Party Planning Tips from our Favorite LA Caterer

Annie Campbell, founder of Annie Campbell Catering, knows how to create a menu that’s equally as delicious as it is beautiful (while also keeping it totally achievable). That’s why we recently called on her and her friends Heather Taylor and Holly Vesecky to create our ideal simple, sustainable gathering. Here, Annie shares how she got started, how she met Heather and Holly, and her new food obsession (it’s definitely not what we expected).

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Name: Annie Campbell
Business: Annie Campbell
Specialty: Thoughtful Parties & Seasonal Catering
Hometown: Portland, OR
Instagram Handle: @annielcampbell

How did you get into the party/catering business?
I love parties. My mom was an avid entertainer and I grew up with large family holidays and started throwing theme parties as soon as I had my first studio apartment. I loved the ritual of preparing food and feeding friends. The concept of “do what you love” inspired me to pursue a career in food which led to catering and our current business.

How do you get inspired or decide on a theme for a party?
I get inspiration from everywhere: my childhood, my kids’ enthusiasm, cookbooks, a color palette, an ingredient and often a person. I love throwing birthday or bridal showers because they are uniquely inspired by the guest of honor.

For my clients, I love to hear about their favorite foods, see their homes and get a sense of their vibe. I’m lucky to work with very cool, interesting people who inspire fresh, authentic parties based on their style.

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How did you get involved with Heather Taylor and Holly Vesecky? Tell us about your friendship/community and how you all collaborate.
I met Holly and Heather both through planning parties.

Holly is such a talented florist and she helps me with florals and decor for a range of events. She creates such special, organic and romantic pieces with especially beautiful blooms. I also appreciate her collection of pretty vessels. We make mood boards for most of our events and I might suggest a color palette and typical style and then Holly delivers something beyond what my imagination could have pictured.

Heather and I met and became friends when I started renting her linens for parties. I was very excited to use her beautiful product at our events as they add such dimension and color. We quickly discovered a shared passion for parties and we quite literally are total entertaining nerds.  We can dork out talking about menus, color combinations and themes for our kids’ birthday parties for too long to admit!

Heather and I have kids around the same age and have regular family dinners, which are obviously chaotic; I value them very much.

LA has so many cool, creative women running their own businesses and I am constantly inspired by what everyone is doing.  It is also a wonderful community in that I find so many people to be refreshingly honest about their imperfections, shortcomings and the struggle to “balance” it all.  We are all spread thin but often lift each other up with words of support, encouragement and admiration.

What’s a favorite holiday tradition or memory?
My favorite holiday tradition is decorating our Christmas tree. As a child we ate popcorn, cheese and apples to trim the tree, always with a 7-Up and it felt magical. My tree still holds that holiday magic for me.

In your opinion, what’s the most important aspect of reflecting a theme in a party?
For me it always comes down to the food. I love a thematic meal.

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How do you go about creating one of your epic cheese boards?!
I start with a variety of cheese and with a range of colors, textures and shape. Seasonal fruit makes for the prettiest boards so this time of year, I love to garnish the board with pomegranates, citrus with the stem and sliced Asian pears. Other favorites: rosemary cashews, spiced pecans, olives, fig jam, sliced bread, dried orange slices and crackers.

I start by placing the larger items like grapes or pomegranates and then I place the cheese spread out around that focal point. It’s nice to put olives and nuts in pretty bowls and place them around the board. Fill in the empty spaces with crackers, more fruit and extra garnishes like herbs or clipped greenery.

Where should you place a cheese board? In the kitchen?
That totally depends on the flow of the event. I put the cheeseboard where I hope people will gather, and then move it to where they actually are, if needed.

What are some eco-friendly ways that you like to entertain?
I have invested in dishes, glassware and flatware for large groups in order to have simple go-to items for entertaining. We buy all of our produce at the farmers markets and eat organic foods as much as possible.

When serving alcohol, when do you choose wine vs. beer vs. cocktails?
I always have all three.

What about a non-alcoholic beverage? Do you have a favorite punch/cocktail that can be done with/without alcohol?
I love a ginger spritz with fresh ginger juice, sparkling water and lime. Any signature cocktail that we make can be topped with sparkling water instead of alcohol: e.g. a blood orange, cranberry or pomegranate fizz.

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What do you do to accommodate food allergies?
It’s always nice to know about food allergies in advance. When hosting, ask your guests if they have any dietary restrictions so that you can be prepared. If needed, I make a special version of what we are serving for a guest

When should you use name cards? What’s the benefit?
I like to use place cards and assigning seating for seated dinner parties when not everyone knows each other. Plus, they add a pretty touch to the table. My husband is not a fan of place cards and things people are much more relaxed when they can sit wherever. I like the opportunity for considered connections between people who you think would get along, or like to catch up.

When do you serve family style vs plated vs buffet?
It mainly comes down to the meal and the guest count. For large groups, buffet works best. With smaller dinners, I like to plate certain dishes such as soups and pastas. If something isn’t quite ready, we might start without it!

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What’s one of your favorite fast and easy way to elevate a party?
Signature cocktails make a big impression. I’m also obsessed with decorate king ice cubes which truly take less than 3-4 minutes.

What’s your favorite thing to whip up when you’re in a pinch?
Postmates! Truthfully, in a pinch it’s so much more important to be a relaxed host who is present for their friends than going nuts trying to make everything from scratch. My mom always encouraged me to order a pizza – entertaining is about bringing people together.

What’s your current food obsession?
Potato chips.

Want more sustainable holiday tips? Right this way… 

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