Svitlana Flom is the creator of Art de Fête, a website that is unrivaled for being the most comprehensive food and entertaining site I’ve come across in quite a while. While recipes and cooking play a major and undeniable role in its content, something that continues to draw me to it is the degree to which Svitlana goes to create pleasant eating experiences, a degree far beyond simply cooking and eating. From musical selections to accompany a meal to themed decor, Art de Fête leaves no stone unturned with regard to making the most of a meal. Svitlana recently answered a few of my questions on topics ranging from learning the skill of dining well, the autobiographical nature of art, and more. Prepare to add a new food website to your Favorites list and read on.
Flavorful World: On Art de Fête, you state that you don’t adhere to the rule about never experimenting on friend and family with new recipes. What is the most recent untested dish that you served to friends or family? How satisfied were you with the dish, and why?
Svitlana Flom: I don’t adhere to that rule because I developed the utmost confidence in my abilities to cook well, choose the best ingredients and really feel the recipes that I prepare. Thus far I haven’t had a miss. The most recent example was the poached salmon that I prepared for our early Easter dinner party with our closest friends. The entire menu was an elegant combination of spring dishes like Spicy Crab Cakes, Whole Poached Salmon with Avocado Mayonnaise and Lemon Tart with Whipped Cream & Blueberries for the desert – all impeccably presented. But the star dish of this gathering was undoubtedly the salmon. It turned out incredibly succulent, moist and substantive while at the same time airy and light. Our friends couldn’t get enough and my husband ate the left overs (it was 7 1/2 pounds of fish!) every day for lunch for the next four days in a row! I got this monster of a salmon cut at our local Citarella food market, although I had to order it in advance.
FW: Multiple month-long national food holidays occur during the month of March, including National Noodle Month, National Sauce Month, and National Peanut Month. Tell us about your favorite dish that utilizes any two of the above-named food items.
SF: If your definition of noodles includes pasta then I can tell you that my friends and family absolute love my Seafood Pasta with Zucchini, Pesto & Pine Nuts. I cut the zucchini into pasta-resembling noodle strips and after softening with salt, mix them well with hot linguine. They add a nice, fresh crunch and color to this dish. As for the sauce, I developed an interesting pesto combination of basil, parsley and pine nuts as a creamy green alternative to white sauce. Add the sweetness of seafood like rock shrimp and calamari and watch this zucchini pasta rock to the top the list of your favorite noodle dishes.
FW: What single notion do you most want Art de Fête to impart to visitors about your relationship with food and cooking?
SF: There is no place I’d rather be than sitting at a table with people I love the most. Preparing food that looks as beautiful as it tastes is a wonderfully rewarding experience. Designing a themed décor for each occasion is the actualization of one’s creativity. Combining both is heaven! I apply timeless elegance to basically everything I do (from the way I dress to the way I cook). Therefore, I’d have to say that the one single message is that entertaining is an exciting, creatively fulfilling and culinary rewarding experience. Let’s host another party together! (Virtually, of course!)
FW: Federico Fellini is credited with the quote, “All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.” Several art forms seem to converge at Art de Fête (themed décor and musical meal accompaniment, aside from the cooking, which is itself an art.) Pick one recipe, one décor theme, and one music selection to represent your autobiography, and tell us why you chose them.
SF: While no single event that I hosted completely defines me, I would have to say that the French themed dinner party last year comes close. French seem to practice understated elegance in everything they do-fashion, food, décor and design. I was always drawn to that concept of effortless elegance in everything; sophistication, simplicity, as well as easy comfort. Last October, after our trip to Paris, I felt inspired and hosted a small, intimate dinner for our friends who also love everything French. Of course we played French songs including vintage Edith Piaf, Dalida and my favorite Patricia Kaas. There is just something so warm, relaxing, slightly melancholic and almost nostalgic about the dinner we had.
Moreover, autumn is a wonderful season to entertain at home. I’ve always associated autumn with coziness, warmth, beautiful early sunsets and gorgeous foliage in the Central Park or in Paris as we saw during our visit. For that evening’s décor and in keeping with the palette of the season I festooned the table with calm, earnest pastel colors with a pop of yellow, burgundy and soft shades of grey which are reminiscent of the foliage.
