Called the West Coast Martha Stewart, lifestyle guru and author Jenni Kayne demonstrates the art of hosting 16 industry insiders — from Molly Sims to Johnny Knoxville — each with their own particular palate: "I eat meat twice a day but didn’t even miss the stuff."
With today's shifting smorgasbord of dietary allegiances and restrictions — vegan! gluten-free! paleo! — throwing a dinner party in Los Angeles can be like running a gauntlet. "I'm sympathetic since I'm one of those picky eaters," says interior and fashion designer Jenni Kayne, whose new book, Pacific Natural: Simple Seasonal Entertaining, positions her as a West Coast Martha Stewart (who wrote the foreword). "I'm a vegan who eats fish and eggs" but no other dairy, explains Kayne with a laugh. On a recent Wednesday evening, the lifestyle guru and her husband, real estate agent Richard Ehrlich (who doesn't eat red meat), hosted a "typical" dinner for 16 on the lush grounds of the Brentwood home they share with three children, two dogs and two rabbits.
So how does an expert hostess prepare for such a multi-dietary occasion? "I make sure that there's at least one or two dishes for everyone," Kayne says of the party that will bridge Middle Eastern and Indian flavors via a plant-based menu featuring such ingredients as cauliflower, spinach, avocado blossom and eggplant.
Kayne doesn't get overly obsessed about dietary restrictions, but a week before the event, she does inquire about food allergies and preferences. The emailed reply of Eve Somer Gerber, co-founder of the trauma-healing charity Heart, yields the most laughs from Kayne and Ehrlich. Says Gerber, "I exclusively eat red meat, dairy, carbs and sugar."
As it turns out, half the guests are hard-core carnivores. "You know, I eat meat twice a day," says guest Johnny Knoxville, whose wife, actress Naomi Nelson, also eats red meat. Knoxville adds, "But when I come to Jenni's house, the food is amazing, and I don't even miss the stuff."
Another of the night's meat eaters, Captain Fantastic producer Jamie Patricof, testifies to not feeling bereft at the lack of animal proteins at the party: "Every time I'm around Jenni, it's almost like going to a retreat for me."
Additional carnivores on the invitation list include designers Molly Isaksen and Greg Lauren (husband of guest Elizabeth Berkley) and publicist Ali Taekman.
Pre-dinner cocktails begin indoors. "I make people their first drinks around a bar I've set up in the living room, so they can get a cocktail whenever they want," Kayne explains of her laid-back approach, eschewing the more typical Hollywood habit of hiring a serving staff. Her system, which frees her up to be a guest at her own dinner party, involves lining up labeled, chilled and pre-batched ingredients with beautiful glassware. On this occasion, Kayne serves honey-sweetened mock cocktails or cocktails that incorporate mezcal or tequila and vodka, such as a rose mezcal paloma that involves boiling a simple syrup beforehand using organic dried rose petals. (See THR.com/Style for this and other recipes.)
The hostess also keeps great white and red wines on hand from Helen's (located in the back of Jon and Vinny's Fairfax). The natural wines hail from small vineyards and are made from organically farmed grapes, without sulfites or additives.
"Something like this feels effortless, but the attention to simplicity and detail and how Jenni curates it all is just impeccable," says Berkley, who eats eggs but is otherwise vegan, as she surveys the home that combines Connecticut charm and Southern California sustainability (no single-use plastic water bottles are allowed on the premises).ROSE MEZCAL PALOMA MOCK- OR COCKTAIL RECIPE
Start by making the rose honey simple syrup with 3 cups filtered water, 2 cups honey, 2 cups organic dried red rose petals, 4 cups grapefruit juice, 2 cups lemon juice and 1 bottle sparkling water. Optional: mezcal or tequila
In a small, non-reactive stock pot, bring the water, honey and the organic dried rose petals to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 30 minutes so the rose petals can sufficiently infuse. After 30 minutes, turn off the heat and let cool to room temperature, then pour into a large glass jar, including the rose petals. (This simple syrup will stay good in the fridge for up to one month.)
In a large pitcher, pour: 1/2 cup rose honey simple syrup, 1/2 cup fresh lemon or lime juice, 2 cups fresh grapefruit juice and 1 cup sparkling water. If you want to make a cocktail add a 1/2 cup mezcal or tequila. Stir and serve; makes 36 ounces.
