Ana Hito has a lot of projects cooking right now, but each one of them stems back to food, community, and the art of holding space. Ana – formerly a food editor at Goop – lives on an organic farm in upstate New York, where she hosts field-to-table dinners and is the Editor in Chief of Tastemakers Guide, an upstate field guide for food and libations. This year has brought pause to many of Ana’s plans, but she is quick to remind us of the value of seasons.
While we are still in the season of socially distancing, we are all craving the environments and moments that make us feel held. We asked Ana for her best scene-setting, community-holding, world-building advice. Enjoy these table-setting tips & delicious summer recipes at six feet from your loved ones – or file away for a future season of elbow-bumping evenings.
How would you describe the connection between food & sensuality?
“For me, food is so sensually inviting – but it’s really the gateway for a great atmosphere. It accompanies great conversation. It is the foundation of a really romantic moment. Food is the match to the fire, igniting connection and emotion. That’s true for almost everybody – from a chef in a professional kitchen to someone who has never cooked but sits down for a great meal.”
“There is a deep connection between food and sensuality. For me, inviting people into my space to cook is the way I express my sensuality. Yet I often think about a contradiction between the everyday labor of cooking and the professional field. We are taught that, ‘a woman’s place in the kitchen,’ yet women are never expected to be as competent as male chefs. Women are expected to do the everyday labor, but not to excel professionally.
“I enjoy the world-building elements of my approach to food, and don’t want to be the next Wolfgang, but I always think about that contradiction. There are ideological discrepancies in the expectations of male and female chefs that we’ve been fed since we are young.”
What is the power of food in bringing people together – in both normal and more isolated times?
“Have you ever had that feeling of being almost held when you walk into a space? You just walk in and take a deep breath emotionally? I’ve been hosting farm-to-table dinners in upstate New York for the past three years – and that’s how those dinners have always felt. This past year, though, that feeling of being held by a space and the people around you hasn’t been very attainable.”
“But food is still bringing us together. If you think about it, everybody I know – from a professional cook to a total rookie – has learned to cook something new, sat down at a table with the people they love, and shared a real meal during quarantine. Everybody is cooking home meals and actually understanding what ingredients they are using, how they can improve this technique, and what they liked about that recipe.”
“This has been a year of pause, growth, patience and learning. Learning how to be accepting of everything, forgiving of others and myself, loving of what’s in front of us. Like everything in life, this moment is a season.
Do you draw inspiration from the seasons?
“Seasons are very inspiring to me. With each one, you feel a certain way and are inspired to do something new. During the fall, you walk outside and feel wholesome – warm on the inside, crisp and cool from the air outdoors. That feeling not only inspires meals and ingredients, but lends itself to longer conversations and savored time together. For everything, there is a season.”
“When I was living in California, it bothered me that a lot of foods were available all the time. Why don't you appreciate the tomato? Why don't you appreciate the snap pea? What’s up? Well, it’s because they are always there. There is something to be said about making a summer pasta with fresh snap peas and fennel and seasonal ingredients that you wouldn't get in the wintertime in New York. There's something really special in waiting: you savor that moment so much more when it finally arrives. I feel that way about restaurants right now. I’ll savor restaurants evermore.”
“For everything, there is a season. That can be good or bad. Sometimes, you have to wait it out, which we are all learning can be really hard. Other times, you have to enjoy the moment real hard before it slips away. In both directions, seasons ask you to be present where you are, appreciate what’s in front of you, and then move forward.”
What are your best tips for setting the scene at dinner?
The food and the dinner table need to both be stand alone moments — and like any good relationship, they should build each other up, instead of overshadowing one-another. For me the food or what's on the menu almost never plays a part in how I want the table or atmosphere to feel.
- CREATE A FEELING OF ABUNDANCE
The first thing I really love to do when setting a table [is to create a feeling of] abundance — if that means 20 of the same sort of candlestick or 14 buckets of flowers when you first walk in or 25 unpotted baby plants casually sitting along a table. I just love a lot of one thing, and the way that makes you feel when you see it in full effect. One candle stick wouldn’t quite have the same effect, nor would one bucket of flowers. It's that feeling of lush ease and elegance that not only fills the space, but makes you feel warm.
