Despite having played host to a virtual who’s who of the celebrity and entertainment world, Alex Hitz continues to take inspiration from tradition, suffusing each dinner party with wit, whimsy, great wine, and a huge dose of mouthwatering fare. In his new book, The Art of the Host: Recipes and Rules for Flawless Entertaining, Hitz applies the lessons from his upbringing, particularly from those of his mother Caroline and the lavish dinner parties she would throw with his stepfather, Grammy Award-winning symphonic conductor Robert Shaw. From serving impeccable, Southern-inspired comfort food to crossing “racial and religious boundaries of the day, one cheese biscuit at a time,” by inviting artistic luminaries from varying cultural backgrounds, Hitz learned from the host for all hosts. Today, hailed as “the very best host in the world” by the Wall Street Journal, Hitz’s recipes and entertaining tales have graced the pages of the most wonderful shelter magazines of our time. In The Art of the Host, the award-winning celebrity chef shares more than 100 of his tried-and-true dinner party recipe favorites.
Downtown: Your long list of incredible professions includes event designer, columnist, award-winning chef, speaker, and as always, a master host. What came first?
Alex Hitz: Broadway producer… Once I flopped at that, I had to figure something out career-wise.
Downtown: How did all these talents and the knowledge gleaned from each path you took influence where you are now?
AH: I started traveling at a really early age, and I loved food and took in everything around me—there were no phones to distract one, so I actually saw things. Imagine?! Everything you see, feel, taste, and hear influences you in some manner at some point in your life.
Downtown: What can our readers expect from your book?
AH: A total counter-culture experience. A revolution as to what is happening now. I am a true iconoclast, even at this point—a renegade! A hippie! Do not expect to see grey stoneware plates curling up at their edges or any kombucha and/or kale. Let’s call my book: ‘classics with a twist.’
Downtown: What is one of the most important things to take into account as a host? As a guest?
AH: As a host, timing. Never bore your audience. As guest: saying thank you—you’d be surprised how many people forget both of these.
Downtown: What was one of your favorite aspects of putting this book together? What advice would you recommend our readers adhere to if their goal is to become the consummate host?
AH: It is so hard to focus on one single aspect because I loved it all—the testing, the writing, the shooting. As exhausting as the 22-day-long shoot was for this book, I loved every aspect of it. My assistant loved it most when we borrowed two fab cars from Rolls Royce for the tailgating chapter.
Downtown: What about your family’s ‘celebratory’ lives do you think inspired your own?
AH: Thank you so much for reading about them—they were splendid. Both sides of my family believed celebrating wasn’t only for certain periods in life, but rather an integral part of daily life well lived. The big things, the small things—every day is a celebration of sorts.
Downtown: Your life at a young age sounds straight out of a movie! How do you think travel, living and being part of the arts, and having a mother who was ahead of her time influenced you in all that you do?
AH: Again, thank you so much for reading all that—even I dare say it’s a rare story for a cookbook? But yes, I had such wonderful exposure to the best in life so early—and have always had what I like to think of as a fairly keen eye.
Downtown: What is one of your favorite dishes and/or menus to plan for an intimate group of close friends?
AH: I have said this a thousand times but never enough—get or make a really good chicken pot pie, toss a great salad, turn the lights down, and don’t run out of red wine…how bad can it be?!
Downtown: We love your “Always” and “Never” Rules… if you had to choose one from each to instill in each of your readers, which would they be and why?
AH: Starting with always:
ALWAYS Buy the best of whatever ingredient your recipe calls for and plenty of it. Never skimp—whether it’s frozen pizza, fried chicken, or truffles, and caviar. If you’re not feeling generous, cancel your party, but please do not parse-out food. There should always be plenty of leftovers.
I love these two nevers:
- Never stop smiling. At parties, just about anything can go wrong, and often does—things can easily run far out of your control. Never stop smiling, and all will be OK.
- Never plan menus that are trendy or too complicated. Karl Lagerfeld put it best, “The last step after trendy is tacky.”
Downtown: What is one of the most unexpectedly delicious recipes you included and how did you arrive at its creation?’
AH: ‘Tis a bit like asking a mother hen her favorite child or grandchild because I love them all. But, the oven “fried” chicken may be the best thing I have ever tasted, the broccoli and cheddar gratin makes me crazy, and the ultra-chic smoked salmon galette with caviar is a dish I really, really love. And, oh, then there’s the orange bourbon pound cake—did I mention that?
Downtown: We love your annual Oscar party table. Can you share with our readers what you usually serve and why you feel gratified about it?
AH: Simple southern food. While everyone else in LA was busy with the paleo diets or eating the odd lettuce leaf every other Tuesday, I only served fried chicken, corn pudding, broccoli slaw, and salted caramel cake. My guests went absolutely nuts.
Downtown: What would you most like our readers to take away from this book (besides the ability to make these incredible recipes)?
AH: Each and every person should know that if I can do it, they can do it as well!
Downtown: What did you learn about yourself when putting this book together?
AH: That I now need reading glasses.
Downtown: When can we expect your next book?
AH: The sooner the better—this one was 7 years in the making, and it felt like 700! But I’d really love to create one every other year!