Emily Dorio was born to entertain. “Giving parties is in my DNA,” she says, giving credit to her two grandmothers who were both known for their dinner party prowess.
She’s also had a lot of practice.
In the late Aughts, while living out her post-college “salad years” in Athens, Georgia, Emily and her best lady friends, Jesse Warner and Lily Noel, staged epic dinner parties.
Just as deeply eccentric Athens isn’t just any college town, these weren’t just any dinner parties: they were full-on happenings, with well-considered themes, name-brand chefs (the women’s pals Peter Dale and Patrick Stubbers of The National augmented the pot-luck affairs), and compulsory costumes.
“For Guns, Gowns & Gumbo, the dress was black tie gowns for the ladies and dime store cowboys for the boys,” Emily says. Fans & Finger Foods attracted “a motley crew of Motley Crüe groupies, Atlanta Braves fans, and Beanie Baby fanatics.” And the evening of Carnies & Corndawgs (that spelling is correct only in Georgia, mind you) saw a parade of quote-unquote circus performers and Tilt-A-Whirl operators show up to party down in a tent Emily erected on her front porch. (Did I mention there were sets? There were sets.)
Julian Dorio was a frequent and very game party guest. “We took it as far as we could,” he says. “I remember dressing up as a cowboy for Guns, Gowns & Gumbo. For Carnies & Corndawgs, an old friend of ours, Noyle Jones, and I went as conjoined twins attached at the hip, wearing XXXXL shorts.”
Somewhere, there is evidence of their XXXXL effort. Emily, who by that point had embarked on her photography career, set up a photo booth at every party.
She ended up capturing a lot more than merrymaking: the party pics more or less documented her and Julian falling in love. “Really, my favorite memory of our Athens dinner party days was that palpable and electric excitement of a new crush,” she says. “Julian and I had mutual friends, but we were not dating. The thought of dressing up for a dinner party with my friends was so fun, but my night never really began until Julian walked into the room.” Happily, he stuck around.
Julian left Athens for Nashville in 2011; Emily followed in 2013. They married in 2015, and welcomed their adorable son, Elias, two years later. Last fall, the Dorio Three moved into a dreamy 1930s log cabin in East Nashville that once belonged to country music legend Roy Acuff – something that seems a bit fated, considering that Julian’s a professional musician (among his many notable gigs, he’s a founding member of The Whigs)
The gathering the Dorios and I co-hosted there in mid-December celebrated two firsts. It kicked off A Moveable Feast, the dinner party series that Emily and I are collaborating on for The Callaway Report. And it also marked the first time the couple had entertained more than a few folks in their new home.
To break it in with style and literal good taste, we called on the expert help of our good friend Julia Jaksic, the chef and owner of East Nashville’s Café Roze. The guest list of our mutual friends included more than a few musicians (Acuff would have been proud of all the talent in the room) and the OG Athens crew — Jesse, Lily and their husbands, Tristan and Jordan, who, like the Dorios, have all landed in Nashville.
When it came to the menu, instead of leaning into the traditional trappings of the Christmas season, Julia drew inspiration from Julian’s Lebanese heritage and her own Croatian roots. The result was an incredibly beautiful and truly delicious Mediterranean feast. Bubbling moussaka was served straight from the oven (check out the recipe at the end of the post). Platters of whole red snapper gazed up from their beds of citrus and herbs. Hearty bowls of bright carrot salad (that recipe is below as well) and cauliflower tabbouleh were passed up and down the long table that ran the length of the Dorio’s vaulted living room.
Julian found the mix unexpectedly poignant. Apparently, Julia’s tabbouleh rivals his mom’s famous recipe. And he was equally jazzed to find passed plates heaped with goat cheese and garlic toasts that recalled a roasted garlic and feta appetizer that he grew up eating. “It’s something I crave to this day,” he says. “Having it that night brought me back to my childhood.”
Across the room, Emily was feeling nostalgic for the salad days. “It was really powerful to look down the table and see the evolution of our low-fi dress-up suppers,” she says. “It all started in a shotgun house in Athens on a Coors Light budget, and for it to have grown to us all sitting in the great room of this great and special house under the eye of Roy Acuff, across from new and old friends with our hearts and bellies full, is pretty amazing.
“Life has many seasons, but it's really powerful to take the good times and good friends with you into the next chapters.”
ABOUT THE FEAST
Around the Table
Emily & Julian Dorio, Vanessa Carlton & John McCauley, Robin & Lee Jones, Jordan & Lily Noel, Vadis Turner, TJ Wilt, Jessie & Tristan Warner, Leigh Watson & David Perry, Chandra Watson & Russ Pollard.
In the Kitchen
Chef Julia Jaksic of Café Roze
A long central table to seat 16 bisected the Dorio’s vaulted living room, which features a wood-burning fire place at one end that was in full go-mode. Jesse Warner of Hew & Co. styled the space with flickering candles and bouquets of seasonal floral provided by the East Nashville boutique florist, FLWR Shop. Emily’s maternal grandmother’s candlesticks and crystal goblets were placed alongside a deep green table runner, which quickly filled up with serving dishes that were passed family-style.
Julian’s Christmas records on vinyl. A Charlie Brown Christmas by the Vince Guaraldi Trio; The Sinatra Christmas Album; A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector (“It’s Emily’s favorite”); Country Stars Wish You A Merry Christmas (“It only seemed appropriate since we are in Mr. Roy Acuff’s former home”). After dinner, the tone changed a bit: The Rolling Stones’ Goat Head Soup and Sly & The Family Stone’s Fresh! played as the party crept past midnight.
