Friday, October 31, 2014

Tips from Alex Hitz, a famous Southerner with a French flair

I learned so many great entertaining tips from the handsome and charming Alex Hitz when he signed copies of his book “My Beverly Hills Kitchen: Classic Southern Cooking with a French Twist” Oct. 30 at Allison Sprock Fine Art.

(The photo above of Alex was taken at the event by photographer Daniel Coston)

A native of Atlanta, Hitz now divides his time between New York and Los Angeles. His hosting abilities, as he explains in the book, were evident when he planned his second birthday party menu including the decor of coordinated bibs, napkins and tablecloths. The caption on the book's accompanying photo explains that the Chagall watercolor in the background, which matched his party color palette, was a gift to his mother from Alice B. Toklas.

His stepfather was the Grammy Award-winning symphonic and choral conductor Robert Shaw. Along with Hitz’s mother, Shaw helped shape Hitz’s passion for beauty and quality. Shaw’s quote to his stepson was, “If you expose people to the good stuff long enough, some of it just might rub off on them.”

The day before his Charlotte book signing, Hitz spoke to more than 500 women at an event in Richmond, Va., then drove here. When he arrived, Allison took him to dinner at Dressler's at the Metropolitan and he's now a fan of the locally owned restaurant.

Because of her incredible connections in the art world, Allison is able to bring a really interesting mix of celebrities to her gallery. I encourage you to keep up with her web site so you won't miss out on anything (

"We came in late that night, but the staff was lovely to us and I was so impressed with my meal," he said.

He thinks the major entertaining mistake is to not enjoy it. "Entertaining is about making a gesture and showing that you care," he said. "Don't invite people and have it be a burden."

He hopes manners will never go out of style because manners are based on kindness and consideration; and etiquette is based on manners.

His one modern pet peeve? "Put down your cell phone forever if you're socializing with other people!"

A life well lived is one of his goals. "That means having a passion and appreciation for beauty and quality," he said. "Celebrate every single day because you never know what's going to happen. You only have today, so make it count."

When he entertains at home, depending on the occasion, he'll have a buffet for 150, or a dinner for 8. "Unless it's a super special day, I don't invite too many guests."

Although his party menu changes, his famous friend and florist, David Jones, always did the arrangements. The only time Alex's brilliant smile dimmed during our conversation was at the mention of Jones, who recently died. "The New York Times did a wonderful obituary. I encourage you to read it," he said.

Here's the link to the obit:

The French flair in his entertaining skills comes from his mother's love of the country. She attended school in Paris and  she was deeply influenced by Post WWII France, which Hitz describes as the height of elegance, sophistication and taste. In the 1970s, his mother bought a house in France. "Anytime we had more than three days off from school, my mother would pack us up and we would go there," he said.

"The food was better then. Now it's not. It's become more American," he laments.

If you're already thinking ahead to Thanksgiving, he gives you permission to not stress over the holiday.

"Thanksgiving does not have to be oppressive anymore. You can buy so many wonderful things. It's not hard to roast a turkey but if it intimidates you, there are wonderful ones you can buy."

He says the same goes for anything else on your menu, but that you need to have at least one homemade item whether it's a soup or a dessert. "Always have a standout on your menu. For me it's my Butternut Squash Soup or my Pecan Shortbread Cookies." The recipes are in his book.

Frank from Park Road Books was at the event. He had Alex sign a stack of extra copies, so if you buy the book there, you might luck up with a signed copy (

In the spirit of his mission to spread the gospel of good food and living well, here are Alex's Top 5 entertaining tips:

1.  Never skimp on anything. "Whether you're serving frozen pizza or caviar, make sure it's the best of whatever it is and have plenty of it."

2. Make a schedule and stick to it. "Don't wait on anyone. If you do that, you reward the people with bad manners and you punish the people with good manners."

3. Do everything ahead of time. "Don't leave anything to chance. Food tastes better when it's made the day before because the flavors have a chance to mix."

