text by SHANI SILVER
photography by CHRISTOPHER MCCOY
File this under taking an “I wish I could do that” idea and really making it happen. How’s this for inspiring? Twin sisters (and designers) Kathryn and Lizzie Fortunato had a desire to bring together female creatives that inspired them, and decided to host intimate dinner gatherings in their homes. As you can imagine, the initiative expanded. Recently, they took their project a step further and gathered a group of female creatives together at Brooklyn concept store Ode to Babel for an evening of connecting, enjoying, and chatting up fellow female doers and makers in the creative world. Together with event partner Anastasia Koutsioukis, co-founder & creative director of Mandolin, Lizzie Fortunato gives us a view into a stunning, special night.
HOW DID THIS EVENT COME ABOUT?
We had already hosted a few “creative girls dinners” in our Clinton Hill apartments but when Anastasia offered to cook our next one, we were literally jumping up and down (the 2 meals I’ve had at her Miami restaurant have been 2 of my all-time favorite meals… ever!) and we reached out to Myriam and Marva to see about hosting in their space. From there everything happened pretty seamlessly — we decked out the space in Fortune Finds, Anastasia cooked a beautiful meal, and the space was such a perfect backdrop for it. The whole experience really embodied the sense of collaboration and coming together that these dinners were originally intended to celebrate!
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR AN EVENT LIKE THIS?
The goal is to connect women who are separated by only a few degrees of separation anyhow, and to inspire conversation between self-starting, independent creatives. These dinners also inspire collaboration between the women who are introduced. Since starting these dinners, so many of the friendships that have formed have developed into working relationships, and it’s really shown that female creatives who are in similar industries would prefer to support and collaborate with one another, rather than compete with one another.
Food has always been a common denominator, it brings people together and creates an environment that allows you to share with others. It was such a natural creative collaboration for Lizzie, Kathryn and I because we have a similar philosophy when it comes to entertaining. We wanted everyone to feel relaxed, like they were at home while still creating an experience which is done through the menu and decor. I’m not into theme-y evenings but the goal is to transport your friends senses through food, wine, tabletop, flowers, music – it all needs to compliment each other and tell a story yet not distract from the main reason we gather for parties – to have a good time, exchange stories, and have a good laugh with friends new and old. We wanted to forge relationships with like minded woman and what a better way to do it then around a table.
WHAT INSPIRED THE STYLING/DECOR OF THE EVENT?
Ode to Babel (with it’s teak bar and handmade furniture, beautiful pillows, and accents) provided an incredible backdrop for the dinner, which was inspired by the Aegean meal that Anastasia would be preparing. Having spent the summer in Greece and Turkey (she recently opened a restaurant in SoHo House Istanbul), Anastasia wanted to incorporate the blue and white palette of the Mediterranean. She and I [Lizzie] curated our Fortune Finds (these are the found and third-party lifestyle products that Kathryn and I offer on our website to compliment our namesake jewelry collection) to create a tablescape that invoked this Greek island vibe. One that felt effortless yet thoughtful just like it does in the Aegean. Decor included ceramics from Matthew Asbill Chikako Kojima and Object and Totem; Peruvian and Moroccan textiles; Japanese hand-painted and brass plates; hand-painted Moroccan serving bowls and Carnevale Clay ceramics for serving vegetables, as well as florals by Fox Fodder Farm and hand-painted menus that we water colored prior to the event with salt spoons by Carnevale Clay.
SIMILARLY, WHAT INSPIRED THE FOOD/DRINK?
