Simple Entertaining Tips from the Canal House

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Williams-Sonoma partnered with Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, the artisan cooks behind Canal House, to produce our stunning summer catalog. The duo is known for celebrating the everyday joys of cooking and eating, so I took the opportunity to chat with them about how to pull off simple summer gatherings. Read on to hear what they had to say about paying attention to the seasons, working ahead and setting an inviting, family-style table.


Our secret to entertaining is simple: Serve good food and good drink to good company. And choose a menu that can be prepared ahead, which makes for a more relaxed and gentler host and hostess.


We think of ourselves as salt and pepper cooks. You don’t need a lot of fussing and fretting—just a little salt, pepper, (and Champagne). We cook seasonally because that’s what makes sense. We want stews and braises and rich thick soups in February when it’s snowing and blowing. In midsummer, we buy boxes of tomatoes to dress as minimally as we do in the heat. And at the height of the season, we preserve all that we can, to save a taste of summer.


We like things elegant without being overwrought. We like to go for the grand gesture. To begin, we like to gather people at a big table. It’s not fancy; we just cobble four tables together, then cover them with a long sheet of thick brown craft paper from a roll we keep on hand for such occasions. The table is set with a hodgepodge of plates, glasses, and silver, leaving lots of room in the middle for platters. Serving family-style lets the food command center stage. We all help one another serve, which is a real icebreaker as platters are passed from guest to guest.


Then there’s the question of the menu. We try to rein it in: whole roast fish on potatoes, a rich ragù over pappardelle, or braised lamb shoulder with preserved lemons—dishes that don’t need much tending to as they cook. There are always loaves of bread with butter and bowls of leafy green salad. In the fall, our favorite and most dramatic trick is to make soup in a big, beautiful pumpkin.

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