4. Never be pretentious. "Remember the old saying that the higher the monkey climbs, the more he shows his (behind). Impress your guests with your simplicity and your style."

5. "If all else fails, call Dressler's!" (I told you he was charming!)

Follow Alex on Twitter @HitzAlex and on his web site,

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Thursday, October 30, 2014

November events

Nov. 1
Male models showcase the newest styles in men's swimwear and underwear during a runway show. The event is hosted by Dan Mauney, owner of Brief men's store. Proceeds benefit Time Out Youth and the Human Rights Coalition of North Carolina. 7:30-11 p.m. at Extravaganza Depot, 1610 N. Tryon St. Tickets: $35, $50 and $125 (VIP). Details:

Nov. 1
The annual black tie gala at Quail Hollow Club is a chance for guests to mingle with military heroes. Along with a seated dinner there is a color guard, dancing, live and silent auctions and a salute to fallen soldiers from the Carolinas. Cocktails are served at 5:30 p.m.; dinner is served at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $350; $400 (VIP).

Nov. 1
Samaritan's Feet International hosts this black tie optional evening. Guests also have the option of checking their shoes at the door before enjoying food, beach music from the Ken Knox & Company band, and auctions. Proceeds go to provide shoes, education and healthcare to children around the world. Charlotte Marriott City Center, 100 W. Trade St. Tickets are $150. Details: 

Nov. 5
The Mint Museum Auxiliary's annual fall event features a talk by India Hicks, the former model who also has ties to the British Royals (Prince Charles is her second cousin and her godfather). She'll talk about her life on a small island in the Bahamas that's the inspiration behind her lifestyle brand that includes a line of bath and beauty products for Crabtree and Evelyn; her designs of bedding and fine jewelry; and her two books, "Island Life" and "Island Beauty." 9:30-11:30 a.m. at the Mint Museum Uptown, 500 S. Tryon St. Her books will be for sale at the event with part of the proceeds going to the Mint Museum. $125. Reservations:

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A top secret menu

Tomorrow in my Scene & Heard column in print and online, you'll see fantastic photos from the Duke Mansion's "Homeland" themed Halloween party that took place last weekend at the historic mansion in Myers Park that was used as a setting when the award-winning TV series involving spies was shot in Charlotte.
What I didn't have space to go into fully was one of the reasons the annual party is so popular - the amazing menu the mansion's executive chef Harrison Booth creates each year.
In honor of this year's theme, he put together a menu where nothing is as it appears. All the passed hors d'oeuvres at the beginning of the evening resembled desserts, the main courses were salads that are usually soups and soups that are usually salads. Sandwiches were made out of main courses and the Osso Bucco was in hiding. 
Here's the complete menu description:

Butler Passed Hors d’Oeurves
Meatball Truffles
Savory Cheesecake Bites with Pepperjack, Parmesan, Roasted Red Pepper and Spinach
Slider Macaroons BBQ Beef Tenderloin Sliders with Tomato and Pickle
Guacamole Cone
Reception Menu
Waldorf Soup Warm Apple and Gruyere Soup with Grape and Celery Skewers
Caprese Soup Creamy Tomato Soup with Mozzarella and Fried Basil Flakes
She Crab Salad with Mango and Pineapple
Grilled Butternut Squash Salad Mixed Greens with Grilled Butternut Squash, Candied Pistachios and Maple Vinaigrette
Coq Au Vin Panini Red Wine & Mushroom Braised Chicken with Red Onion Spread and *Thinly* Sliced Yukon Potatoes
Vegetable Lasagna Stomboli with Grilled Zucchini, Yellow Squash and Mushrooms with Salsa Verde
Osso Bucco in Hiding Veal Shank and Gorgonzola Hidden in a Wonton Ravioli With Roasted Red Pepper Puree over Risotto
Dessert Station
Dessert Pizza
Chocolate Brioche “Dough” with White Chocolate Bits, Marshmallow and Raspberry Sauce
Mini Cupcakes
Pumpkin Cupcake with Cream Cheese Icing
Lemon Cupcake with Strawberry Icing
Late Night Snacks
Sweet Potato Pancake Pigs-In-A-Blanket with Andouille Sausage
Breakfast BLTs with Bacon, Fried Green Tomatoes and Quail Egg Benedicts
Frozen Cappuccino Smoothies In a Demi Tasse Cup