On a greenery-filled brick patio, a table is transformed with candles, white dishware and bright yellow linens to ensure a pop of color long after the sun goes down.
Over conversations that range from what people are binge-watching on Netflix to spending time in Lake Tahoe with family, attendees tuck into a baby gem salad and summer vegetable coconut curry, accompanied with saffron rice and coconut lime rice, plus an array of chutneys and gluten-free chidori bread for paleo dieter and designer Ambre Dahan, who along with a few other guests is avoiding wheat gluten.
The menu is one Kayne created with chef Lori Stern, who incorporated edible flowers like bachelor button from her Santa Barbara garden. Not only do they add color, "they also have medicinal benefits," says Stern. (Bachelor button, aka cornflower, can be made into a tea to help with fever, among other uses.)
Guests like gluten- and dairy-free Kelly Sawyer Patricof, co-president of the nonprofit baby2baby, and pescatarian Molly Sims and her carnivorous husband, Netflix's original films head Scott Stuber, mingle over eggplant "meatballs" spiced with flowering-plant sumac in a sauce made from cashews and saag, or spinach. The sauteed, baked and deep-fried "meatballs" get their full-bodied texture from ground flaxseeds, while the saag sauce derives richness from a cream that starts with soaked and blended cashews. To plate, Kayne spreads the saag sauce onto a large platter, drizzling cilantro cashew sauce and placing the fried eggplant meatballs on top, then garnishing with nasturtium flowers. Samosas filled with pink beets, peas, purple cauliflower and potatoes seasoned with turmeric are also served.
The menu is ideal for Sims, who stopped eating red meat, dairy and gluten in January. "It's changed my life," says the actress. "I can eat more and have more energy than ever before." Cutting out red meat except for once or twice a year also has been a game-changer for Jesse Ehrman, Warner Bros. executive vp production, whose wife, makeup artist Katie Fine, is gluten-free. "I became a pescatarian four years ago," Ehrman says. "I noticed that I was having an animal protein with almost every meal."
To satisfy current and former meat eaters, Kayne tries "to make sure there is something more substantial like cauliflower steak or mushrooms — or in this case, the jackfruit tikka masala" as a main course. The designer relies on meat-mimicking jackfruit, flavored with tomatoes and a garam masala spice blend cooked in a large pot on the stove, to add an element of heartiness to the meal. "I think if you have lots of different veggies with delicious flavors and a starch or carb, everyone leaves satisfied, even if you're used to eating meat," she says. "People always leave feeling lighter but like they indulged."
JACKFRUIT TIKKA MASALA
1 can jackfruit, drained, rinsed and strained; 2 tablespoons olive oil; 1 teaspoon kosher salt; 1 large onion, finely chopped; 2 garlic cloves, minced; 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced; 2 tablespoons garam masala spice blend; 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder; 1 teaspoon organic coconut sugar; 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper; 1 teaspoon organic tomato paste; 1 28-ounce can organic whole plum tomatoes. Optional garnish: lots of fresh cilantro leaves, flowers and 1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds
In a large enameled dutch oven or pot, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil until simmering. Add the onion, salt, garlic and ginger and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender and golden, about 6-8 minutes. Add the garam masala, chili powder, tomato paste and cayenne pepper and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the coconut sugar and tomatoes with their juices, breaking up the whole tomatoes as your pour into the pot. Season with salt and pepper.
Lower the heat to a simmer and partially cover the pot, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes. Break up the jackfruit into shreds and put into the pot of simmering sauce, keeping the pot partially covered, for an additional 10-20 minutes or until the jackfruit is completely combined and the sauce starts to thicken. If at any point the sauce looks too thick, add several tablespoons of filtered water. When the sauce has reduced and thickened just slightly, it is ready to serve. Pour into a serving bowl and sprinkle on the toasted sliced almonds, cilantro leaves and flowers.
EGGPLANT "MEATBALLS" IN SPINACH CASHEW SAAG SAUCE
2 tablespoons ground flax seeds; 1/4 cup warm water; 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided; 1 medium onion, diced; 3 garlic cloves, minced; 1 medium Italian eggplant (about 1 lb.), peeled and very finely diced; 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped; 1/4 cup nutritional yeast; 1 cup almond flour; 1 teaspoon cumin; 1 teaspoon coriander; 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt; 3 cups grapeseed oil for frying
First make the flax egg by whisking the flax seeds and warm water together in a small bowl, allowing the mixture to sit for at least 10 minutes until thick. While the flax egg is thickening, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in skillet. Add the onion and salt and saute on medium heat until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin and coriander and continue to saute until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Add the eggplant and continue to cook for an additional 10-15 minutes, flipping occasionally, or until the eggplant is soft and browned in spots. Allow to cool completely.
