Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How To Clean a Chandelier!

As the Butler in a billionaire's household, something I'm often asked is "How do you clean your chandeliers?" And my answer is always "We don't. We get someone else to do it!" 

Cleaning a chandelier is one of the most tedious time-consuming tasks known to mankind. So if there's any way you can avoid it, don't even think about doing it yourself. Among other chandeliers in this house, in the dining room we have an enormous Baccarat - three tiered with forty-six lamps. There's several dozen large crystals and literally hundreds of small ones, including the ones on beaded loops. Honestly, there's just no way can we clean this monster ourselves.

But here's what I know, and what we do around here:

1) First and most important, there's several products on the market that ask you to spread a drop-cloth below the chandelier, then spray all the crystals with their product. Supposedly all the dirt, grime and soot will just drip off. But nay, not so! None of them work very well, they all leave the crystals streaked and cloudy, so don't waste your time and money with this.

2) We keep our chandeliers looking fresh by dusting the cobwebs and hand-polishing the large crystals ourselves. (You need to use a rubber glove and a lent -free cloth sprayed with Windex, or some other glass cleaner of choice.) If the large crystals look sparkling clean to the casual observer, then that must mean the entire chandelier is clean, right? If a guest just stands there and rudely stares at your chandelier, he needs to be thrown out and never invited again.

3) The most effective way to clean a chandelier, of course, is to send it out to a professional cleaner, who will take apart each crystal, polish it, and reassemble the entire fixture. And there goes an easy $20,000 for the movers to take it down, for the experts to clean it, and the movers to re-install it. And your dining room will be out of service for at least a couple of months.

4) Our solution around here is to hire someone willing to sit on a ladder for hours on end and polish each and every crystal by hand. Not to be insensitive but you'll probably want to find someone with minor OCD's and you''ll want to pay a hefty hourly rate, comparable to a renowned surgeon who does heart transplants. We have a wonderful young lady who can clean our dining room chandelier in about eighteen to twenty hours.  

So there you have it from a professional butler - for whatever it's worth. You know in your heart you'll never clean your own chandelier. So get rid of the guilt and get someone else to do it.

Thanks for stopping by tonight. I hope this was helpful.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Planning a Party the Sally Quinn Way!

In the early part of June there's a fairly large cocktail party coming up. It's a fundraiser for the arts with a hundred and sixty invitations sent out. Considering two people per invitation, that's a potential of over three hundred high-society hobnobs, and even with the normal twenty-percent drop out, that's still a fairly large group.

As the butler in a billionaire's home this is all great fun for me with all the caterers, florists, valet parkers, and security personnel showing up - and I can already feel the pace picking up around here. (It gets really boring without some kind of special event going on.)

But honestly, I couldn't get through a moment of this if it weren't for the advice of Sally Quinn - the famous Washington DC hostess and columnist for the Washington Post. Together with her husband Ben Bradlee (the Executive Editor of the Post), these two could throw a party that's talked about for years to come.

In her book The Party Ms Quinn helps us laugh our way through even the most intense party preparations and unexpected disasters. And her delight in name dropping (from White House residents to opera legend Pavarotti) is amazingly fun to read. She even sites names of other Washington hostesses who's parties were complete flops, and why.

Anyhow, her philosophy is simply that a party is all about having fun.

At one of her events the caterer got the date wrong and she was suddenly without food for her guests! Not ruffled or deterred, she sent out her house staff to buy buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken and mashed potatoes from Colonel Sanders - which she served on her finest china and silver platters. Her guests, she said, just rolled up their sleeves and had a great time. Lesson learned according to Ms Quinn"The food doesn't have to be fancy, it just has to be good!"

She also didn't consider her party a success unless at least one or two high-society matrons or political dignitaries fell over dead drunk in the floor! So I'm happy to report that in this house we're on the same page and living up to Ms Quinn's high standards. Rarely does an event here go by without someone needing to be carried out and driven home by our chauffeur!

Parties in this house are all about champagne, music, candles, food, flowers and fun - as all parties should be. If you're planning an important event anytime soon, do read Sally Quinn's book. You won't be disappointed!

Hope this was somewhat informative, and thanks for stopping by.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Cheap Caviar is Wonderful!

I've written more than once about Beluga Caviar - its rarity, its expense and how it's served in high society. But honestly, to taste the difference between eggs from a twenty-year-old sturgeon and one that's over a hundred-years-old takes a cultivated palate that few of us have, right?   

I would go so far as to say the only way drunken guests at a party can decipher if caviar is expensive or not is if they see caviar spoons laid out, which no hostess would do unless it was the real deal. Most of these rich people take only a small taste from the already-small caviar spoons - fearing the salt might give them a heart attack in their salt-free diets. (Just how embarrassing would that be to drop over dead at a cocktail party?)

For the rest of us, inexpensive caviar from Lump Fish, red or black, is available in any supermarket, usually next to the tuna and canned tamales. Maybe it costs eight-or-nine dollars for a two-ounce jar, but that's considerably less than $3,000 for a half-kilo, right? And the taste is not dissimilar to the expensive caviar from the Caspian Sea - just salty fish eggs, all said and done.

For two years I lived in Geneva, the French side of Switzerland, and a friend there would often make this wonderful very simple recipe for all his late night guests:

-Boil some fettuccine
-Stir in some sour cream
-Serve it with Lump Fish Caviar sprinkled over the top.

You won't believe how good this is, and you can chop some chives in there too if you wish, which adds color and an additional burst of flavor. But here's a tip: Don't stir the spaghetti after you sprinkle the caviar! If you do, the eggs will break and turn your beautiful dish black or gray - speaking from dumb-ass experience.

The bottom line is we don't have to be rich to enjoy the taste of caviar. I hope you'll give this fettuccine recipe a try, and let me know if you enjoy it. Thanks for stopping by,


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

RSVP Invitations - and Regrets!

We've all received invitations with “RSVP” at the bottom. And we all know more or less what it means - which is simply “Let us know if you’re coming”. This helps the host or hostess know (food and drink wise) how many people to prepare for. Which trickles down to the Chef or caterer, and to people like me who must have enough fresh caviar on hand. 

It’s a French phrase, "Repondez, s’il vous plait”, and it’s hard to translate. Respond if you please is the general meaning, of course. But Respond if it pleases you or Respond if you it pleases is closer to the French – the infamous and eternally annoying French reflexive pronoun! But here’s a rough and generally reliable translation:

R. -  Respond
S.  -  If
P. -   Please

I  know how easy it is to blow off RSVP requests. We’re not all that thrilled about going to some high school or college graduation, or an inconsiderate wedding held right in the middle of our weekend, right? But in high society, one does not blow off an RSVP! It would be immediate cause for gossip, scandal and possibly grounds for ostracism. 

In addition, if you cannot attend an event you've been invited to, then you're expected to let that be known in what is called Regrets. I'm forever running to the post office to send off  Regrets - handwritten by the Missus on exquisite Crane & Company note cards to the constant flood of invitations that come into this house. But she's always respectful and timely in her response. 

There's a new trend that a telephone number or email address appears directly below the RSVP request, eliminating the need for a hand-written note. That's an optional response, of course, but proper manners in certain segments of high society would still require a personal note, sent in the mail. 

Has this been helpful? Thanks as always for reading,