A Picturesque Backyard Dinner Party with Rui Nakata

By Carmen Collins
summer dinner party

We’ve been major fan girls of Rui Nakata’s food-filled Instagram feed for a while, so when we realized she lives right down the street from us in Austin, we knew we had to snag a seat at one of her famous backyard dinner parties. Rui and her fiancé Anthony share a love for garden-to-table cooking (they grow their own veggies), original craft cocktail recipes, and the ease of backyard entertaining. They also boast some handy woodworking skills; together they built that gorgeous wooden table that takes center stage at today’s party! Scroll through the gallery for Rui’s savory menu and her secret to hosting your own stress-free gathering this summer.

photography by hannah haston

Where did you learn to cook?

My mom. She is the best cook I know and has taught me the basics of Japanese cooking. I’ve also been getting inspiration from my fiancé (who is more adventurous in the kitchen than I am), and my constantly growing collection of cookbooks.

What’s your go-to centerpiece solution?

Vintage brass candlesticks, eucalyptus, and flowers.

What would we never find at one of your parties?

Anything pre-made. We don’t make our own cheeses or anything, but every course including dessert is crafted by us from raw ingredients. We are starting to mill our own grain for the flour we use, and the herbs and some veggies are picked fresh from our garden.

What’s your standard hostess outfit?

Relaxed but stylish dresses. I usually wear one of my many dresses from Curry Beth, a seamstress here in Austin.

Your signature dish for parties?

A savory tomato galette. I make a killer pie crust and I serve it at almost every dinner party.

Rui puts together a tray of mini bruschetta in her studio. In addition to maintaining a full-time job and running a food blog, Rui loves to oil paint in her free time.

Rui created four types of bruschetta for the party:

  • blue cheese / green apple / oregano
  • blue cheese / prosciutto / yellow peach
  • creme fraiche / yellow peach / oregano / fleur de sel
  • feta / prosciutto / fig / basil

What’s your go-to source for recipes?

Beth Kirby’s blog at Local Milk and The French Laundry cookbook by Thomas Keller. Beth’s blog is awesome for casual dishes, but she makes sure to add a unique twist. The French Laundry comes out when we want to spend hours making an intricate course. The one dish our guests never forget after attending one of our dinner parties is the truffle egg custard that we serve in the shell, which is actually adapted from Thomas Keller’s genius recipe.

What scares you about entertaining?

That the guests are feeling out of place or awkward because they aren’t helping. If the host is stressing out or ignoring the guests, it can really affect the mood of the party. Once guests start arriving, I tend to hand over the kitchen duties to my fiancé so I can interact with them and make everyone feel relaxed and welcomed.

Get the recipe for Rui’s zucchini and mushroom galette!

What’s your must-have entertaining tool?

My jigger and Koriko cocktail shaker. I use them to make cocktails for my guests as aperitifs so they can have something in hand before the meal.

What’s your signature cocktail?

My go-to is a bourbon amaretto sour. It consists of fresh squeezed lemon juice, bourbon, amaretto, and a Luxardo cherry. Although recently, I’ve been getting great feedback on the paper plane cocktail I’ve been making which has less sweetness and more bitterness.

Paper Plane Cocktail

  • 1 oz. bourbon
  • 1 oz. amaro
  • 1 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 oz. aperol

Stir everything together with ice, strain, and serve in a coupe glass.

What’s the one entertaining rule you rarely break?

I always think long and hard about the guest list so that I can prevent conversations from getting split during the party. It’s always awkward when a few people start cracking inside jokes amongst one another in front of the other guests.

Favorite tabletop item you own?

The serving boards we made out of walnut and spalted pecan.

Rui’s one-year-old Boston terrier Vader tries to sneak a snack off of the table.

What items are always in your refrigerator?

Things we’ve pickled and homemade orgeat.

The perfect dinner party playlist includes:

Angus and Julia Stone, The Oh Hellos, The Lumineers, Lord Huron, Hozier, and Bon Iver.

Favorite after-dinner activity or game?

The past two times we’ve hosted Friendsgiving, we got everyone to play a game we created which is a combination of Cards Against Humanity, Pictionary, and Telephone.

The restaurant meal you’ll never forget:

The catch of the day and the oysters we ate at every restaurant we stopped at along the Dalmatian coast last year. Croatian oysters straight from the water beat any oysters I’ve had in Maine or Boston. We ate like kings because everything was so cheap.

Secret to a great dinner party?

Not setting an end time. We let our guests stay as long as they want and we make sure to have enough wine to keep conversations going for many hours. You can’t do that at a restaurant in the US because it’s not part of the culture here like it is in Europe. I guess that’s why I like throwing dinner parties. I can create an environment in which nobody feels rushed to leave.

Who are your dream dinner guests?

Dan Barber, chef and author of The Third Plate, and Tyson Cole, chef/owner of Uchi and Uchiko. I feel like I could learn a lot from both of them.

Get the recipe for Rui’s tea poached pears with creme fraiche!

It’s not a party without _____.

Dessert! We usually have homemade ice cream around to serve at the end of the night. Some of our favorite flavors are earl grey, lemon custard, basil, and peach buttermilk.