Welcome to In the Home, our series that features some of our favorite tastemakers who tell us a little bit about how they live.
We are so excited to share this month’s guests: Monica Ainley de la Villardière and Emma Knight. Not only are they fellow Canadians, but Monica and Emma are also the hosts of the most clever and creative podcast we’ve come across in ages: Fanfare. On Fanfare, Monica and Emma invite cultural luminaries to an imaginary dinner table, where they host their dream guest. Monica, a fashion journalist, plans the outfits; Emma, a cookbook author and co-founder of Greenhouse (who also recently announced a forthcoming novel), plans the menu; and the two women work with each guest to fill in the rest of the evening, sharing historical tidbits and gossip along the way. Fanfare guests have included Margaret Atwood, Pandora Sykes, and Jessamine Chan, who “hosted” Joan of Arc, Nora Ephron, and Kazuo Ishiguro, respectively–so it’s safe to say that, whenever you listen to an episode, you’re in good company.
Given that they’re carving new niches in their career out of hosting soirées, we felt they were the perfect fit for our new series–and were dying to hear their tips. Be sure to read through the end for their personal Paris and Toronto recommendations, too (you’re welcome).
Hi Emma and Monica! We're so excited to have you join our In the Home series - especially given that the podcast you co-host makes you a particularly perfect fit. Can you tell the readers who may not be familiar with Fanfare a little bit about it?
Emma & Monica: Fanfare, now in its third season, is a fanciful culture podcast that began with the question, “If you could invite anyone, alive or dead, to a dream dinner party, who would it be?” In each episode, we ask a real-life guest (writers, filmmakers, Paris Opera directors, music producers) to join us in hosting an imaginary dinner for someone whose work they admire. It’s a bit like the BBC’s Desert Island Discs, but instead of casting our guests away onto a desert island with a limited music selection, we invite them to join us in getting dressed up and cooking something delicious for the cultural icon of their choosing. Past real-life guests have included Margaret Atwood (who brought Joan of Arc), astronaut Chris Hadfield (who hosted an imaginary dinner party with us on the International Space Station), and Pandora Sykes (with whom we conjured Nora Ephron). We have fun picturing what we would serve and wear, what the setting would be, what music we would play, and of course what we would talk about.
You come up with lots of potential menus, outfits, and more for your imaginary dinner parties. But if you had to put together one outfit and one menu for a dinner party, what would it be?
Emma: One menu… gosh that’s hard. I’m going to go with what we cooked last Friday night at my sister- and brother-in-law’s house in Brooklyn. We made a version of this phyllo pie from Greek chef Akis Petretzikis, which I make a lot, and which is often exactly what I want. Instead of the cheese listed in the recipe (which I have yet to succeed in finding) I usually use about 6 oz feta and 3/4 cup of grated Gruyère (the more cheese the better, really). We served it with hummus and labneh with crudités and a green salad (butter lettuce with a sherry vinaigrette). For dessert, my brother-in-law made incredible chocolate lava cakes (he used the Mark Bittman recipe) and served them hot out of the oven with vanilla ice cream. We had some white burgundy and all cooked together in an open kitchen while dodging toys and babies, watched by their fluffy cat Haruki. It was as good as it gets, as far as I’m concerned.
It seems like you both have entertaining on the mind quite a bit: but what are your go-to outfits & recipes for when you're hanging out at home?
Emma: Certainly on the mind (and on the pod) if not in practice! The dinner hour is currently crowded with chaotic baths and twenty thousand bedtime stories, so most dinner partying is currently imaginary / involves picking grains of rice out of my daughters’ hair and negotiating with them about broccoli — hanging at home is much more common. Today’s hanging out at home lunch involved sourdough toast layered with almond and red chili pesto (from an Italian grocery store called Alimentari in my neighborhood), sliced avocado, and aged gouda. Plus, lemon pepper and some carrots on the side to enhance night vision and virtue. For dinner, I am thinking crab cakes and a big pile of arugula.
Monica: I am a far less talented chef than Emma— and most things I cook I learned from her while we lived together in University! But luckily, I find people of all ages are very happy to be served a home-cooked, easy meal. My go-to therefore is Thai Green curry. A minimal-effort crowd pleaser if you find the right curry paste… and I always serve a cheese plate with baguette for dessert. With a last glass of vin rouge, bien sur! Vive la France.
What are your tips for making a house feel like a home - whether you're throwing a party or simply reading a book by yourself?
Emma: I love to host wearing relaxed trousers or jeans and a crisp white or blue shirt, worn casually with buttons open at the top and bottom, slightly tucked in on one side maybe. Maybe a piece of statement jewelry added on. No one can accuse you of not making an effort, but you’ll never make your guests feel overdressed either (if they arrive wearing ball gowns, you can run to your closet and throw on a jacket and or pair of heels which work perfectly with this look!)
In pretty much every room of my house, there is at least one cozy place to sit with a decent reading light and a book or stack of books nearby. It becomes ideal when there is also a window ledge or table within reach for your cup of tea. (Add throw blanket if in Canada.) I feel most comfortable in other people’s houses when I am near their bookshelves. I know it’s a bit snoopy of me, but seeing what people like to read, or have read, or are planning to read, is always interesting. And there is something deeply comforting about knowing that you can sneak off with a book if you need to. (I have been in trouble for reading at parties so try not to make a habit of this.) Also: tulips. And if people are coming over and you want the house to smell amazing, caramelize onions or toast nuts. I am never sorry to end up with extra caramelized onions or toasted nuts!
Monica: I agree with all of Emma’s great tips. Snacks and books are a must! I also have throws and blankets all over the living room. Even if people don’t indulge in a snuggle during cocktail hour, it just adds a relaxed feeling. My kids’ random toys I think do that too… not really done purposefully but I think a hint of chaos probably adds to the family feel over here!
Finally: for when you're out of the house: what are your top three spots for coffee, breakfast, and dinner in Paris and Toronto, respectively?
I have admittedly not been out for breakfast in Toronto since about 2018 when my first daughter was born. I love making pancakes! It’s a bit of a problem. But the croissants at both Cherry Bomb and Ezra’s are homemade and amazing.
And how can I not brag about the smoothies and smoothie bowls at Greenhouse? The Undercover Greens, Rococoa, Ginger Spice, and Blueberry Crumble smoothies are my favorites. For an early lunch, I would go to Parallel (on Geary Ave).
Bernhardt’s (on Dovercourt Rd.) for the best “big greenie” salad, ever-changing and ever creative veg dishes, crazy good chicken, and natural wines.
Dreyfus (on Harbord St.) for a fancier night.
Manita (on Ossington Ave.) for a more casual dinner with Anthony.
It’s an obvious one but I love Cafe de Flore for breakfast and at breakfast, the vibe is more creatives and journalists at morning meetings than Emily’s (they take over later!)
Editor’s Note: Monica has written about Emily in Paris for Vogue
Also love having a cafe and croissant at Cafe de La Mairie on St Sulpice, the light on the square in the summer is incredible.
Chez Georges on Rue du Mail for the proper French brasserie experience.
Bar des Près for delicious Japanese and a fun vibe.
Pizza Chic for great pizza… the vibe is friendly and Italian… but chic!