It is no accident that bestselling author and journalist Holly Peterson’s Hamptons home is always packed with kids, family and friends. “As my kids have gotten older I’ve had to find clever ways to lure them back. A big, outdoor pizza oven in my backyard did the trick,” she says. Her open air kitchen, including the pizza oven and a gas grill, became such a focal point of her summer entertaining that she was inspired to write Smoke & Fire: Recipes and Menus for Entertaining Outdoors. The book celebrates Holly’s love of casual entertaining as well as recipes from celebrity friends like chef Katie Lee and comedian Ali Wentworth. The avid hostess sat down with Serendipity to talk about her favorite summer recipes, her preference for short cocktail hours, and tips to make dining alfresco more fun.
What made you build a pizza oven? Isn’t a grill enough?
A pizza oven is a magnet for teenagers and is a fabulous way to entertain. Different generations can all sit together and eat incredible gourmet pizzas that they have helped cook. Guests can stand up and customize their pizzas and participate in the whole experience. It’s really fun.
What else can you cook in the pizza oven?
You can cook anything in there; you just have to be gutsy and willing to occasionally burn things to a prehistoric crisp. You can cook duck, grilled vegetables, peaches with ricotta cheese and mint sauce—there is so much you can do. The key is to have a certain type of cookware. Fancy stuff does not work in the pizza oven. It’s got to be cast iron that can be put right on the flames.
What is your entertaining philosophy?
I really believe that anyone who is seated next to someone for three courses is begging for a Samurai sword to end it. The way I entertain—even if I do a fancy, seated dinner—is to serve only one course. I then serve dessert standing up at stations so people can mingle with other guests. People say, “What a great party!” and I say, “That’s because you only sat for 30 minutes.”
What annoys you about other people’s parties?
I was a network news producer and I’m good at being able to see an event before it pans out. I recognize that people want food and drink quickly. I always do a 20- to 30-minute cocktail hour. Nobody wants to stand on your deck for an hour. Big, fancy, long cocktail parties are annoying. The only conversation going on is, “When are we sitting down?” Just get the food out! People can stay late after dessert when they’re drunk and happy. If guests are staying late because it’s their choice, it’s a much better party.
How do you put together a great guest list?
You have to be pretty ballsy in your guest list. I believe in mixing generations, backgrounds, and socio-economic stature. Architects, surfers, painters, carpenters—I mix the locals with the summer people in the Hamptons. I like to mix it up.
What do you do if extra guests arrive?
I don’t want to ever create a home where someone’s friends aren’t welcome. It’s not unusual for me to invite a four-person family and get 11 people because they have guests staying with them too. There is always room for someone to pull up a chair at my table.
By Holly Parmelee
Photography by Ross Whitaker and Stephan Beaumont