Suzanne and Gaines

By Jenn Rose Smith

There are big personalities, and then there are Texas-sized ones. The Kilpatrick family of the Wild River Ranch in Sisterdale, Texas have managed to achieve modern-day legend status across the state when it comes to partying: at one point the guest list for their annual Independence Day bash swelled to the hundreds. Gaines Kilpatrick and his wife Suzanne Karotkin are the charismatic young couple keeping the party going in style these days on the banks of the Blanco River. He’s a self-described “serial entrepreneur” with ventures in the tech and oil industries and she, a former fashion editor at Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and InStyle magazines. The couple is known around Austin for their fun-loving approach to life (and strong affinity for costumes.) These days Suzanne is busy running her chic online gift shop SK Gifts, and preparing to launch an Austin fashion venture soon. We couldn’t wait to get an invite to a weekend in Sisterdale and it finally arrived when the couple hosted an “English-meets-Texan” picnic at the Wild River Ranch — costumes encouraged, of course.

photographed by mia baxter

What is the Wild River Ranch and why is it such a special place?

The ranch is Gaines’ parents second home and labor of love. They cherry picked each and every detail in building it and maintain almost the entire property themselves. Gaines and I met at a local dancehall and the ranch played a huge role in our courtship, so for us it’s also a home away from home and very special place in our hearts.

What’s on the menu for today’s picnic?

smoked chicken sandwiches
baguette, aged gouda, frisee, cissy’s preserves
chips and smashed pea guacamole
black pepper bacon biscuits
summer cheese and fruit
rye chocolate brownies

These smoked chicken sandwiches are incredible. Tell us how you prepared the chicken:

It’s one of Gaines’ specialties! He uses Cornish hens, preps them with Slap Ya Mama Cajun seasoning, then smokes them for 4 hours with hickory.

What inspired your English-meets-Texan picnic theme?

The rainy but charming summer we’ve been having, our love of drawn out meals and casual luxury.

Oh my goodness. Tell us about dessert, please.

These are the Rye Chocolate Brownies from Claire’s Ptak’s new cookbook, The Violet Bakery. She was a pastry chef at Chez Panisse for years before opening Violet in London. The rye flour makes for an especially rich and gooey treat.

See Claire Ptak’s recipe for rye chocolate brownies here.

Party guest Raymond Stanley Tolson IV (affectionately known as “Cuatro”) hangs out in the kitchen in the white house at Wild River Ranch. The mutual friend of Suzanne and Gaines’ introduced the two at the ranch years ago.

Tell us about one the best meals of your life that you’ll never forget:

There are quite a few but, most recently, probably dinner at Michelin-starred Antica Corte Pallavicina. It’s a 45 minute drive outside of Parma including a long stretch with just one lane and deep ditches on either side. We arrived at dusk, rewarded by a stroll through their stunning rose garden and storied cellars. The owners produce the finest aged hams in the world on a dreamy family estate. Experience nonpareil in Italian farm-to-table dining!

When was your most memorable night of hosting guests?

It would have to be our wedding, Halloween weekend 2012 in New Orleans. We took over the top floor of Galatoire’s, lit it entirely by candlelight, encouraged masquerade attire and had the restaurant’s signature food and drink in full supply. I think everyone would have stayed there all night if not for after-party.

Austin art gallery owner Travis Huse sporting his take on “English meets Texan” attire — a vintage cowboy hat paired with a sharp bowtie.

What’s the one entertaining rule you never break?

No norms here, we’re rule breakers. I think it’s more fun that way. For hosts and guests.

You guys are NEVER afraid of costumes. Would you say that every party at Wild River Ranch is a costume party? Why do costumes make parties so much more fun?

Pretty much, it kind of goes unspoken now! I think costumes make parties more fun because it’s gives people something colorful to think about and adds an enjoyable element everyone can enjoy – young or old, teetotaler or lush.

What’s your standard hostess/host outfit?

Never the same really being a former fashion editor. But we’ve both gotten serious milage out of top hats. And Gaines loves a good smoking jacket.

The menu was hand-painted onto leather by artist Jessica Fontenot.

What’s your current favorite color palette for parties?

Red, navy, white linen, crystal and marigold.


Suzanne wears one of her many top hats with a pair of lips-shaped sunglasses for the riverside picnic.

How many people do you usually invite when you’re entertaining? What do you think about when you’re creating a guest list?

I thrive on a very diverse array of friends. In large numbers, that makes for an awesome party. But on a more intimate level, there have been some flops with conflicting personalities! I now like to keep things small, 6 to 8, and invite people I have no doubt will take pleasure in one another.


What do you love about Texas?

Rich history, state pride, big personalities, hill country, April wild flowers, abundant guacamole and warm winters.

What does “Texas style” mean to you in terms of fashion?

That’s one of my favorite questions these days! Every major city is booming to such a huge degree, it’s ever-changing. I’d like to think Austin is becoming a better version of itself, honing a tighter image of true casual luxury.

I enjoyed a coupe of champagne served from the back of a hunter green vintage Chevy pickup parked near the river.

What’s always in your fridge?

Gaines and I joke we’re a “three ham family.” We always have a Spanish, Italian and Tennessee ham on hand in our home. They make for a luxurious late-night snack, stewing tool, or impromptu get-together treat.

Cuatro, who once founded the undergraduate polo team at the University of Texas, pairs a red western wear shirt with a summer scarf and favorite old pair of polo boots.

Suzanne tied each smoked chicken sandwich with a rustic piece of twine.

Describe your perfect dinner party playlist:

It varies widely depending on the occasion. But out at the ranch it’s either Marty Robbins, Django Reinhardt or other 1940’s music. Followed by the “Campfire Initiative” late night, whereby Gaines plays covers on his beloved guitar and rallies people to sing along around the fire.

Three bottles of champagne are kept on ice in a vintage leather ice bucket.

An old game board provided a great surface for serving on top of an antique rug.

What are your must-have entertaining tools?

Good music, plenty of booze!

The couple being playful as always.

After the picnic, the party goes for a sunset stroll at Wild River Ranch.

Thank you, Suzanne and Gaines, for inviting us into your magical and fun world. Next time, we’re packing costumes for sure.

follow suzanne on instagram: @suzkloves
follow sk gifts on instagram: @skgifts