Creating the menu, I tried to incorporate ingredients and foods we tried during our visit but with my own twist and interpretation. The full menu consisted of Coquilles Saint-Jacques; Tuna Niçoise; Lobster Terrine with Saffron Mayonnaise; Duck Burger with Potato Rosette, Foie Gras & Fried Quail Egg and Chocolate Raspberry Tart for desert. My piece de resistance was the terrine, for a while I was infatuated with that classic, esoteric French culinary invention and the art of making it and I was really proud debuting my accomplishments at this dinner. Everything was magical about that evening, the décor, music, food and ambiance. So yes, that was as autobiographical as one dinner gets.
FW: Like you, I can trace my early food discoveries back to my youth spent eating throughout New York City’s food scene. Tell us an ingredient that you first tasted on one of your early NYC outings that has since become a kitchen staple in your home, and why.
SF: When I left Ukraine in 2007 to study for my Master’s Degree in NYC, there was still not that much of a choice available in food stores and markets there, and any produce items that weren’t staples were outrageously expensive. There was also no food culture as we have in the U.S. While it’s different now, I still can’t help but be surprised to hear that asparagus and fennel are now available from time to time when I share recipes with my mom. On my early outings in NYC I boycotted all forms of meat, including poultry because I grew up eating it on daily basis in Ukraine. But I absolutely couldn’t get enough of fish and seafood and for 5 years that was my primary source of protein. Then there were all these novel vegetables such as fennel, cauliflower, asparagus, celery root, kale and arugula – believe me the list is long. But I also found new appreciation for beets, pumpkin, carrots and even radish after trying so many amazingly different preparations and varieties of these staple vegetables here. Mixed berries, passion fruit and pomelo were my new fruit obsessions.
I still love it all, and when in season, there is always an asparagus in my refrigerator which I quickly roast in the oven and serve with poached eggs and salmon. Fennel is my new favorite – raw, braised or seared. I use cherry tomatoes as often as possible – they make a sweet, wonderful addition for lunch salads. I also always have on hand some sort of greens like baby kale, arugula or romaine and fresh berries-organic raspberries, blueberries and black berries.
FW: You are originally from Ukraine. Tell us your favorite traditional Ukrainian dish that is typically served warm. Tell us your favorite traditional Ukrainian dish that is typically served cold. What makes these your favorites?
SF: My favorite warm dish is Borscht; just its mention evokes pleasant and warm childhood memories. Every housewife in Eastern Europe and Russia knows how to make borscht (and trust me, it sounds much better and gentler in Russian) but the recipes for this beet-based wonder differ from family to family and are often made on their traditions. My version is sans meat and has sautéed diced eggplant. A bowl of borscht with a thin slice of black rye bread, good helping of sour cream, sprinkled with chopped dill and chives is my warm comfort!
For a cold dish I’d vote for the traditional Dressed Herring Salad or “Shuba”, which literally means “fur coat” in Russian and is the invariably beloved national dish. The name is derived from the structure of the dish itself. The ingredients are layered with the herring positioned on the bottom and, therefore, “covered” by the “coat” of other components. The layers of flavors provided by seemingly diametrically opposing ingredients such as beets and herring for instance, work amazingly well and all of the components unite to make a pleasing texture in your palate. I make my version light on mayonnaise and with vegetables finely grated to enhance the delicateness of texture and taste. It is absolutely delicious!
FW: After the food and the company in which it is enjoyed, what do you feel is the single most important aspect of learning the skill of dining well, and why?
SF: Dining well is extremely satisfying on so many dimensions. Besides the fact that great food makes your taste buds tingle and your eyes feast on beautiful visual presentations, dining is the social fiber that bridges cultures, beliefs and people’s differences. It is also another level of appreciation of art and craftsmanship that goes into every preparation.
FW: Excluding the name of any of your pre-existing blogs, websites, or print/online personas, tell us what name you would give to your memoir about your culinary exploits?
SF: “Entertaining Made Easy.”
FW: When you aren’t cooking and/or eating delicious foods, how do you most enjoy spending your time?
SF: I love skiing, hiking and being outdoors and travel is my long time passion.