Where is the party? Ask Benny Blanco

Benny Blanco
(Photo: Benny Blanco Instagram)
On a recent Saturday afternoon, Benny Blanco’s kitchen was a whirl of activity: Pink-orange fillets of salmon were being doused with salt, verdant green snap peas were being cut gently on their bias, a humming food processor was being fed handfuls of safety-cone-orange carrots to shred.اضافة اعلان

And there he was, in the middle it all, with his fingers in the tonnato.

Blanco walked the blender full of the creamy, pungent Italian dip — a mixture of tuna, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and spices — over to Jess Damuck, for her to taste.

“More lemon,” she said after a moment of consideration.

“More?” he asked.

She nodded, and he grabbed two lemons from the kitchen island, strewn with a Tetris-like maze of plates and platters.

This is a version of the dance that Blanco and Damuck, both 34, have executed with regularity for the better part of a year as they have prepared dozens of dinner parties for a small, rotating group of friends. Damuck is a recipe developer and food stylist, and Blanco is a Grammy-nominated songwriter and music producer; their shared love of epicurean pleasures yielded intimate backyard gatherings that filled a social void for a certain creative class during the days when COVID-19 restrictions meant restaurants were shuttered and large indoor congregations were frowned upon. In a town that runs on velvet ropes and VIP rooms, these low-key dinner parties have become a highly coveted invite.

Blanco and Damuck met through her boyfriend, actor and director Ben Sinclair, of the HBO series “High Maintenance.” Knowing that Blanco was a gourmand — in addition to his music career, he and food personality Matty Matheson host a cheekily titled YouTube series — the couple invited him over the night that she was testing out a challah recipe for her newsletter.

“When I came downstairs,” Damuck recalled, “they were standing there with all 10 fingers in the challah, and Benny turned to me and said, ‘I haven’t even tasted this, and I know it’s the best challah I’ve ever had.’”

Although these soirees are normally thrown for their own sake, this night was to fete the release of Damuck’s first cookbook, “Salad Freak.” As such, Blanco was acting more as sous-chef than a mischievous co-chef.

“Normally, I’d make it a little more heavy-handed,” he said of the tonnato. “I’d add some spice, or something vinegary. Maybe I’d throw a whole chicken in there. But tonight, we’re not going to do that.”

Damuck cut her teeth in the test kitchen at Martha Stewart Living magazine where, for many years, she was tasked with making the domestic goddess’ daily lunchtime salad. The endeavor often took many hours, and it included trips to the farmers market and working within Stewart’s dietary preferences. “I remember one day she came in and said, ‘This lettuce is too tender. From now on, I only want crisp lettuce,’” Damuck recalled. “It sent me into a total panic. No more arugula or baby greens. And butter lettuce you can’t wash like normal lettuce in a salad spinner. You have to take each leaf and let it rest on a sheet pan with paper towels.” She must have done something right; Stewart wrote the foreword to her book.

After the challah experience, Damuck brought over a watermelon and shiso salad to a barbecue at Blanco’s home in Malibu, California. From there, these dinner parties blossomed.

“Meeting Benny and starting to throw parties with him was great because I was pretty new to LA, and I got an instant friend group,” Damuck said. These gatherings range from a handful of people in Blanco’s backyard to high-concept dinners for around 30 guests, such as the steakhouse-themed party they threw in Montecito, California, for New Year’s.

“Cooking with him is amazing, because he’s so enthusiastic,” she said. “He’s a really great cook, but it’s not what he does as a job, so he’s trying to soak everything up as you’re doing it. He is never highly critical. You know, it’s not always easy to cook with other people.”

Together, they make for an amusing odd couple: She is poised and deliberate; he is frenetic verging on feral. He likes to plan the menu days in advance and obsess over everything during FaceTime sessions, while she likes to be more spontaneous yet thorough in her execution.

As the afternoon faded to twilight, friends began to trickle in from the entertainment, music, and food worlds. The mix of unexpected faces is part of what makes these nights successful. On this particular evening, guests included actor Dan Stevens in a matching pajama set; musician Jessie Ware in from London; Molly Baz, a food personality; Karley Sciortino, a writer on intimacy and relationships; and Dave Burd, a comedian and rapper known to fans as Lil Dicky.

Taken together in their tie-dyed Online Ceramics T-shirts, drooping sweatpants, and Birkenstock clogs, the small assembly could easily be mistaken for a hippie-chic cult.

Toward the end of the night, Damuck was at the kitchen door, surveying all the bodies splayed out on pillows in their post-dinner satiety.

“I saw Dave Burd try his first vegetable,” she said. “He doesn’t like fruits or vegetables, but he tried endive, and I think he really liked it.”

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