Fiesta Friday - My Interview With Andrea Correale, Celebrity Event Planner

Andrea CorrealeA few weeks ago, I was contacted by Andrea Correale's people asking if I needed any Halloween ideas and tips, but alas, you know my Halloween story and there just wasn't any time, but I knew I had to pick her brain on upcoming holiday party tips and ideas, so it was perfect for this week's Fiesta Friday.

But who is this fabulous woman I had the pleasure of speaking with? Andrea Correale is the president and founder of her own catering and event planning empire aptly called Elegant Affairs, famous in Manhattan, the Hamptons and Long Island.

Andrea and her team are frequently sought after by everyone from celebrities to Fortune 500 companies. Andrea's knowledge and expertise on celebrity party planning was featured on VH1's The Fabulous Life: The Hamptons.

For my TV junkies, if you watch The Real Housewives of New York, you know you saw the episode with her working on Jill Zarin's charity event at the Hudson Terrace last fall.

I understand that you are writing your first book on entertaining and recipes?

AC - Yes, I am, it’s if you don’t live in a large, metropolitan area how to use my catering ideas, tips and tools from my experiences. It's geared towards everyday people and how you can use some of my ideas for your own parties. We are still working on a title but it will come out sometime in the summer of 2011.

The holidays are upon us and there are many hot trends out right now, dessert tables, DIY stations, drink stations, etc. Do you see this continuing for the holidays or is there a new trend on the horizon?

AC – Many of my clients are asking for vegetarian, gluten-free and allergy food choices; they definately want more organic and natural foods on the menus. Homeowners are definitely staying away from processed foods.

You’ve worked with some amazing clients with huge budgets, but some of my readers don’t have that luxury. Regardless of your budget, what is the one item or idea that is needed at any holiday party?

AC – Think outside the box to create an amazing table. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to make the table. Go to your local fabric stores, and purchase an beautiful piece of fabric for a table cover. Use double sided tape for the hems. Really make an impact by using large fall leaves on your table and leaves to your existing place mats. You don’t have to spend a ton to make a festive centerpiece. Look around your home for a ceramic bowl or a glass vase and fill it with pears and apples. Use place cards and find someone who can make menu cards. Those details make a big impact.

And speaking of details, what is your must-have for the holidays that will carry through all winter?

AC – I love working with boxwood hedge. Once it dries I add it to an Oasis ring to make it into a wreath and add to it things like little pears, lady apples and gourds. You can pull those out, then add Christmas bows, ornaments, things you can exchange throughout the season. Why use paper napkins? You can invest in some nice linen napkins from places like TJ Maxx for cheap, say a dozen or so and make napkin rings from raffia at each place setting, then change over for Christmas. But just pay attention to how you set your table to match your dining room’s existing décor.

What was your favorite holiday party and why?

AC – Hmm…well, I’ve had the pleasure of attending amazing celebrity parties, I do P. Diddy’s White Party and Russell Simmon’s 4th of July Party, but my favorite is my own Halloween party that I have every year, It is very elaborate and I love to have a surprise during the party. This year we had a 3-course meal, with a table covered with beautiful black velvet with a red rose runner and creepy spiders. I rented a limo bus and after dinner, waitstaff dressed as ghouls banged a gong and asked guests to raise their glasses and follow me. Everyone went outside and got on the bus and we went to a local Haunted Scream House and guests went through. Afterwards, we got back on the limo bus and returned to my house for dessert!

Oh my gosh, that sounds amazing! I bet your friends look forward to your fabulousness every year so I know when they get the invite they get back to you right away, you probably have no problems with RSVPs.

AC – Oh no, you would be surprised, no one RSVPs. Don’t be afraid to make a call if you haven’t heard back from them. Say “I really need to have a headcount, will you be able to make it?”

I’ve put an RSVP date on my invites, every way possible to contact me and I feel like I have to stalk them for an answer.

AC - No, I make one phone call and if I haven’t heard from them, I’m assuming they aren’t coming. Oh, and speaking of the one holiday thing you have to have, is holiday potpourri, it smells amazing and carries through the season. On the stove, add apple cider, lots of cloves and cinnamon sticks, and let that simmer.

In your professional opinion, what makes or breaks a holiday party?

AC - What makes or breaks a party would have to be the flow. You want to make your guests feel comfortable. You need to think ahead of time about where things will be. When guests come in with coats and gifts, it’s a lot to carry, where are they putting their things? If everyone always seems to be in the kitchen, think about where your bar is at. Keep the bar outside in a space where they will mix and mingle. People are like cattle, they will follow each other, so be smart about your flow of traffic.

Lighting is also important, everyone should have dimmers on their lights, they are so inexpensive to install. You would be surprised how many people forget to put on music. Make sure it really blends into the background with the right sound level. With technology like iPods, it's so easy to have great tunes.

Sometimes I find myself still stuck in the kitchen when guests arrive and I know they gravitate towards me, wanting to help and then everyone else, like you said, follows them in.

AC - Get out of the kitchen! Don’t have hot hors d’oeuvres, have cold snack foods, and keep your menu simple. Have a dinner buffet with 2 proteins, veggies and bread. The only you should have to set up is appetizers and the bar, then you can just pop what you need for dinner into the oven to heat up.

Do you have a go-to hostess gift

AC - I don’t do wine or dessert, anything that has to be taken care of, and definitely not cut flowers, they are the worst thing. Who has time to run around, find a vase and cut the flowers? If I do flowers, I would send them beforehand done as a nice centerpiece they can use.

I like to give something I know they wouldn’t normally buy for themselves, like a beautiful set of napkin rings, or place card holders. It could be a set of salt and pepper shakers or a fabulous gravy boat. Something they wouldn’t typically get for themselves would be bathroom towels with their initials, or even cocktail napkins with their initials. It is always something I know they can use later for entertaining and very practical.

Fabulous advice indeed, and I'm so excited to learn that I and probably most of us out there already are on the right entertaining track! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.

Want to keep up with Andrea's fabulousness? Stalk her on Twitter, Facebook (check out their amazing events photos), and her blog.

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