A professional hostess on running a Château and planning ahead.
“We set out to buy an apartment in Paris and ended up buying a Château in the countryside instead,” Suzie muses. “It’s only an hour by train from Paris, so I feel we got the best of both worlds.”
Nine years ago, fellow Aussie, Suzie Jackson and her former husband bought the 200-year-old Château de la Carrière in France's quiet and romantic Mayenne department. They split their time between Australia and France. After they separated, Suzie decided to move to France full-time to establish her business and run the Château.
Now, after years of renovations and a spectacular garden designed by Australian landscape designer Paul Bangay, she hosts guests, weddings, and other events, including our Blue Illusion French Experience.
Holiday Hosting Like a Pro
Create Château-chic at Home
“I think the key to decorating is to have a plan and to give yourself enough time to do it.”
While the Château has an entire room dedicated to styling, Suzie shares some of her tips on how to create a beautiful and unique look at home with items you already have.
Her advice is to start early and not leave everything to the last minute. Of course, some things are perishable, like flowers, but there are little things you can do to prepare even fresh decorations in advance. For example, Suzie likes to use moss, sticks, pinecones, and other natural materials from the outdoors in her settings for their festive appeal. To keep the moss healthy, she sprays them with water every few days until the big day.
She also suggests choosing a colour or colour scheme to unify your designs. This year Suzie opted for reds and golds, and in some rooms, chose a less-traditional silver and pink—très chic for a summer Christmas.
Suzie’s quick tip: Candles or fairy lights can be set up in advance and add a romantic ambiance. Put some baubles on a mantle, place fairy lights between them, add a reindeer et voila!
“The table is really about bringing people together."
Guests aren’t going to remember if all of your place settings match perfectly. They will remember if they had a good time sitting around the table.
If you don’t have enough of the same plates, don’t be afraid to mix and match. The secret is alternating so it looks deliberate. You can also put your napkin on the plate so it’s less visible.
“You can make anything look more special if you just take your napkin and put a Christmas bauble or a sprig of holly around it.”
Line the table with candles and some greenery down the centre for an easy, inexpensive, and fabulous finish.
As someone who does all of the cooking for the Château, which can be over five thousand plates of food throughout the summer months, Suzie admits, “Cooking for any more than six people at once is not easy. It’s a lot of food, a lot of preparation, and a lot of coordination. You have to almost accept that, at times, it will be a little stressful.”
Luckily, she shares that there are things we can do to lessen the burden and liven the celebrations:
1. Design a menu that works together. For example, three different roasted dishes may sound exciting but might not be achievable with only one oven. Be realistic about what you and your kitchen can handle. Less is more.
2. Recruit your family and friends by asking them to prepare some of the menu items. To make sure the dishes work together, be specific about what you need. Suzie suggests things like potato salad that can be served cold or roasted veggies that can be quickly reheated.
3. Give yourself enough time. Lunch at 2 might mean getting up at 6 am to start the turkey or whatever you have decided to prepare. She suggests you work backward from when you would like to serve lunch or dinner and then be realistic about how long that will take.
Drinks & Dessert
To get your guests involved and take the pressure off yourself, create a drink trolly and have your guests mix their own drinks. Simple and classic combos like prosecco and cranberry juice or even just bottles of white wine or champagne work beautifully.
Suzie’s pro tip is to prepare meringues or cookies that can be made in advance. That way, if you didn’t have enough time to decorate them, turn it into a competition for your guests. A meringue decorating competition is a wonderful way to turn a stressful moment into a fun game that your people will love and remember.
Accept that things go wrong and give yourself a break. Even professionals make mistakes. To keep herself on track, Suzie makes lists.
Suzie's Christmas Meringue Wreath Recipe
3 egg whites
180 grams of white sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla essence
2 teaspoons cornflour
The secret to making a good meringue is to ensure your bowl is clean and dry, the egg whites are at room temperature and to beat them on medium speed so the air is incorporated gradually – creates a much stronger meringue.
Put egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk until stiff peaks – then gradually add sugar– 1 dessertspoon at a time beating well between each addition – will take 20-30 minutes for the sugar to be incorporated so you need to be patient. Add vanilla essence and cornflour and mix till combined.
Put spoonfuls of meringue mix onto a tray lined with baking paper and flatten the top – they can be anywhere from 5-8cm in size depending on how many you want to make – bake in 150 degrees Celsius oven for 45 minutes. Turn the oven off and leaving the door slightly ajar allow the meringues to cool completely in the oven. This ensures they are nice and crisp. I usually make them of a night time and leave them in the oven overnight. Store in an airtight container with grease-proof paper between layers. They can be made several days before you use them.
To Assemble the Wreath
10-12 Meringues – either made with the recipe provided or you can use ready-made meringues
200 grams thick cream
200 grams mascarpone
Fruit for decoration ie berries, mango, kiwifruit, grapes, passionfruit – whatever you prefer or is in season
Edible flowers or micro herbs (optional)
Arrange the meringues in a circle on a large plate or board. Combine the cream and mascarpone and then top each meringue with a spoonful of the cream mixture. Then decorate with fruit, edible flowers and micro herbs. You can put as much or as little decoration as you want. Dust lightly with some icing sugar and serve. Best to assemble just before serving.
We are so grateful to Suzie for taking the time to share her holiday hosting tips with us, and look forward to many more collaborations on all things fabulous, flirty, and French!
Joyeux noël et à bientôt!