I wanted the menu to reflect the culture and feel of our restaurants but also create something unique for the night. Instead of a coursed meal I went with an entire menu of mezes (shared plates) consisting of dips, salads and marinated seafood dishes. It allowed me to play with all the beautiful serving dishes and bowls from fortune finds collection but also created an abundant, flavorful and colorful table. Aegean cuisine reflects the lifestyle of the Greek islands and Turkish coast so it’s always simple ingredient-driven food that’s fresh and unpretentious. Its how I like to cook and entertain both at mandolin and in my daily life. For our dinner, I was inspired by my recent travels but even more so by the markets in New York. I tend to create a menu as I go along. While shopping I’ll find a seasonal ingredient, a specialty product or amazing herbs and spices that becomes the starting point of the menu then every other dish builds off of each other. I use the same philosophy for wine and spirits. They need to compliment the menu. We went with a white and red wine by Thalia wines a Greek wines produced in the island of Crete which paired perfectly with our Greek island inspired menu.
DID THE SPACE LEND ITSELF WELL TO THE GOALS OF THE EVENING?
Absolutely — Ode to Babel is beautiful and made with such exquisite raw materials: A calming white space with dim lights, a teak bar with brass inlay, beautiful brass sconces and light fixtures throughout the space. We were able to layer in our own decor (like textiles and ceramics) and the space was really able to be transformed into this Aegean-inspired space without feeling contrived or forced. We were able to do cocktails and wine (we served a beautiful gin and rosewater cocktail called “The Hera” meaning Goddess of Women and Thalia (Greek) wine) in the front of Ode to Babel in the beginning of the evening. This part of the lifestyle store is where more of the furniture and retail lives and provided a cozy environment for mingling and then we set up a beautiful long table throughout the length of the store (parallel to the bar), which is where everyone sat for dinner. It was intimate yet with enough room for people to move about and visit with different people at the table. It was the perfect set up.
WHAT WAS THE BEST REACTION YOU HEARD TO THE EVENT?
So many women have emailed and written thank you’s to say how they left the dinner with new friends. It’s amazing how a family-style meal together can give two people the time to bond, share experiences, and make plans for a continued friendship. Already, I know that several people who were strangers prior to our Creative Girls’ Dinner have met up and I look forward to seeing the friendships and collaborations that emerge.
It’s so gratifying knowing people enjoyed their meal, because feeding people is an expression of love but more importantly, as a host, you want to know that people had a good time. That’s what makes a memorable night. Not everyone remembers what they ate but they’ll always remember if it was fun. As I was cooking and plating all I heard was laughter and clinking of glasses. That’s the sound of people enjoying themselves. For me, It was also so exciting to find out how many people had eaten at Mandolin in Miami or knew of us and were fans of our food. They shared memories of their time at our restaurant and couldn’t wait to come back again and I can’t wait to host them again. I loved that.
WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL FAVORITE MEMORY OF THE EVENING?
It was originally my dear friend & studio-mate Elisa Restrepo (Dieppa Restrepo shoes) who told me that The Mandolin restaurant in Miami was a “must go”; she had been to the restaurant numerous times but never met Anastasia, and so raising a glass with her and Anastasia and then watching them exchange emails felt so full-circle and felt like what these dinners are all about… Here you have three women who absolutely admire what the others are doing creatively and professionally (Anastasia has bought my jewelry and Elisa’s shoes and we’ve both dined at — and loved — her restaurant) and to be able to connect and bond and support one another is the definition of why Kathryn and I do this!
One of my favorite memories was before the party began and we all met at Ode to Babel to prepare for the night. To set the table together and see all our efforts and ideas come to fruition is the best part of the creative process. Each detail was special and everyone’s mark was left from the menu design, place cards, flowers. It was very exciting. I also loved meeting so many creative woman that I admired and respected from afar and now can call my friends. It’s amazing our community has no borders today and is extended way beyond our city we call home whether it’s Miami, NYC, or Brooklyn.
Many thanks to Lizzie Fortunato, co-founder & creative director of Lizzie Fortunato. Kathryn Fortunato, co founder & operations direction of Lizzie Fortunato. Anastasia Koutsioukis, co-founder & creative director of Mandolin. Marva & Myriam Babel, co-founders of Ode to Babel, for sharing the story of their inspiring project with domino.
See more from the creative team here: