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The Perfect Touch - Dining Al Fresco

Join local influencers, Averie Riel from @thelocal_farmtable, Amanda Muster from @theblisshouseco, and wine sommelier, Holly Howell as they share their tips and tricks for throwing the perfect backyard dinner party!

With busy days and jam-packed weekends, it often can be hard to pause and enjoy the few remaining summer evenings. From the glistening sunset and sparkle in the trees to the crisp breeze and scent of fresh lavender drifting in the wind, we savor each moment that this beautiful and bountiful season offers in upstate New York. By July and August, the feeling of summer has settled in, and we are ready to welcome friends and family to our homes for outdoor entertainment. With a space that gets little attention in the winter months, hosting an outdoor dinner party may feel intimidating – but it doesn’t haven’t to! We held our own dinner party with three local influencers and invited neighborhood friends to pull together an al fresco gathering to offer decor tips, fresh ingredients, and perfectly paired sips to show that hosting your own outdoor gathering is within reach.


The main focal point of any dinner party – especially those outdoors – is the tablescape. “Make it special by using a theme or idea of what you want to present to your guests,” advises Amanda Muster, designer and owner of the Bliss House Co, an online interior design company. Our dinner party had a simple, vintage organic setting with a curated mix of antique family heirlooms paired with modern rustic table linens and accessories.

Before you pull your table setting and décor together, decide on a theme and coordinating color palette. Next, turn to Pinterest and Instagram to gather inspiration. Whether you choose white vintage, outdoor garden party, modern organic, or another theme, you can refine your style as you go and determine what you can DIY to make it come to life.

Consider all the senses when preparing your table, including what guests will see, hear, and even smell. Appropriate lighting such as outdoor string or café lights can make a world of difference. Don’t be afraid of candles or music; just make sure to use unscented or minimally-scented options that don’t overpower the food aromas and keep the music low enough so guests may comfortably communicate with one another.

When it comes to the day of – enjoy the process! Prepare as much as you can ahead of time and make a list to check off as you go the day of. Slow down and enjoy the process, don’t just rush through it, or you won’t enjoy it!

Meet Amanda Muster from @blisshouseco Local influencer, designer, and owner of The Bliss House Co., Muster always had a passion for interior design, a knack for combining old and new, and an appreciation for all things vintage and antique. Inspired by her mother, Muster found herself craving something that could bring her joy and began styling her space as a way to encourage others to feel happy and creative. She started her interior design business and Instagram account in late 2021 and has since grown it to over 100k followers! Amanda has helped hundreds of people learn to style their homes and even offers virtual design services to clients country-wide.

Whatever your plan, keep it comfortable and casual, especially when hosting outdoors. “People feel most comfortable when they feel like it’s their home. Engage them with the dining experience and allow them to be themselves.”


Though many choose to prepare their own food, leveraging a private chef’s help can be worth the time and money so you may better enjoy the gathering. Regardless of who’s cooking, lean on fresh, local ingredients to enhance the flavor and experience of the meal.

Averie Riel, private chef and owner of The Local Farm Table, says, “Food isn’t just about eating something because you are hungry. It’s really meant to bring everyone around the same table, take a step away from our busy lives and be able to catch up on life.”

Our chef for the evening, Riel prepared a colorful summer meal using in-season produce such as heirloom tomatoes, fresh peaches, roasted beets, and golden corn. She says she cooks with farm-fresh products from small businesses in the area. “We are fortunate to have so many farmers markets, farm stands, local CSAs, and butcher shops in our area,” she says.

When setting your menu, consider what is in season and which flavors pair well together, while also complimenting your overall theme, to ensure the food is fresh and flavorful. Riel suggests picking menu items that are colorful, not too heavy, and unique or upscale that guests wouldn’t normally eat. She explains, “Food becomes a conversation piece around the table. Having courses that include a lot of fruits and vegetables make it feel as though the dishes were harvested right from the backyard or selected fresh from the farmers market. It gives the meal a farm-to-table essence to elevate the evening.”