A super simple way I love to do this is with herbs — I cut a lot of different herbs (thyme, oregano, basil, mint— lots of mint, teraton, etc) and put them in anywhere from 5 -12 glass cups (not mason jars!), small terra-cotta pots, or small wooden boxes and viola you have a delicious smelling flower arrangement that if strewn across a table would look lavish or placed on the bar would make a huge statement, or even placed all together at one end of a table would feel like a moment. Your eye is more easily guided to notice something when there are a lot of one thing all together.
THINK SEASONAL & LOCAL
The second thing I love to do when setting a table is to think about what is in season, local, fresh, right outside right now! I hate walking into a place in the middle of winter to see sunflowers, or sitting at a table in New York with lush eucalyptus that you wouldn’t see growing outside. I love to use what is native, and local to the area during that season.
I love the idea of being able to drive on the highway (a not so glamorous experience) and see Queen Anne’s lace popping up in the meridian— and then to sit next to a huge arrangement of Queen Anne’s lace that looks as beautiful as the food being served (a way more glamorous experience). For me foraging plants, flowers, sticks, etc, to use as decor is probably one of the easiest and most beautiful ways to fill a space.
What is one of your favorite recipes for dinners & gatherings?
When it comes to the menu for your gatherings, there are three thousand different directions you can take — and honestly I tend to make every gathering a bit involved (but in a rustic elegant way), but the thing I always forget is a cocktail. I tend to be so caught up in the decor and the food (and truly everything else) that the cocktail slips my mind — but my new favorite thing to do is to make a huge batched cocktail ahead of time; the day before, two days before, that morning, whenever.
Lately, it's been so hot and humid [in upstate New York] and the summer also seems to be flying by, so I’m trying to savor the season as long as I can. My two favorite summer drinks are a mojito and a bourbon smash (I’m a huge sucker for whiskey all year-long). I’ve been making batched mojitos and smashes all summer and adding whatever fresh fruit is available from the farm; blueberries, strawberries, watermelon peaches. You name it —and it’ll end up in a cocktail.
ANA’S WATERMELON MOJITO
2 bunches, mint
3/4 lime juice
1/2 cup simple syrup
4 cups watermelon (or any other fruit you love peaches, blueberries, strawberries, etc)
1/2 cup dark rum
1 1/2 cup white rum
1 ½ cup sparkling water
In the largest punch bowl you have (if you don’t have a punch bowl, your most chic stock pot will do,) muddle mint, lime juice and simple syrup together for a few minutes until well combined. Add watermelon and rum,and stir until everything is well combined. At this point, you can keep this mixture in the fridge for about a day (if longer the mint will start to turn brown.)
Once ready to serve, add ice and top with sparkling water.
ANA’S BOURBON SMASH
1 cup simple syrup
2 cups diced peaches
1 cup blackberries
8 sprigs of mint
3 cups bourbon
In the largest punch bowl you have (if you don’t have a punch bowl your most chic stock pot will do,) combine simple syrup, peaches, blackberries, and mint. Give everything a good stir, incorporating everything and lightly softening the peaches and blackberries a bit. Add bourbon and give everything a good stir. At this point, you can keep this mixture in the fridge for about a day (if longer the mint will start to turn brown.)
Once ready to serve add ice and top with ginger beer.
Ana Hito is the Editor in Chief of Tastemakers Guide and the founder of It’s A Dinner, a field-to-table dinner series hosted on a Goshen Green Farm in Upstate New York. Ana is beginning to host socially-distanced farm dinners again. You can view the schedule here.
If you are lucky enough to be in the area, you can also stop by The Greenhouse of Goshen, Ana’s market that is now serving brunch on the weekends.
Support Ana: @anahitoo
Portrait of Ana courtesy of Natalie Chitwood/Lifestyle images courtesy of Ana Hito
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