Stylized Radicchio plates from Mimi's collection.
"Wahre Schönheit ist eine Schönheit,
die nicht zunimmt und abnimmt,
die immer schön und durch sich
schön ist und in jedem Teil
ihre Einfachheit bewahrt."
(Baldassare Castiglione: Il Cortile, 1528)
Mimi Todhunter has lived in Venice for the last twenty years. Her Salon "At Home in Venice" is internationally well-known. In her
Palazzo on Canal Grande she hosts exclusive Dinner Parties with guests from around the world. At these elegant events, she exhibits her talent for festive table settings. Mimi's invitations
hearken back to the grand tradition of Fine Venetian Dining.
Mimi Todhunter lebt seit über 20 Jahren in Venedig. Sie ist dort - und international - als herausragende Gastgeberin bekannt. Unter dem Motto "At Home in Venice" lädt sie Gäste aus aller Welt in ihrem Palazzo am Canal Grande zu eleganten Dinnerabenden ein und arrangiert exklusive Exkursionen und Führungen in Venedigs Kunst- und Kulturszene. Die dekorativen Arrangements ihrer festlichen Abendessen spiegeln große Traditionen wider - nicht nur venezianische.
Pictures: Katja Mutschelknaus/Mimi Todhunter
Mimi Todhunter in the gallery of her
Venetian Palazzo on Canal Grande.
FoodTorian: Mimi, you have lived in Paris, Sidney and London. In all these places you were a hostess with a flair for elegant style and beautifully designed table settings. Did the aesthetics of your table decoration change since your move to Venice twenty years ago?
Mimi Todhunter: I love beautiful things and immediately fell in love with Murano Glass right in the very beginning. The first thing I bought when I came to Venice were these drinking glasses from NasonMoretti which I've loved to use for champagne ever since.
FT: A little bit of champagne to start, seems to be the practice at fine Dinner Parties all over the world ...
MT: ... in Venice, though, we also love to start an elegant evening with Prosecco Veneziano from the grape variety glera. The famous vineyards for Prosecco grapes are just a stone's throw from Venice. These Prosecco glasses seem extremely fragile at first sight. I have seldom held such a tissue thin glass in my hands before. The shape is also quite unconventional.
A fine example of Mimi's collection
of handmade Venetian glass art.
FT: In Venice sparkling wines seem to be often served in such unique wine glasses. However, in Northern and Western Europe such glasses are rarely used for sparkling wines.
MT: In Venice uniquely designed, handmade drinking glasses are part and parcel of an elegant Dinner Party. In my collection of artisan drinking glasses from Murano there is another fine example. I had these made for my husband's 70st birthday in 2006. I had made them in three different sizes. They are actually not as fragile as you may think first. They are very light! I had one made for water, one for champagne. And one for wine. They are just perfect for round tables, since they would not take up so much space on the table.
Tumblers for water, wine and champagne,
designed by NasonMoretti, Murano.
FT: In your Palazzo, you can select different rooms and tables to host your Dinner Parties, depending on the number of guests or the style of the event.
MT: Indeed, I have the freedom to choose from different dining rooms. I decide which room to use based upon the time of year and the guest list. The guests can be either my family, friends or international worthies. I have two dining rooms. One of them has a round table where I can host ten guests. My "At Home in Venice" Dinner Parties usually take place in the gallery. There I can arrange a long table for twelve. In the winter, Venice can be cold and damp. It is warm and cosy in my small dining room sitting at the round table.
Festive table decorations in Mimi's Palazzo.
FT: The four seasons are well-known in Venice. How do the seasons inspire your invitations?
MT: My Dinner Parties are always seasonal. Each of the four seasons are indispensable for Venetian Fine Dining and culture. The seasons are also part of my family's daily life. I go to the farmer's market every day. I shop all my groceries on a daily basis on the mercato.
FT: Which market in Venice do you like the best?
