Mary Helen Bowers, founder of Ballet Beautiful, knows a thing or two about making life look and feel good. Her new book, Ballet for Life, is a how-to for achieving a total “Ballet Beautiful Life” everywhere from your workout routine to your kitchen. “The takeaway from the book is that it’s a source of guidance and inspiration to food and nutrition,” says Bowers. “[It aims to make] life hopefully more elegant, happy, healthy, and fun,” says Bowers.
Her idea of happy, healthy fun? An elegant dinner party with some of her nearest and dearest. Here, I ask for her entertaining tips for a graceful, elegant soiree. Now, how do we get an invite to her next soiree?
Keep scrolling for Bowers’ tips on how to host.
How do you prep your home for a dinner party?
For me, when I’m entertaining, I want to keep it as chic and simple as possible. As a working mom, I have to be really thoughtful of my time and how it gets spent. I try to have one really solid shopping list, where I can get everything at once. When I shop, I like to do it the day of (if possible). It’s usually pretty manageable because I live in New York City where there are so many markets close at hand. When I plan my meal, I usually focus on the entree and protein first and build around that.
What’s the key to a successful get-together?
Usually, I’d set out fresh and dried fruit, and maybe some toasted nuts to welcome people and set the tone. It’s always so nice when you arrive at a party, especially something intimate like a dinner party, to feel like you can relax and like you’re in your own home. So, I really like to include that welcome. Also, I love cheese before dinner. Even if it’s not fancy, I still eat it, so for me that’s a must. I usually do three different types. I love cheddar cheese, so I usually buy the sharpest cheddar I can find. It’s really nice to include something a little bit softer as well, and then one other. For a party especially, I think it’s good to have a bit of a mix or variety.
What’s on the menu?
My approach to cooking is pretty low key. I’m not a huge recipe person. I eyeball things, and I don’t do precise measurements. Usually I choose something that I can prepare ahead, so that I can relax with my guests and not totally hide out in the kitchen. I’ll serve a salad, and maybe one cooked green. Especially in the winter and the fall months, I would sauté some spinach or some broccoli, some sort of leafy green. For me, it’s all about what’s the freshest at the market that day. And then, I’d want to have a starch, so maybe a roasted sweet potato, or if I’m roasting a chicken I’d just toss in some potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, celery, and another root vegetable within it. Then, I’ll pick up some really nice dark chocolate and fresh berries to have for dessert.
How do you like to keep the vibe?
By the time your guests arrive, hopefully the table is set, the food is by-and-large ready to go. Fresh flowers are always such a nice touch. The way you set a table can make a meal feel like an event, so certainly when you’re entertaining I feel like it’s important. I try to find whatever looks the most fresh—similar to how I buy my food. If it’s spring, I’d choose peonies. If it’s summer, and we’re at the beach, maybe I would have a huge pitcher filled with sunflowers or wild flowers from the farmer’s market. I like to buy the things that are local and in season when I can. Then, I have a playlist always—something relaxing and chic and elevated in a certain sense, so I like to include that too in terms of music. But nothing too overwhelming. And I also like to set out a few candles… as long as I’m not inviting kids!
How do you pick who’s invited?
When you have a meal, especially when you’re at home, you can really sit down and talk to people and catch up with them, and I think that’s a really nice aspect of entertaining at home—you’re really welcoming your friends into your house. For groups, I think it’s always fun to do a mix of old and new friends or friends from different groups. I love when I go to a party and end up sitting next to someone who I’ve never met, but maybe we have a dear friend in common or we both love to workout. It’s nice when you find some sort of connection with someone, especially when you’re sitting next to each other at a dinner. I really love to bring people together from different fields, who might have a crossovers in aspects of their lives.
What matters most?
I think it’s best when the party sort of comes together on its own. It’s always the most fun that way, especially if it’s your friends, you don’t have to obsess over the details. If it’s a little bit messy, that’s ok. Hopefully you’re not burning the food, but at the end of the day, I think people really value having a great experience and getting together, so I worry about that aspect more than serving the perfectly cooked piece of chicken or fish. I think it’s really about the experience overall.