Chef Jennifer Puccio of Marlowe on the Delights of Casual Gatherings

Chef Jennifer Puccio of MarloweFavorite San Francisco bistro Marlowe reopened its doors this past month in a stylish new Ken Fulk—designed space at 500 Brannan. Jennifer Puccio—executive chef and partner at Marlowe, Park Tavern and The Cavalier—has earned acclaim for her creative, unpretentious farm-to-table cooking. Here, she shares her expert recommendations (and menu) for deliciously relaxed holiday entertaining.

How do you and your husband celebrate the holidays?
Usually the days before and after holidays are so busy at the restaurants that we can’t travel to be with family, so we tend to spend it with friends—other people who are homeless for the holidays!
After planning the restaurants’ menus, what do you choose to serve at home?
I love to keep it informal; I cook a lot and present a buffet—deviled eggs, oysters, prawns—so people can mill and mingle, gathering at little stations and chatting.
What seasonal foods are you drawn to this time of year?
Dungeness crab. I’ll go down to the piers and catch or buy them. They are delicious…and a good alternative to turkey!   You’re a fan of the Marin Farmers Market. What do you bring home? I grab pumpkins and gorgeous fruit. The DeSantis family has almonds and fresh black walnuts so you can make noccio [an espresso-based dessert drink]. They also have gorgeous, semi-dried grapes that are amazing. They are half grape/half raisin and beautiful in salads. Or, I marinate them or serve in liqueurs.
What’s your holiday bubbly?
Rosé Champagne is perfect. I always serve it when I’m celebrating something.
How do you set the scene?
The holidays are all about tradition. I love to bring out pieces we received for our wedding and ceramic pieces we’ve collected on our travels, like our gorgeous clay couscous tagine.
What sets the mood?
Candles everywhere! I place a few tall tapers in the middle of the buffet table, and use votives for ambient light.
What’s the key element for successful holiday entertaining?
A great relaxed attitude. Nothing is accomplished when you’re stressed about making things too perfect. It’s about good food, good wine and enjoying the day.

A version of this article appeared in the November/December 2014 issue of San Francisco & Gardens with the headline: Simple Pleasures.