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Friday, October 24, 2014

I love you, pumpkin

I heard that at a recent rustic chic wedding held outdoors by a lake, the decor included two pumpkins. One had "I" painted in white on it, and the other had "Do."

I had not heard of that cute design element before, but I think it's a fund addition to fall wedding decorations and can be tailored to your own personal style.

I found several examples online, including a few variations (pumpkins for the reception that say "Mr." and "Mrs." and a pumpkins carved with the initials of the bride and groom).


Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Thursday, October 23, 2014

What I learned from Oscar de la Renta

When legendary designer Oscar de la Renta was in town for "The Art of Style" gala fundraiser hosted by the Mint Museum Auxiliary in 2011, I was thrilled to have a chance to talk with him one-on-one earlier that day during an event at Belk in honor of his new perfume, Esprit d’Oscar. (The photo above is of Oscar de la Renta at the gala with Clay Grubb, Kathleen Jameson and Deidre Grubb.) 

It was a surreal experience to be standing there with other guests and turn around and see the legend stroll in looking fit and tan with his stepdaughter Eliza Bolen, a business savvy style maker whom I’ve admired for years. Eliza was the inspiration behind his new perfume and her husband Alex is CEO of de la Renta’s company. The stylish trio could not have been more charming.

When it was my turn to chat with "Mister" (as his staff affectionately refers to him) he filled me in on some of his thought processes that have helped keep him on top of the fashion fickle industry for decades.

When I asked him what makes a woman elegant, he told me that elegance is how you live, not just how you dress. "To be dedicated to living elegantly takes a lot of discipline," was his verdict. "It’s about understanding yourself and being very visual and dedicated to surrounding yourself with beauty."

As far as his secret to not only remaining relevant, but setting the standard for others in his field, he explained his success this way: "I’m very competitive, and I constantly challenge myself."

And although he had thoroughly enjoyed the Art of Style gala the night before that included an exhibit of vintage and current gowns of his design on loan from the private collections of Charlotte women, he told me that not looking back is key. “When I see a dress that I designed, I don’t know if I did it 20 years ago or two years ago – I’m always moving forward and thinking about the future.”

It seems the future of his company is in good, familiar hands, especially when I found out that Eliza and Alex’s young son played a part in designing a dress for his grandfather’s collection. 

De la Renta was discussing his idea of using a Monet-like print for one of his gowns when his grandson spoke up and said that he was studying Monet in school and had created a painting inspired by the artist’s work. De la Renta loved it so much, he sent it off to his fabric maker in Italy who replicated the design.
“Now he’s asking about his commission,” joked Alex.  

Here are a few more of my favorite photos by Paul Williams III from the gala. I know anyone who ever had the pleasure of meeting Mister de la Renta will never forget his charm, talent and wisdom. 

Oscar de la Renta and Chandra Johnson

Committee members Laura Vinroot Poole and Sarah Pearce.

Committee members Lisa Weisiger and Pam Stowe. 

Art of Style co-chair Marianna Sheridan listens to Oscar de la Renta. Based on the relationships she formed during the planning of these events, Marianna was named Oscar de la Renta's Archivist in March 2012, a role that she continues to this day.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Monday, October 20, 2014

A suite idea

At a recent family-friendly party I struck up a conversation with a stay-at-home mom who was there with her husband and their three children.

All of their children are under 10, so they're at a very energetic age.

