The holiday season is exciting because you have the chance to see a number of your friends, family and colleagues in one place and at various gatherings within a dizzying 6 weeks. You know there are a number of events that you will attend and of course, you will be hosting. In theory, it's exciting until you realize that you will be hosting and throwing a dinner, event or a combination of the two. Before you stress out, we sat down with Camille Styles who knows a thing or two about planning events, cooking meals and being a great hostess. This event planner got her start in the industry planning events and pairing it with food. In addition to sharing her creations and tips on HGTV.com, Cooking Channel, O Magazine, Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living and more, Camille also shares her tips on her namesake site.
We took some time to talk with her about how we can tackle being a great host, the approachable way to creating tablescapes, her favorite places in Austin and her partnership with Bounty.
ATHLEISURE MAG: Can you tell us how you got into the event space as we know you have done a lot with HGTV.com and your website is beautiful.
CAMILLE STYLES: So part of my career is in events as you said. About 12 years ago, in my 20’s, I was an event planner for a catering company so I am really thankful that I was able to start as an event planner with a focus on food. I feel that number 1, food is my favorite part and the focal point to any kind of gathering and it also really taught me the nitty gritty ends and outs on what it takes to really create a great event. I got my feet wet there and fell in love with entertaining, parties, hosting and bringing people together. As a side creative outlet, I started CamilleStyles.com really as a creative project. I mean at that time, it was 10 years ago so blogs were really more of a hobby and something to do for fun on the side. Over the next year or two, it started to really pick up speed and gain an audience and as a Journalism major I have always loved to be able to right and really to use that degree to create content even if it was just for fun.
Over time, I built an audience where I was able to see that this was something that could be a full time gig and so I stopped planning events and put my time into creating content for the website. For the next 9 years, I continued to build and built a team of 7 right here in Austin – which I can’t believe that it’s been that long. I also have a few contributors from around the country as well. The content that we created it’s grown from focusing on entertaining to a number of lifestyle topics from design to interiors. But we really do keep the heart of what we do, which is about entertaining and for me it really is about those gatherings and finding ways to connect with people – especially during this time of year around the holidays. It’s about creating these feelings and spaces with those you love.
I’m truly able to do my dream job to create this kind of content around these verticals.
AM: Focusing on entertaining, what advice do you have for someone who is about to embark upon hosting their first holiday dinner with 10 people? How can we curb the anxiety that comes around hosting and making that person feel that this is an attainable task?
CS: This is a topic that is really near and dear to my heart. Entertaining is not just about bringing people together, but also being able to interact with them! Finding ways to host holiday gatherings without feeling stressed is so key because the host should be able to have fun right beside their guests. I think that for me, it all starts with making a detailed plan, especially when it comes to hosting a meal like, Thanksgiving or Christmas that has a lot of components where you are juggling a lot of different menu items. You want to hone in on exactly who is coming, making a specific plan about when they should show up, when dinner will be and of course – planning the venue. A detailed list of exact recipes, ingredients needed and most importantly, what can be done in advance so you can get as much done that’s not on the holiday so that when the day rolls around – you’re not too overwhelmed on what needs to get done.
AM: What are your go to’s that you like to make in advance?
CS: Make ahead recipe wise, there are a few things I always do, like sauces and sal ad dressings can be made a day or two ahead. I pop them in Mason Jars in the fridge. Pie crusts can be made really far in advance and you can actually freeze them. Things like cranberry sauce can be made 3 days ahead. Roasted vegetables are perfect to make a day ahead and then you can pop them in the oven to warm them up. We actually just posted Make Ahead Recipes which are perfect for holiday meals! I have a lot of my favorites in there that really showcases how important it is to do things in advance. If you are actually trying to make 8 dishes ON Thanksgiving or Christmas, you are going to be running around like a crazy person! This is the best way to maintain your sanity.
AM: In terms of tablescapes, what options do people have whether it’s going to Williams-Sonoma, your favorite department store or just going outside? People want to be able to showcase that they took time to present their meal in a beautiful and fun way.
