Carolyn Klemm on Entertaining, Plus Her Tomato Pie Recipe

The expert dinner party host lets you in on a few of her secrets.
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Photography by Richard Graulich

Famous actors and musicians, renowned scientists, international diplomats, admired designers, noted Realtors, and acclaimed chefs are among the guests who have enjoyed Carolyn Klemm’s Northwest Corner hospitality.  The Renaissance woman came to Connecticut via London, Canada, New York City and Westchester. Careers included running hair-accessories boutiques at Saks and Bergdorf Goodman. She married, and a stint at selling cars led her to real estate. Now widowed, she and her two sons list some of the finest homes in the Litchfield area. Entertaining friends and clients at her homes in Washington Depot and Palm Beach is a frequent pastime. Her self-published cookbook enables guests to recreate her favorite dishes. Here, the prominent realtor shares some of her ideas and tips for entertaining.

What is your go-to menu? So many people have dietary restrictions that I like to have choices when I entertain. For starters, a tomato pie and a Caesar salad. Then, either short ribs or osso buco—and I usually do a chicken and lots of vegetables and pasta. You have to keep the food choices simple. Luckily, I love to cook.


Favorite figurines used in Klemm’s table setting. Photography by Richard Graulich.

What dishes do you try to avoid? Shellfish, and anything too spicy or exotic. 

What is the ideal dinner size? The perfect size is 10—five couples—at a round table so everybody sits at the head. 

What is the trick of an ideal guest list? I love putting people together who don’t know each other or who should know each other—those who have something in common with someone they don’t know. So many people tell me they met their best friend at my dinner—or they went into business with someone they would never have met except at my table. 

Why is seating important? I always use place cards, even cut up 3-by-5 cards with a felt pen. It shows some thought, that I’ve planned in advance. And I never seat a husband and wife together—they see each other all the time. 

How important is the décor? It sets the mood. When you’re entertaining, you want it to feel special. You can pull things from your home and make it look attractive. I collect Majolica. Use fruits and vegetables if you don’t want to buy flowers or pick them from the garden. Candlelight is always a lovely touch. 

When do you give out favors? On special occasions—an anniversary, birthday, graduation. You want to keep it festive with things for the table, maybe balloons. Also, it’s essential to have wonderful music. People don’t laugh enough, try to make things happy and fun to make people laugh. 

What makes a bad guest? Bringing up religion or politics; it’s always a dead end. 

What is the ideal hostess gift? Anything homemade, maybe a cake or banana bread. I’ve had people bring me a small painting or even a pet rock they painted my name on. Somebody carved me a doorstop out of wood. I don’t expect anything, but if they bring me something unique or special that means everything. 

What’s unique about entertaining in Connecticut? It’s more rural and relaxed. You can wear blue jeans and don’t have to dress up. In summer, we do very low-key dinners— fried chicken, coleslaw, wonderful vegetable salads. 

What was your biggest entertaining disaster? The Thanksgiving when our German Shorthaired Pointer, Sebastian, ate all the desserts—three pumpkin and three pecan pies! 

What’s an essential adjunct to the menu? I always have a joke ready. There’s a part of the evening when conversation becomes quiet. That’s when it’s nice to have a little picker-upper, something fresh, so I love telling a fun joke. 

You say neighbors writer Candace Bushnell and actress Christine Baranski are among favorite guests. Who else would you invite to an ideal dinner party? Queen Elizabeth because I was born in Britain, and my mother held a tea with cucumber sandwiches for the coronation. Bernard Arnault since I’m a Francophile; and Martha Stewart; I’ve always admired her career.

Klemm’s tomato pie recipe can be found below:


Klemm’s tomato pie. Photography by Richard Graulich.


Prepared pastry shell 

⅓ cup Dijon mustard 

1 pound mozzarella cheese, sliced 

8 to 10 tomato slices 

Small amount basil 

2 tsp olive oil 

Set oven to 400°. Line a 12-inch pie plate with pastry shell. Cover bottom of pastry with mustard. Arrange mozzarella slices on mustard. Arrange tomato slices in a circle on top. Add basil over tomatoes; drizzle olive oil on top. Bake for 40 minutes. Let rest 15 minutes, then serve.