If there was ever a perfect pairing for Cloudy Bay Sav or Pinot, it might just be Melissa Norton. An Italian-trained chef living in California’s luxurious Laguna Beach, Melissa brings warmth and rich flavours through her timeless recipes.
With Christmas just around the corner, we caught up with Melissa to get her thoughts on perfect hosting.
What is your favourite thing about hosting?
Every part! I love it all – menu planning, going to the market to see what produce is best, setting the mood with music and candles, and the actual dinner! One of my favourite feelings in the world is after dinner when the candles are glowing, and guests are soaking up wonderful conversation.
What do you enjoy most about this time of year?
I love the playful energy in the air and the traditions that come with the holidays. The smell of freshly baked gingerbread cookies, mulled wine simmering on the stovetop, and the excitement of taking an hour to wrap presents are all things I look forward to.
When do you start thinking about planning your Christmas entertaining and what is your thought process? Where do you get your inspiration from?
I draw a lot of inspiration from photographs and memories. I’ll flip through a beautiful coffee table book that focuses on the French countryside and start dreaming up flavours that I’d want to eat if I was there.
For the holidays, I’m always focused on comforting foods that warm people up from the inside out! Big, beautiful boules of sourdough, warm pear tarte tatins, and a beautiful roast chicken with dollops of crème fraiche. I often work backwards and think about where I want to transport guests to with a menu, then I go from there with flavours, style, and composition.
Who would you have at your dinner party, dead or alive, if you could choose anyone to join?
My Nana who passed away two years ago.
What is one component you would never forget when planning a Christmas lunch or dinner?
An amazing playlist, cosy fireplace, and killer dessert.
What do you consider to be your favourite ingredients to work with when serving food at Christmas time?
We get beautiful citrus in California around Christmas time, and I love working it into classic dishes to give them an unexpected twist. I’m menu planning for a holiday event right now and am working on a whipped Meyer lemon potato recipe. The addition of sour and sweet Meyer lemon with the richness and saltiness of whipped potatoes adds a whole new element to a classic side dish!
What is your favourite dish to serve with Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir and why?
I love serving oysters with Sauvignon Blanc, and any grilled fish dishes with bright herby sauces, and beautiful saucy lobster pasta with lots of citrus.
With a glass of Pinot Noir, I love lamb ragu, coq a vin, and anything with mushrooms!
What is your back up plan if the oven breaks? Is there a dish you can whip up or pivot to create with minimal effort that you know guests will still love?
I always keep some fresh pasta in the freezer in case of last-minute mishaps or if extra guests show up for dinner. Fresh pasta cooks in two minutes and always tastes amazing with butter, parmigiano, and a sprinkling of flaky salt. You can’t go wrong!