CS: I love during this time of year to really take inspiration from nature. Where I live, we can go on a nature walk and collect branches, leaves, acorns or berries and gather them into a bowl. I’ll go to the grocery store and pick up some pomegranates and put them in a big shallow bowl to place them on the table. Anything that you can do to bring in some of those natural elements and really speak to what is happening outdoors, really speaks to the fall and season. Right now, there are a number of stores that are carrying some really beautiful faux greenery and branches – it’s such a great option for someone that doesn’t have those natural elements – to be able to place them on their table.
AM: In terms of cleaning up from such a feast, what are your tips there – should they be cleaning as they go or accept guests requests to pitch in?
CS: I’m all for guests being invited to participate in any realm except for clean up. Clean up is the one area that I think your guests should not be involved unless you have that one guest that absolutely insists. If it helps them to not feel guilty that’s ok but generally – it’s not something I would accept. When guests arrive, I want them to feel relaxed, so the kitchen shouldn’t look like a mess where they feel compelled to jump in and start cooking. For me, that’s where Bounty comes in as I pretty recently ditched my sponges as it was the one thing in my kitchen that got really gross and make my space look so messy. When you’re using the same sponge to wipe off the counters all day and to clean your utensils it just doesn’t look inviting when you see them there. I don’t want my guests to walk in to see gross dirty sponges and dishtowels when they walk in. I have my Bounty papertowels to wipe things down and to use a good cleaning spray. I can keep my pans clean as I go and it’s like using a dishtowel in that it doesn’t tear apart when you are using it and I can simply throw it away when I am done as opposed to having it out visibly. It’s my biggest cleaning hack.
AM: We know that you recently partnered with Bounty?
CS: For me, I really believe in the product and quality and I use it everyday myself. We really, at our company think really carefully about the products and brands we work with and don't have that many that we do partner with. We want to work with the ones that are integral in my life as well as within the studio as we create content. It’s always great when you have the chance to work with a brand that has a natural cohesion with the things that you are already doing. For us around the holiday season, we’re always talking about how to simplify, how to have beautiful surrounding throw really great parties without being stressed and Bounty is one of the ways that we are able to do that.
AM: With Christmas and Hanukkah and other winter holidays – people have a number of gatherings that are not as intensive as hosting a dinner. What are really simple ways that people can host to enjoy their guests while keeping it stress free?
CS: I like events where guests can jump in and have a bit of interactivity and can lighten the load on the host. So, any type of do it yourself menus like Build Your Own Flatbread Bar where you can make flatbreads and bring them out and they can put on their own toppings and they can build them themselves. It’s perfect with those that have dietary restrictions as they can ensure that they are only adding in items that work for their needs. The same with cocktails, think of a specialty cocktail and have a self-serve bar with a few recipe cards and let them mix their own for the season. I love things like that as it’s a great way to get guests mingling and to use their hands to do something. It also makes my job easier as I’m not mixing up cocktails or making individual plates when my guests are hanging out. I can jump in and enjoy my guests and create alongside them.
AM: We know you’re based in Austin, TX. Where can we find you grabbing a bite/cocktail, working out and shopping?
CS: I love this – I’m such a proud Austinite. In terms of getting a bite to eat, there are so many! I would probably say, oh my gosh I have to break it down by season. In the winter, I love to go to June’s it’s a really cozy spot on South Congress. They have an amazing Chicken Matzah Ball Soup – if you go there, you have to get it! Its so heartwarming and cozy and a fun casual environment. That’s probably my go to winter spot. In the summer, I like to sit on the patio of Laundurette and order a glass of rose and they have an amazing burrata dish and everything they do is really creative and interesting with spicy flavors. Shopping, if I had to choose one place – I LOVE, I’d say Sunroom it’s a really cool shop on South Congress that has a cool beachy vibes. They carry designers and brands that you don’t find anywhere else in Austin and their buyer buys the coolest pieces. I just feel I wouldn’t find it anywhere online and I do a lot of online shopping so when I go there, it is always an experience and different. I work out at MOD Fitness, my barre studio and I also do SoulCycle and I also love to walk and run with a good friend around Lady Bird Lake.
PHOTOS COURTESY | Marc Babin