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A Summer Brunch with Mitchell Crosby

July 2017
A Summer Brunch with Mitchell Crosby
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The Charleston native pulls out all the stops for business events as well as when entertaining at home

“It’s always a party at JMC Charleston!” Mitchell Crosby exclaims, as he cheerfully opens the door to his Old Windermere home. The oft-heard declaration is also the slogan of his event design business that, for 14 years, has created bespoke experiences for corporate clients—from a sexy Thomas Crown Affair-themed dinner (complete with faux heist) at the Gibbes Museum of Art for a local law firm to a glitzy reception atop the dramatically lit flight deck of the USS Yorktown for a Fortune 100 company.

The Charleston native similarly pulls out all the stops when entertaining at home with his partner Randall Felkel, but with a much smaller guest list and a different mission in mind. “The same planning principles apply,” says Mitchell, “but the focus is totally different. It’s more about taking care of our friends, new and old, and less about the vintage of the wine or the logo on the menu card.”

Here, the party pro (and Charleston’s entertaining style editor) delivers the details for a summer brunch for 10, sharing his industry expertise and tricks for keeping your cool during the sultry season.

Mitchell’s Tips:

■ Take inventory. It’s good to know the number of guests your house can handle, he advises. “Our home can accommodate up to 10 for a seated dinner, 40 for a lap buffet, and 70 if we use the garden.” This exercise will help you define your guest list and restock your entertaining supplies.

■ Pick a focus. Think about what or whom you are celebrating and how that best translates into the time of your party, the menu, and the decor. “We chose ‘Breakfast at Wimbledon’ for this July gathering because we’re Anglophiles and we love the tradition of it. And what better excuse to get together with friends on a hot Sunday?”

■ Create a timeline. “This seems obvious, but if you write it out and accomplish most of your to-do list well in advance, you can truly be present and enjoy your guests.”

Mix Master

Having mapped out venues across the Lowcountry for events large and small, Mitchell knows how to keep a party moving. “It’s all based on guest comfort and the flow of your home,” he says. For this gathering, he set the buffet in the dining room with additional seating and tennis-watching in the living room. The bar is outside on the porte cochere, and an adjacent porch serves as a lounge. “Placing the bar in an open place away from the food always works. This creates an ebb and flow throughout the spaces,” he advises. As for what to serve, the host selected the quintessential British summer drink, the Pimm’s Cup (see recipe, page 96), as one offering. “It’s citrusy and a bit spicy and lower in alcohol—so refreshing, perfect for a midday tipple.”

Set the Bar:

■ Hire a pro. If you’re hosting a number of people beyond a few friends, Mitchell always suggests a bartender. “They can help you set up, break down, and keep an eye on those who have had a bit too much to drink.”

■ Have nonalcoholic options. “At chef José Andrés’s restaurant Zaytinya in Washington, D.C., I recently enjoyed a drink featuring elderflower, mint, lime, and club soda and garnished with skewered ribbons of cucumber. So very delicious!”

■ Set up the night before. “Add ice and go is my mantra.” And always have extra ice in coolers and backup wine and beer in the fridge.

■ Offer a small snack. “Think cheese wafers, especially the perfect ones with the pecan in the center, or cheese straws, or slightly spicy pecans. My mother roasts hers with garlic salt and Worcestershire. Sublime.”

■ Chill out. “Hide an oscillating fan in the shrubs so that when your guests are requesting libations, they have a cooling moment.” Another cool trick: frozen wash cloths. “I picked this up from Ivan Goldberg, a D.C. event planner who is from Charleston. Simply roll the cloths, soak in water, spray with rose water, and freeze overnight. Offering them to guests as they sit for dinner or as the party heats up is a nice touch. Make it your own.”

Be Their Guest

In planning the decor and the menu for his and Randall’s “Breakfast at Wimbledon” brunch, Mitchell eschewed literal thematic concepts for something more subtle. “We thought about what someone in England might do in their home.” With plenty of silver serving pieces and china collected and given by friends over the years, they set the dining table with an antique cloth and a sterling tureen filled with hydrangea and roses for the buffet, which included scones, strawberries with minted cream, Randall’s breakfast strata, and Mrs. Hamby’s tomato and cucumber rounds. “Traditionally, before I open a buffet, I bring everyone together and thank them for being here, offer any housekeeping notes (additional seating in the garden, Cips will come see us after dessert, introductions of any special guests), and then talk through the buffet. I find if we can share where a receipt came from or if something is a family tradition, it helps spark conversation.”

Tabletop Tips:

■ Outsource, outsource, outsource. “As much as Randall and I love to cook, there are times when we need to supplement.” For a brunch buffet, he suggests selecting a handful of dishes you can prepare with ease and getting the rest from your favorite caterer, gourmet-to go, or bakery. “Many will present the items on your trays if you order well in advance. Pick them up ready to go—magic!”

■ Serve cold or room temperature food. “Why heat up the house when there are so many great items to serve chilled?”

■ Think about how a dish will look when it is empty. “This is where garnishes come into play. A layer of lettuce beneath the shrimp keeps the bowl from looking ravished; Large radishes from the farmers market bring color to the egg strata platter—wipe them with vegetable oil to add a gleam.”