Devin Connell has spent her life surrounded by food. Her mother, Linda, founded Ace Bakery, Connell was assistant to the creative director at Selfridges when the store was redoing its food hall and she launched a couple of cafés and restaurants in Toronto. Now, she’s taking what she learned from her businesses and building an educational resource for all things entertaining with Crumb (thisiscrumb.com). Advice for corner-store flower arranging, recipes for quick puff pastry desserts and playlists suggestions dispel myths about what’s really needed to throw a good party. Connell spoke to The Globe about including kids when socializing with fellow parents, why it’s okay to ignore Pinterest and why she recommends having a box stocked with everything you need for a last-minute bash.
When was the last time you entertained?
A couple of weeks ago I had some girlfriends over at the last minute because I find that, in this day and age, planning things further out, you have a better chance that people are going to start cancelling. You start getting e-mails that morning like, oh my son is sick, or I can’t come. I’m a big believer in shooting out the last-minute text message: Okay, any chance you’re free tonight to come over for a drink? So I did that. They brought their kids with them after school, so it was like a 5-to-7 thing, nibbles for us and snacks for the kids.
That’s great that you included the kids.
I think people try to separate their lives when it comes to entertaining. It’s sort of like, well, I’m going to have drinks with my girlfriend so I have to ship my kids out – they have to go to my mom’s or I need a babysitter or whatever. If you can integrate your life, be able to entertain and without segregating it, I think it’s just so much easier.
Do you save certain types of parties or get-togethers for certain seasons or spaces in your house?
When I entertain I tend to use every part of my house. I’m a big believer in getting up and moving and being able to talk to new people. The worst for me is when you’re sitting at a dinner table for three hours and you’re stuck next to the same person. My parties usually start in the kitchen; we have cocktails there. I get people to participate and help. I think there’s something about just being in a kitchen automatically that makes people feel relaxed – like they could spill a drink and it doesn’t matter. It’s not, like, precious. And then we’ll go into a dining room for dinner. I always make people switch seats for dessert so they can sit next to somebody else and then we’ll do after-dinner drinks in the living room. I think it’s important to keep your guests moving – give them opportunities to talk to other people.
With Pinterest and Instagram, you see lots of beautiful, well-staged photos of get-togethers. There can be pressure when you entertain, that it needs to look like that. Do you think this is something people should just not worry about?
When it comes to planning an event or a party, I don’t go on Pinterest and try to plan it out. It’s a little bit more organic than that, as organic as going into my backyard and cutting a big branch, because I forgot to buy flowers and sticking it in a vase. I think we’ve all been guests at people’s homes where you’re like, oh, you’ve really gone all out for this and it’s beautiful. But I don’t think it’s necessary. People have to get this idea out of their heads that when they’re entertaining they have to cook a three-star Michelin meal. Your friends are coming over just to hang out. Maybe take the word entertaining out of it and change it to hanging out. This is a better way to look at it.
What’s your advice for making entertaining easier?
Everybody needs to have a party survival kit. I literally have a box in my basement that has every single thing in it that I need to entertain at the drop of a hat. Your basic alcohols, and I like to do really cool bitters. You can make so many different cocktails by using different bitters that you don’t need to have a ton of different alcohols. A deck of cards. Pistachios, olives, pickles – stuff that’s all shelf-stable. A bag of chips, ginger ale, tonic. Shaker, cocktail napkins, votives. And this all lives in one box. The idea of spontaneously entertaining is only achievable if you are prepared, otherwise it’s awfully stressful. There is a bit of work that goes into it, but I think you set it up once and then just replenish as you need it.
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