Place the eggplant mixture into a large mixing bowl, along with the flax mixture, and stir in all remaining ingredients. Mix well (hands work great here), and then shape the mixture into 1-inch balls (about 20 of them).
Arrange the meatballs on the baking sheet and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
When the meatballs are cold, pour your oil into a large pan with higher than 4-inch sides, so that the oil is about 2 inches high. Heat the oil on high until it is almost smoking. Turn down the heat to medium to keep that temperature constant. Carefully put the meatballs into the oil, do not overcrowd. Move them around in the hot oil until they are slightly brown on all sides. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel-lined plate. Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to fry the meatballs in batches. Once the meatballs are all fried, set aside.
SAAG SAUCEIngredients1.5 cups raw cashew pieces; 2 cups filtered boiling water; 6 cups fresh spinach, washed; 2 cups dinosaur kale, washed and thinly sliced; 1/3 cup fresh cilantro, leaves removed from stems; 1 small onion, chopped; 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced; 3 garlic cloves, minced; 2 tablespoons olive oil; 1/2 cup vegetable broth or filtered water; 1 tablespoon lemon juice; 1 teaspoon cumin; 1/2 teaspoon saltInstructionsFirst make the cashew cream. Put the 1.5 cups cashews in a large, wide-mouth mason jar and pour in the 2 cups boiling water. Let sit for at least 1 hour or overnight. Once the cashews are soaked and soft, pour off 1 cup of the liquid and blend until the cashew cream is the same thickness as yogurt, adding more water if necessary, and set aside.Pour the olive oil into a deep saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions and salt and saute for several minutes, adding the ginger, garlic and cumin, sauteing until fragrant. Put the spinach, kale and vegetable broth or water into the pan and turn down the heat to medium low, cover and let the greens steam, checking every couple of minutes until the greens are sufficiently wilted. Set aside and let cool completely.Take your cashew mixture and reserve 1/4 cup in a separate mason jar. Using a handheld blender, blend the reserved 1/4 cup cashew cream with 1/3 cup cilantro and a pinch of salt, adding a few tablespoons of water so the consistency is that of a loose smoothie. This lighter green sauce will be used to drip onto the plated eggplant meatballs in saag.Combine the remaining cashew cream with the spinach, kale and onion mixture and add the lemon juice. Using a handheld blender, blend completely until the consistency is like a sauce, adding tablespoons of water as necessary.Spread the saag sauce onto a large platter and drizzle the light green cilantro cashew sauce in an artful way. Place the fried eggplant meatballs spaced apart onto the saag sauce and decorate with nasturtium flowers.
As a finisher, guests enjoy a rich take on chocolate pudding — a raw avocado pot de creme hazelnut pie with avocado blossom and maple candied hazelnuts, which requires only a food processor to prepare. Ultimately, letting specific food preferences inform but not restrict the meal allows Kayne to feel less stressed, and guests very satisfied, as they depart with one of the host's homemade gifts: floral-infused body oil. Each name-tagged flagon doubles as a place holder at the top of the evening so that attendees know where to sit at the dinner table — as well as what to look forward to long after they've gone.
RAW AVOCADO POT DE CREME HAZELNUT PIE WITH CANDIED AVOCADO BLOSSOM AND MAPLE CANDIED HAZELNUTS
The Pot de Creme on its own is a chocolate pudding like no other. It’s also easy and healthy to make.
2 large ripe avocados, cut into chunks; 1/2 cup organic grade B maple syrup; 1/4 cup organic raw cacao (or cocoa powder); 3 tablespoons melted coconut oil; 1 tablespoon fair trade vanilla extract; 1/4 teaspoon sea salt (optional); 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, cardamom or ginger (optional)
Place the avocados in the food processor and blend for a minute or so. Next, add all the other ingredients and blend until very smooth (like pudding). Add salt and spices if you wish. Spoon into bowls and serve.
A version of this story first appeared in the July 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.