When I asked her how she manages it all - kids, a husband, taking care of home and dealing with the many other demands of life, here's her secret:

"Every two months my husband and I leave the children with (a trusted) sitter and we spend one night at Embassy Suites," she said. "It's what keeps me sane."

She said they like Embassy Suites because it's nice and has a lot of extras they enjoy, but it's affordable to go there on a regular basis.

They sleep a lot, go to the Evening Reception cocktail party, and since they both love sports they like to gather with others in the bar and watch games on TV. In the morning they enjoy the made-to-order breakfast.

Rejuvenated, they return to their real life ready to take on the world again.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Friday, October 17, 2014

Monster Mash Adoption Bash

CMPD Animal Care & Control and the Humane Society of Charlotte are partnering once again for a Hallowen-themed adoption event made possible by a grant from the ASPCA. The goal is to find 100 animals great new homes.    

The Monster Mash Adoption Bash is from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 18. 

It's at two locations: 

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care & Control, 8315 Byrum Drive; and the Humane Society of Charlotte, 2700 Toomey Avenue. 

A food truck and DJ will be at both locations. 

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Monday, October 13, 2014

Charity Wedding Gown Sale

The Brides Against Breast Cancer Charity Wedding Gown Sale and Bridal Show is 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 18 at Embassy Suites Charlotte, 4800 S. Tryon St.

Hundreds of new and gently worn designer and couture gowns from designers, manufacturers, bridal shops and individuals will be for sale. Gowns are sizes 4-18, priced from $99 to $3,900. Proceeds go to programs and services for those impacted by cancer.

If you want to be the first to shop, there's a VIP Event from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Oct. 17 ($45 for a bride plus a guest, $25 for each additional guest). It includes refreshments, entertainment and giveaways.

Admission to the Oct. 18 sale is $7; $10 at the door.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson 

Friday, October 3, 2014

A new signature Charlotte Symphony fundraiser

From 1972 to 2010, The Symphony Guild of Charlotte worked hard to put together the annual ASID Designer House, which became one of the most successful fundraiser of its kind in the country.

The Symphony Guild is now launching a new annual tour that will become its signature annual fundraiser, the Heart of the Home Kitchen Tour. It's from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 18; tickets are $25 ($30 at the door).

The tour of 12 indoor and outdoor kitchens at eight residences in the SouthPark, Myers Park and Eastover neighborhoods showcase current design trends. Each stop has a special event ranging from tastings from local chefs and food shops to flower arranging demonstrations and young musicians performing.

The opening reception, Prelude to the Tour, is 7-10 p.m. Oct. 17 at South End Kitchens, 1500 South Blvd. Tickets are $50. Proceeds from both the party and tour benefit the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestras and youth music education.


Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Feast of the Hunter's Moon

Feast of the Hunter’s Moon, a fundraiser for Historic Rosedale Plantation, is at 6 p.m. Oct. 27.

The five-course meal accompanied by special wine pairings is served by candlelight under tents set up among the circa 1815 plantation home's grounds filled with ancient treasure trees and shrubs including 200-year-old English boxwoods.

Seating is limited. Tickets: $150;

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bling it on

Before I introduced celebrity hair colorist Rita Hazan at the Southern Women's Show a few weeks ago, I had a chance to take in a few performances by the talented dancers at Arthur Murray Dance Studios.

One dancer had extra sparkle on stage and I thought she looked really glamorous.

A few days later when I was giving a presentation at the show, she happened to walk by my booth and I immediately stopped her because I realized why she shined so much on stage - she had strategically placed "bling" on her face and in her hair.

I forgot to get her name, but she told me that she buys the bling at Michael's. It's self-adhesive and comes in a variety of colors and sizes. She says to plan carefully where you want to put it first because the more you move it around, the less the adhesive sticks. Once it's on, she says the trick is to not touch it at all. Just leave it be and shine on.

With Halloween coming and the holidays, I thought this was a great tip to share if you want to add a little extra sparkle to your look.

Follow Olivia on Twitter @oliviafortson