MT: The fish market right in my neighbourhood is just amazing. They have an incredible selection of fish, and fish is really what a lot of people in Venice like to eat. In the winter, I like to go to the butcher as well. One of my favorite butchers is quite close. His name is Tiziano. When it's cold and foggy outside, I love to cook something very wholesome like ossobucco. But during the summer, we tend to live on either chicken or fish. And vegetables of course - lots of vegetables!
Vegetables are essential for
la cucina veneziana.
FT: Some islands of the laguna di Venezia are famous for their small vegetable farms. Sant'Erasmo is a fine example.
MT: The island of Sant'Erasmo is one of our favorites indeed! It is really like a market garden. In the summer, we go there on our boat to buy vegetables directly from the farm, which is quite fun.
FT: Your love for vegetables also expresses itself in your collection of china and artisan ceramics.
MT: That's quite true, indeed! I am very fond of radicchio for example. My collection of radicchio and squash plates handcrafted in Bassano del Grappa are examples of this attraction. I bought them from a Venetian Lady twenty years ago, when I first came to live in Venice. It's very charming using these plates for squash risotto or zuppa di zucco. Over the years, I have collected quite a few charming ceramic masterpieces. Like this huge white bowl, for example. It looks like the perfect shaped cabbage. I am very fond of it, I bought in France and remember quite well that I immediately fell in love with it when I first saw it.
Some of Mimi's favorites:
Handcrafted Ceramic Masterpieces
from France and Bassano del Grappa.
FT: You really have a remarkable collection of china and silver.
MT: I try to collect 18th century silver drinking mugs. I usually put them on the table for water. I also have a wonderful selection of Murano Glass, mostly made by NasonMoretti. I am also very fond of a Herend dinner service which is a complete service for 24 guests. For breakfast and for tea I also have collected some pieces from Herend over the years.
Mimi Todhunter, sharing some exclusive insights
into her silver and china collection.
FT: A life-size painting of your husband hangs in the gallery. He's holding a bit of cloth in his right hand...
MT: One of our sons is a portrait painter. He lives in London. He painted this portrait of my husband Jonathan Todhunter, holding a cloth. My husband's family have been in the wool business for generations. This is surely one of the reasons why I am very fond of elegant tableware. In the winter I like to use tablecloths of warm, dark colours such as Amber which looks quite festive indeed. White table linens are essential all year round. These linens with the embroidered family initials of the Todhunters hold a special place in my heart.
The Todhunter family initial,
embroidered on antique table linen.
A portrait of Mimi's husband
FT: The four seasons also determine the arrangement of the table linens. They complement the seasonality of the dinner menu as well. By the way: Your kitchen has a spectacular view of the Canal Grande!
MT: I love to cook for my family and friends. For larger Dinner Parties I am supported by an assistant cook, and our two butlers serve.
Mimi's kitchen on the piano nobile
of Palazzo Duodo.
FT: You've returned from a successful trip to the mercato. You've set a spectacular table. The silver shines, the crystal sparkles, and the candles are lit - what's next for an elegant seasonal Venetian Dinner Party at Mimi Todhunter's?
MT: Champagne to start! White and red wine for the first and second course. As starter we do as the Venetians do and serve cicchetti, a wonderful Venetian custom: small slices of wheat bread with either baccalà or parmiggiano, prosciutto, salami, grilled vegetables and tomatoes - canapées alla veneziana. Primo piatto is mostly risotto, with fish or - in the fall: porcini. When figs are in season, duck breast with figs is one of my favorites as secondo piatto. And for dessert mini pavlovas with fresh seasonal fruit on top. Although the big pavlova looks amazing, it's a bit messy when you cut it up. That's why I prefer the mini ones!
Dinner is ready to serve at Palazzo Duodo.
"Setting a table is a ritual
that requires attention to detail
for the smallest things,
accuracy and etiquette,
choice and placement of
china, silver and glassware."