Before I started college, I spent a year studying French and Mediterranean cuisines in culinary school. The decision to go was easily the best and most delicious I’ve ever made. For seven months, I braised and brined and sautéed and never wore makeup. Under ruthless instruction and high heat, I learned to cut carrots into matchsticks and toss salads in wide metal mixing bowls. I internalized that butter and salt can save even the most at-risk dish from disaster and that good food is like love—passionate, restorative, a song.
The truth is my family has always implied as much. Some of my earliest holiday memories are of my grandmother and father in the kitchen together, whipping up too much for too many people. I can picture them now in a mist of smoke and steam and sweat. Pots clanged, and they laughed and sampled and sometimes yelled at each other, and when the guests arrived the table was always immaculate.
When I returned to the States and to the shoebox kitchen of my childhood, I named myself heir to their traditions. I already knew how to cook—now I resolved to host. Like my forbearers, I would collect my friends and get them drunk and make them happy. I imagined my impeccable grandmother emerging in a cloud of perfume and a slick of red lipstick just before dinnertime. I could visualize the nobility of it all. I could taste it.
The first parties were less than regal, unsurprisingly. I spilled on tablecloths and my clothes. I burnt meatballs, dropped an icebox cake on the floor, and undercooked brownies at least three times. But lots of merlot helped. And whenever I distributed portions of the molten chocolate batter over scoops of vanilla ice cream, no one complained.
I have grown more confident since those early days. I bought a corkscrew and once set out a spread for 12 on a Tuesday. But the realities of Manhattan kitchens are not so much the stuff of epicurean fantasy as of grim nightmares. Pulling hot dishes in and out of ovens, washing and rinsing and drying your skin raw—these are the ingredients of a metropolitan gathering. And while I abandoned makeup in culinary school, I was less eager to forgo it at home. Not because I feel unattractive without it. But because embellishment is fun.
After much trial and many, many errors, I have perfected a face for these occasions. It took a long time—I have the burns and scars and unfiltered Instagram photos to prove it. You do not need to make my mistakes.
I have found that deep burgundy lipstick wears best and never fails to complement cheap bottles of Pinot noir. The combination of waxy garnet and liquid grape forms the most effective stain I have ever tried. RMS Living Luminzer makes sweat look intentional, a spritz of Caudalie Beauty Elixir could resuscitate the dead, and waterproof mascara is essential. When I need to mask the effects of a broiling oven and poor circulation, I have come to rely on Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage. It is about as apt to budge as Botox. And yet it rinses off at the end of a long night like a goddamn miracle.
Foundation is less auspicious. I am convinced that the otherwise innocuous product suffocates skin in the kitchen. Do your pores a favor and skip it. Blush is just as superfluous. Given that your oven has been on since noon, I can almost guarantee you will be flushed when the doorbell rings anyway.
But before you open it and uncork something great and sneak a taste of the Bolognese, take a deep breath. You look great.
Photo via ITG.