan and prep for and always one of my go-to dinner party meals for a large group," she says. "Not only is it a delicious, interactive, crowd-pleaser (who doesn’t like melted cheese and wine?), but it is super easy to prep and execute. My two favorites are the classics: cheese and chocolate. You can never go wrong dipping anything into those.

Elisa shares more fondue tips: "Comté is one of my favorite cheeses, so I use mostly that, and then I often like to mix in some Tomme de Savoie for some extra kick, along with some Emmental for a creamy rich texture. With Ben (Sormonte, my fellow Maman partner) being French, this dish is traditional for him and close to his heart, so we like to stick with the classics: brioche cubes and boiled potatoes, but I also love incorporating vegetables and meats, and having fun with creative ways to present them.*

"When it comes to the chocolate, you can really use your imagination. I love making homemade shortbreads, macaroons, and having any and all kinds of fruits to dip in. I also love adding a large tablespoon of sour cream to my chocolate fondue, which helps to maintain a smooth texture and also counteracts the sweetness of the chocolate, which is especially nice when dipping in already sweet cookies and fruits. This is one of the easiest meals to prep and 90% of it can be done in advance, leaving a 10-minute or less pre-dinner prep!"

Wine, melty cheese, flattering light... channeling our inner Parisians never felt so easy.

Are you planning your own get-together? Share your favorite party planning and hosting tips with us below!


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Hana is a food writer/editor based in New York.


Aviv October 28, 2018
Where can I find that butter warmer?
Jason P. October 25, 2018
I would very much like the last four words of this headline to be the title of my biography, please. Possibly the last five if we wish to be fancy. Thank you.
Eric K. March 1, 2019

(Sorry, late response.)