How To Throw an Impromptu Winter Dinner Party

With sweater weather in full swing, one New York creative hosts his closest friends for a cozy night in.

Who says you can't have a theme for a simple Friday night in? Wintery forecasts inspired Samuel Masters to have a handful of friends over for a "Sweater Weather Chili Dinner Party," complete with a full-blown set table right in the middle of his apartment.
Who says you can't have a theme for a simple Friday night in? Wintery forecasts inspired Samuel Masters to have a handful of friends over for a "Sweater Weather Chili Dinner Party," complete with a full-blown set table right in the middle of his apartment.

When Samuel Masters calls to tell us he’s throwing a party, we know it’s bound to be a chic affair. After first wowing us with his Wes Anderson-themed holiday gathering and then a black-tie Mardi Gras party, we could only imagine what kind of soirée he had in mind in the post-holiday lull of January. Like all New Yorkers know, the long, cold days of winter can challenge even the most party-loving folks to leave the warm confines of their apartments. But in the mind of a constantly-plotting host, there’s no better time to throw a get-together than when the mercury levels just don’t want to rise.

How To Throw an Impromptu Winter Dinner Party
Host Samuel Masters takes a break from the kitchen to showoff his homemade cornbread in a petite cast-iron skillet.
Host Samuel Masters takes a break from the kitchen to showoff his homemade cornbread in a petite cast-iron skillet.
The dark walls of Masters downtown NYC pad create a cozy environment perfect for an intimate dinner party. 
The dark walls of Masters downtown NYC pad create a cozy environment perfect for an intimate dinner party. 

"With the delayed winter in New York City, I thought it would be a fun time to invite some friends over to celebrate it finally being sweater weather," says Masters. His rules for hosting at home are simple—a good music system (see the party's Spotify playlist here), plenty of booze, linen napkins, and an at-ease host will, without a doubt, result in an effortlessly stylish evening. With the onslaught of cold temperatures as the inspiration, and with a guest list of eight by midweek, the menu for a Friday dinner at home quickly took shape. 

In between the hors d'oeuvres and apéritifs, dinner guests socialized throughout the apartment.  
In between the hors d'oeuvres and apéritifs, dinner guests socialized throughout the apartment.  

While most nights in may involve Netflix and takeout, Masters naturally took an elevated approach to his vision, and didn't cut corners in any of his hosting responsibilities—starting with the menu. Nobody can argue that few dishes pair better with cool temperatures and your favorite knits than a big pot of homemade chili. As the aromatic dish simmered on the stove (check out the hand-me-down recipe below), Masters's friends indulged in honey ricotta toasts with roasted butternut squash ribbons and a balsamic reduction, as well as baked oysters topped with bacon. While there was plenty of wine on hand, Masters offered Old Fashioneds for those looking for a stiffer sip. 

With spirits at the ready and plenty of warm food on hand, no guest left dissatisfied.
With spirits at the ready and plenty of warm food on hand, no guest left dissatisfied.
How To Throw an Impromptu Winter Dinner Party

With an obvious knack for assembling a delectable menu, Masters really shines when it comes to setting a fabulous table. "I decided on my table décor the day of," admits Masters, whose SoHo walk-up doesn’t even yield enough room for a dining table. To ensure his guests would sit down to a properly set dinner, Masters reverted to a tried-and-true small space-living trick. "I have a basic 2’x4’ folding table that I store under my bed," says Masters, who swaps out his coffee table with the temporary furnishing when guests come over. On top of the folding table he adds a 2.5’x5’ piece of oval-shaped plywood to add even more surface space for diners to eat in true comfort. "It’s the perfect size," says Masters, "you can have a conversation [around it] and it’s small enough that you don’t need much to decorate."

From left to right: Masters passed around oysters topped with bacon for guests to snack on before dinner; in lieu of place cards, Masters stiched his guest's intials onto felt napkins; simple arrangments of orange flowers and fresh greenery punctuate the clotch-covered table.
From left to right: Masters passed around oysters topped with bacon for guests to snack on before dinner; in lieu of place cards, Masters stiched his guest's intials onto felt napkins; simple arrangments of orange flowers and fresh greenery punctuate the clotch-covered table.

Masters covered the makeshift table with a rusty-orange felt that he used when creating a backdrop for fashion designer Lela Rose’s Pre-Fall 2016 photo shoot, where the aesthete is a Creative Brand Manager. "I wanted to use all felts for this dinner to compliment the cozy sweater feeling," says Masters, who wrapped a light khaki-colored felt around inexpensive glass flower vases. Even the mustard cocktail napkins were of the same soft, texture—but with a personalized touch. "I sewed everyone’s first and last initial on their cocktail napkin in black-and-white yarn," says Masters, eliminating the need for place cards and giving guests an Instagram-worthy napkin if we’ve ever seen one.  

In the middle of his perfectly-decorated apartment, Masters set up a formal seating area for guests to enjoy a family-style dinner. 
In the middle of his perfectly-decorated apartment, Masters set up a formal seating area for guests to enjoy a family-style dinner. 

Given the on-a-whim nature of the gathering, Masters certainly wasn’t going to skimp on the quality of the place settings. Guests dined off of Match pewter rimmed plates and vintage sterling silver flatware by Gio Ponti for Reed and Barton. "My parents surprised me with 22 place settings for my 30th birthday—now I just need an apartment large enough to seat 22 people!" To complement the elegant spread, Masters playfully adorned each setting with a bag of corn chips to be eaten with the guest's piping hot bowls of chili. And with the drinks still flowing and the music still playing, the evening ended on a sweet note of spiked hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows. "I wanted the dinner to feel casual, and the menu really took a nod from that." Casual, yes—but nonetheless sophisticated. 

For dessert, Masters served skinny mugs of boozy hot chocolate. He found the glasses at a flea market in his home state of Alabama.
For dessert, Masters served skinny mugs of boozy hot chocolate. He found the glasses at a flea market in his home state of Alabama.
Limited square-footage and last minute plans prove little trouble for the design-loving host, who's guests know better than to turn down an invite.
Limited square-footage and last minute plans prove little trouble for the design-loving host, who's guests know better than to turn down an invite.
How To Throw an Impromptu Winter Dinner Party

White Chicken Chili

Serves 8

2  16-ounce cans cannellini beans
1  4-ounce can green chiles
2  large onions, chopped
1  stick butter
¼  cup flour
¾  cup chicken broth
2  cups half-and-half
1  teaspoon ​Cholula hot sauce
1½  teaspoons chili powder
1  teaspoon cumin
½  teaspoon salt
½  teaspoon pepper
5 chicken breasts (if short on time, you can shred two rotisserie chickens by hand)
Monterey Jack cheese (optional)
Sour cream (optional)
Cilantro (optional)
Avocado (optional)

Heat skillet on medium heat with butter and oil. Coat chicken with salt and pepper plus chili powder. Place in skillet and cook about 5-7 minutes, or  cook for a couple of minutes on each side and finish cooking in the oven. Shred chicken when cooled.

Cook onions in a skillet until soft. In large pot, melt 6 tablespoons of butter. Add flour, whisking constantly. Stir in onion, broth, and half-and-half. Continue whisking. Bring to a rolling boil and then simmer. Stir in Cholula and seasonings. Add cannellini beans, chiles, and chicken. Cook over low heat until ready to serve. Serve with Monterey Jack cheese, sour cream, cilantro, and sliced avocado.

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