Meet Averie Riel from @thelocal_farmtable Private chef, caterer, and owner of The Local Farm Table, Averie Riel is a gem. Growing up in Walworth, Riel knew she wanted to pursue a career in food after attending a high school culinary arts program. She graduated from Paul Smith’s College with a Bachelor’s degree in Culinary Arts Food Service Management and focuses on fine dining and cooking from scratch. With a passion for using locally- grown and sourced ingredients, Riel embraces all that our area offers to cook with the best products. In 2021, she started her private catering business to create diverse, seasonal menus for gatherings. She is dedicated to working with farmers and local small businesses and learning about what is grown and produced here in our backyard.


A dinner party isn’t complete without perfectly-paired refreshments, and for us, that was local wines from around our region. We had the guidance and expertise of sommelier, wine columnist, and owner of UNCORKED, Holly Howell.

Howell paired wine from a handful of local vineyards to celebrate the flavors of Riel’s menu. Her passion and enthusiasm for wine extends beyond knowing what pairs well with any given ingredient. She believes wine should be fun and offered pairing tips and hints to help guests feel comfortable and create an enjoyable experience for all.

When hosting an outdoor dinner party, remember that great wines that are food-friendly don’t need to be expensive. Howell says, “We are so lucky to have such great wine available in our backyard with so many great vineyards sprinkled throughout the Finger Lakes.”

Using local wine whenever possible, she offers tips for any dinner party, like starting with a sparkling wine such as the Dr. Frank’s Célèbre she paired with our Tomato Peach Burrata Salad. Howell says, “I love to start with a sparkling wine. It gets everyone comfortable and talking with one another, and pairs well with most appetizers.” She recommends progressing from lighter flavors to heavier, bolder reds. Consider pairings with the sauce or seasoning of each dish whenever possible.

Meet Holly Howell from UNCORKED Sommelier, wine columnist, and owner of UNCORKED, Holly Howell has spent decades traveling the world and learning about wine. She first became passionate about wine when she studied as a foreign exchange student in France and learned to love European wines and French cooking. Throughout her career, Howell has held a variety of positions in local cooking schools, restaurants, and wineries, and was author of the “Wild About Wine” column for The Democrat & Chronicle for 13 years. She currently owns UNCORKED, a business focused on wine education, serves as an official Wine Host leading wine-themed tours through Europe for AMAWaterways River Cruises, and hosts wine classes at Marketview Liquor. Holly is a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) through the Society of Wine Educators and a Certified Sommelier (CS) through the Master Court of London.


Strawberry Balsamic Short Cakes

Shortcake biscuits:

3 cups AP flour

¼ cup granulated sugar

½ tsp kosher salt

5 tsp baking powder

1 ¼ cup unsalted butter (chilled and cut into chunks)

1 cup whole milk

2 tsp of sugar in the raw

1 egg, beaten

1T water

For marinated balsamic strawberries:

2 lbs of strawberries, hulled and quartered

¼ cup granulated sugar

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

For Serving:

2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 T granulated sugar

1 Tsp vanilla extract

2 T chiffonade basil, extra for garnish


For the shortcake:

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. Add the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder to the bowl of a food processor, and pulse a few times. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture becomes crumbly. Add the milk and continue to pulse until moistened. Turn out onto a clean, lightly floured work surface and shape it into a circle. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest and chill for 30 minutes in the fridge.

3. Roll dough out into a circle, 1-inch thick. Using a 3-inch biscuit cutter, cut the biscuits. Place on a greased baking sheet. Beat 1 egg and 1T water and brush the tops with a pastry brush and sprinkle with sugar.

4. Bake until golden brown, roughly 18-20 minutes. Let cool.

For marinated balsamic strawberries:

In a medium mixing bowl stir together strawberries, sugar, and balsamic vinegar. Let it sit at room temperature until the strawberry juices are released and a syrup forms, roughly 30 minutes.

For Serving:

1. Add the chilled heavy cream, vanilla extract, and sugar to a bowl or stand mixer bowl. Beat on high until stiff peaks form.

2. Split biscuits in half, spoon some of the strawberry mix in between, and top with a scoop of whipped cream. Garnish with basil and enjoy!

Thank you to the following local businesses for being a part of our dinner party!

650 Hylan Drive, Suite B, Rochester, NY 14623 // 585-473-4049

44 E Main St, Webster, NY 14580 // 585-545-4314

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