Relaxed entertainingPublished on April 5, 2014

  • Jillianís table is set with dishes from Bali, the painting behind her is by close friend, local artist, Katherine Jeans.

If Jillian Blackie issued a warning to her dinner guests, it just might be, "expect the unexpected." Married to Michael Blackie, one of Ottawa's most well-known chefs, Jillian is an excellent cook in her own right and one who rarely falls back on tried-and-true dishes when it comes to entertaining. She's gathered a lot of inspiration from years of living abroad and happily shares some of her thoughts on enjoying the process of entertaining with Ottawa at Home. 

HOW WOULD YOU CATEGORIZE YOUR ENTERTAINING STYLE? I definitely like to keep things casual. Because Michael works so much, we tend to have smaller gatherings at home. I prefer intimate dinners with just a few couples, and I really enjoy setting a nice table. I've collected a lot of interesting dishes during our travels, so I like to use different pieces to help set the mood for the meal. 

DO YOU TRY TO MAKE THINGS AHEAD OF TIME BEFORE YOU ENTERTAIN? No, as I am convinced freshly-prepared food always tastes better. I even make soups and desserts on the day of a party. I think what I like about this strategy is that it forces me to keep things simple. 

DOES YOUR APPROACH MEAN YOU ARE IN THE KITCHEN WHEN GUESTS ARRIVE? Yes, but they always know they are welcome to join me! The layout of our home is very conducive to casual entertaining. I always have some homemade nibbles ready for when guests arrive - things like savoury roasted nuts or cheese pennies - along with cocktails, so guests are quite happy while I finish preparing the meal.

MANY HOSTS DO NOT TRY RECIPES FOR THE FIRST TIME ON GUESTS. YOU'RE THE OPPOSITE - WHY? We have an extensive cookbook collection at home so I am always finding new sources of inspiration. Plus, as a cook, I find it much more interesting to explore new flavours and ideas rather than relying on the same dishes all the time. I've always wanted to expose our kids (Liam, 15 and Annabel, 14) to many different foods so their palates will become more developed - which has led to constant experimentation in my kitchen.

DO YOU MAKE ANY DISHES ON A REGULAR BASIS WHEN ENTERTAINING? I do enjoy serving really good prime rib, but I'll change the way I prepare it so it's never the same meal twice. I like to tie a bunch of herbs together and use them as a wand to baste the roast while it cooks on the barbeque. I'll change up the sauce to suit my mood as well - it might be classic one day, chimichurri the next! 

DOES BEING MARRIED TO A RENOWNED CHEF EVER MAKE YOU FEEL INTIMIDATED IN THE KITCHEN? No - I have always done almost all the cooking at home and I know Michael appreciates having nice meals prepared for him when he is not

at work. 

ANY ADVICE TO OTHERS ON MAKING THEIR HOME ENTERTAINING MORE ENJOYABLE? Don't go overboard! People often try too hard. Focus on having fun and don't spend more time than you are comfortable with on preparing food. Home entertaining is different than cooking at a restaurant - don't worry if things are running a little late or don't look picture perfect. You can never go wrong with upscale comfort food.

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