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Having just come back from Paris, I am charmed by the delightful ritual of l’apéro, or l’apéritif.

Taking place sometime between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., it is a break in the day to relax, to meet friends and family and to chat while having a drink and a snack before dinner. It is part of the heart of French culture and it is so civilized.

You can have l’apéro at home, but the cafés also buzz between these times. Conversation is a mixture of politics, books and gossip, before everyone continues to a later dinner. It is not a North American ideal because we eat earlier, but it is beginning to take hold here because it’s an excellent way to entertain. It is much simpler than a cocktail party, involves fewer people and less food.

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“I love that it’s a moment in the day set aside to connect,” says Jackie Kai Ellis, a Canadian author now living in Paris and creator of lifestyle website aptlafayette.com. “An apéro board is easy to put together and the intense flavours are offered in such variety, we often are happy to graze all evening.”

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The key to a successful l’apéro is to keep things simple. There should be no work for the hostess as the time is meant for conversation. Drinks are lighter. Wine or Champagne is served, along with cocktails such as Lillet or Aperol spritz. Ricard is also popular, as is beer nowadays.

Toronto chef Rob Gentile of Buca fame has a generous aperitivo, as the Italian version is known, at his Bar Buca restaurants. Gentile says: "The custom of aperitivo was one of Bar Buca’s offerings since the beginning and our intention was to bring this popular after-work ritual or lifestyle to find a place with a North American audience.” Other places, such as Toronto’s Momofuku Kojin, also serve aperitifs between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. They call it their social hour, although in this case there is a charge for the food. True, it is a way of extending restaurant hours, but such a lovely one.

My favourite menu for an apéro at home is some good charcuterie and excellent bread, either baguette or your favourite grainy loaf. Go to a good cheese counter and buy one or two personal favourites, along with some fruit, olives, nuts and a few condiments, such as mustard or chutney. Invite good friends and let the conversation flow.

With our frenetic work pace, it is a lovely idea to consider. Try it as a stress-free new way of entertaining friends.

Need some advice about kitchen life and entertaining? Send your questions to lwaverman@globeandmail.com.

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