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Photo by Dianna Marr

This Denver Company Produces the Coziest Dinner Parties Imaginable

Thanks to "experience company" Feast, the hottest reservation in town is for a meal in your own home.

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How did Denver creative Hannah Howard make the transition from owner of calligraphy and styling studio Ink & Root to founder of Feast, a full-service “experience company” that produces the loveliest, coziest, most hassle-free dinner parties imaginable? Turns out, the shift happened quite naturally—and it all started with Howard’s looping, lyrical script. Soon after launching Ink & Root in 2016, Howard began teaching others how to hand-letter invitations, signs, and such during intimate calligraphy workshops, where guests would gather around a beautifully decorated table to learn and create (while enjoying expertly styled food and drink). It wasn’t long before Howard noticed that some guests were attending the same class again and again—and that they weren’t just coming for the education. “I started to realize that what people loved was being at this beautiful table, where for two hours, they didn’t have to think about a thing,” she says.

A gorgeous grazing board–overflowing with cheeses, nuts, fruits, and vegetables—greets guests at every Feast fête. Photo by Dianna Marr.

Howard recognized the potential for a new business, and after experimenting with several concepts—styling classes, dinner party rentals—she landed on the one that gives clients the feeling of comfort and warm hospitality she was after. Feast, which launched in November 2018, ticks both boxes (and then some) by producing every element of a perfectly polished dinner party for groups of 10 to 70, including customized, chef-prepared menus paired with cocktails and wine; professional styling (read: gorgeous tablescapes complete with menus and place cards hand-lettered by Howard); and a seasoned staff to handle delivery, setup, dinner service, and cleanup.

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Last fall, Howard (who still helms Ink & Root in her, er, free time) gathered some of her closest friends at a hillside home in Vail to celebrate the launch of her new venture. Dinner was served al fresco, where a modern, Nordic-style tablescape (one of Feast’s four available settings; more are in the works) complemented views of the valley’s fall color. Here, Howard shares the ingredients of the oh-so-inviting evening.

Photo by Dianna Marr

The Mood: There’s an element of theater in Howard’s thoughtfully orchestrated evenings. “We always start with a cocktail hour so that everyone can settle in and go to the table together,” she says. “I love that moment when everyone sees everything for the first time.” Next, she advises hosts to begin the meal with a greeting. “There’s a reason why you chose this specific group, so let your guests know why you’ve invited them,” she says. Post toast, she pauses for 10 to 15 minutes before serving dinner, “creating this little moment for guests and hosts to soak it all in.”

Howard’s high-contrast tablescape—a light pine table topped with dark dishware, flatware, and chairs—makes a strong style statement amid the Vail Valley’s golden aspen trees. Photo by Dianna Marr.

The Table: To create a modern-yet-cozy vibe, Howard paired a sleek pine table (made by her husband) with matte-black seats (stackable plastic chairs inspired by Hans Wegner’s iconic Wishbone design) topped with plush sheepskin throws. She left the tabletop bare to better highlight contrasting tableware: gray-toned bowls and plates custom-made by a Moscow ceramist; Portuguese flatware in matte-black metal; Bulgarian stonewashed-linen napkins; and “very architectural, super-modern” glassware. Glass vases—holding single blooms or sprigs of greenery—and taper candles in brass holders march down the center of the table. “I like using multiples instead of just one centerpiece, so everyone gets to enjoy something,” Howard says. “Mixing different heights and sizes keeps the eye from being drawn to just one spot. We want people to look at—and enjoy—the entire table.”

Photo by Dianna Marr

The Food: Stauffer’s menus are abundant and seasonal, with a focus on colorful local produce. The event always begins with a grazing board piled high with charcuterie, cheeses, fruits, and nuts (“the key to the look is creating depth,” Howard says). Up next on this autumnal evening: classic fall flavors, including a beet, orange, and fennel salad with orange-balsamic dressing; toasted farro and slow-roasted squash topped with local sheep’s-milk feta and preserved lemon; a local pork tenderloin; and, to finish, a fig and mascarpone tart spiked with pistachios and black pepper.

Feast’s head chef Amber Stauffer creates customized menus for each event using local, seasonal ingredients whenever possible; most of the meal is prepared offsite, and everything is finished—and plated—just before serving. Photo by Dianna Marr.

Recipes

Feast’s head chef Amber Stauffer shares a few of her favorite recipes for a cozy autumn meal.

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Berbere-Spiced Carrot and Butternut Squash Soup
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 yellow onion, medium diced
3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium shallot, minced
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 tablespoon Berbere seasoning (Stauffer finds hers at a Savory Spice shop)
Salt and pepper
3 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
5 carrots, trimmed and cut into 1.5-inch rounds
4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
¼ cup whole raw cashews
1 15-ounce can full-fat coconut milk
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
3 green onions, thinly sliced on the bias
Olive oil, for garnish

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté for 6 to 7 minutes, until the onions have softened. Add the garlic, shallot, ginger, and Berbere seasoning, and stir for 30 seconds until fragrant, taking care not to burn the mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add the butternut squash and carrots to the pot and pour in the broth. Cover the pot and bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to medium and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, until the vegetables can be pierced with a fork.

While the vegetables are simmering, toast the cashews: Heat a heavy-bottomed pan on medium heat, add the cashews in a single layer, and toast for approximately 5 minutes, shaking the pan to prevent burning.

Once the vegetables are soft, add the coconut milk to the vegetable mixture. Using a regular blender or a stick blender, purée the mixture until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add a bit of water. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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Ladle the warm soup into bowls and top with cashews, cilantro, green onions, a sprinkle of Berbere seasoning, and a drizzle of olive oil.

London Fog Shortbread

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
²/₃ cup powdered sugar
1 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose white flour
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Earl Grey tea leaves
Zest of 1 organic orange

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the flour, vanilla extract, tea leaves, and orange zest. Mix until the dough comes together. Shape the dough into a flat disk, wrap the disk in plastic wrap, and chill it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. (The dough can also be prepared several days in advance.)

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Let the chilled dough rest at room temperature for 5–10 minutes to soften. On a lightly floured workspace, roll the dough ½-inch to ¾-inch thick. Cut the dough into desired shapes (Stauffer prefers triangles or squares), and place the pieces on the prepared baking sheets at least one inch apart. Place the sheet pans in the refrigerator and chill the cut cookies for 20 minutes before baking. Bake the shortbreads for 12–14 minutes, until the edges begin to brown.

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