Julia blew our socks off with a Mediterranean menu that included non-traditional takes on classic Croatian and Lebanese dishes. She was kind enough to share two recipes, which are reprinted at the end of the post.
Roasted Garlic Toasts
Balsamic & Pecorino
Anchovy & Burnt Orange Vinaigrette
Cabbage & Pomegranate
Preserved Lemon Yogurt & Nigella
Carrot Salad (recipe below)
Cumin & Currants
Moussaka (recipe below)
Whole Red Snapper
Rosemary & Grapefruit
Ricotta Panna Cotta
Honey Roasted Winter Citrus
Robin Riddell Jones of Tavola poured three main wines:
2017 Domaine du Salvard, Cheverny, Loire, France (85% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Chardonnay)
2017 Château de Épiré, Anjou, Loire, France (Chenin Blanc)
2016 Malabaila “Cardunaj,” Alba, Piedmont, Italy (Brachetto del Roero)
Also uncorked: A 2004 Renato Corino Barolo that Julian’s father gave him as a part of an annual family tradition. For the last 20 years, Dorio père has gifted two special bottles of vino to his sons at Christmas each year. “They are meant to be saved and enjoyed on an occasion,” special Julian says. “Emily prefers white and I don’t want to drink them by myself, so this dinner party was a perfect occasion.”
TCR gives big thanks to Chef Julia Jaksic of Cafe Roze for her work in the kitchen; Robin Riddell Jones and Tavola Wine for the vino; Jessie Pickren Warner for the gorgeous interior styling; FLWR Shop for the lush seasonal floral; and 12th Table for the lovely seating.
1 to 1 ½ pounds large carrots
½ bunch flat leaf parsley
½ bunch cilantro
¼ cup currants
2 tablespoons nigella seeds
- Peel carrots and grate on the large hole of a box grater.
- Pick leaves from parsley and cilantro, chop them roughly and set aside.
- Pour boiling water over currants until just covered and let steep for 5 minutes, discard liquid after.
- Add currants, chopped herbs and vinaigrette to carrots and toss well. Adjust salt as necessary and finish by sprinkling nigella seeds onto the top of the salad.
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon cumin, ground
2 teaspoons coriander, ground
¼ cup olive oil
- In a bowl whisk together vinegar, Dijon, honey, cumin and coriander.
- Slowly drizzle in olive oil while continuing to whisk until mixture combines and begins to thicken. Season with salt to taste once all olive oil in incorporated.
2 pounds ground lamb
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 chile, jalepeno or Fresno pepper, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Hungarian paprika
1 tablespoon coriander, ground
2 teaspoons cumin, ground
1 teaspoon allspice, ground
1 tablespoon tomato paste
¾ cup white wine
1 - 28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
½ bunch parsley, leaves picked and roughly chopped
10 sprigs mint, leaves picked and roughly chopped
4-5 sprigs oregano, leaves picked and finely chopped
- In a wide pot over medium high heat, cook ground lamb, breaking it up with a spoon until it is browned and cooked through. Transfer cooked lamb to a dish using a slotted spoon.
- More than likely you will have quite a lot of fat left over in your pot, discard all but 2 tablespoons and on a medium heat sautee onions until softened.
- Add garlic and chile to the onions and continue to cook until they too are softened.
- Add paprika, coriander, cumin, allspice, and tomato paste, stir well and cook for an additional 3 to 5 minutes.
- Turn the heat up to high and deglaze the pan with white wine, allow wine to reduce until it no longer smells of alcohol.
- Turn heat to low and add the canned tomatoes, break up the whole tomatoes with a wooden spoon being careful to pierce the tomatoes gently!
- Allow this to cook for 10 to 15 minutes and add salt to taste.
- Your meat sauce will thicken up to a ragu type consistency.
- Add herbs at the end.
3 medium sized eggplant
¼ cup olive oil
- Cut each eggplant crosswise into ½ -3/4 inch slices.
- Salt each slice very liberally and allow eggplant to sit over a colander for 15-20 minutes.
- Oil each slice of eggplant and arrange on a baking sheet which is covered with foil.
- Bake eggplant in a 425 degree oven for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for an additional 15 minutes, allow to cool.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup flour
2 ½ cups whole milk, warmed
¾ teaspoon salt
2 cups Parmesan, grated
1 cup farmers cheese, grated (or any mild, soft cheese that can be grated)
¼ cup Pecorino, finely grated (set aside for assembly)
3 egg yolks, beaten together
- Heat butter in sauce pan until it begins to foam and bubble. Add flour and whisk constantly until combined, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add warm milk and continue to whisk, mixture will begin to thicken. After 5 minutes you will have a mixture that resembles pudding. Take off heat, add salt and both grated cheeses.
- Let mixture stand for at least 5 minutes to allow cheeses to melt. Stir vigorously until mixture is very smooth and cheeses have completely melted.
- Slowly add egg yolks little by little and whisk to combine.
- Use a 13x9 baking pan that has been brushed with olive oil.
- Tightly layer half of the eggplant on the bottom of the pan, making sure not to have any large gaps. Spread half the lamb mixture onto the eggplant. Repeat with remaining eggplant and lamb. Top with béchamel and sprinkle the top with finely grated pecorino.
- Bake moussaka at 400 degrees for 35-45 or until top is very well browned.
- Allow to cool before serving.