“I was new at my high school as a freshman and the girls that I became friends with had a picnic club, where they performed a formal initiation. On the day of mine, I was like, ‘Mom I have to bring something to the picnic club.’ My mom said, ‘Well, we have caviar in the fridge. Take that.’ I think you were supposed to bring a cake on your initiation day, but I brought caviar. I went to school on the Upper East Side but I was a downtown girl, so I thought caviar and blinis would go over well with the Uptown set. But when I brought caviar, Nobody touched it! Everyone just stared at it!” Today, Sarah has perfected the picnic, no longer toting caviar in her old broken in L.L.Bean Boat & Totes she uses in place of proper picnic baskets. She has replaced one delicacy with another, swapping out fish eggs for something a bit more finger friendly. With a little help from the infamous Martha Stewart, Sarah is now well known for her chicken salad and sesame seed tea sandwiches. These little triangular treats keep the picnic crew growing. If Sarah is hosting a picnic, you know it will draw a crowd. “I’m the queen of the appetizer. My mother and my brother are really great cooks, and make beautiful and elaborate meals. I always lagged behind a little bit. But then I started making these sandwiches and everyone thought they were delicious. So now these are my thing.”
Since catching the picnic bug in high school, certain elements have evolved, but one thing remains the same. “We always picnic in Central Park right behind the Met.” The picnic crew still gathers there for champagne, fruit, cheese and sandwiches, but gone are the days of an official “initiation.” New members are invited to join on any given weekend or holiday, sans cake or caviar. Even furry friends are brought along to partake in the festivities. Sarah started the tradition with her former pet Sophie. “I had a bunny named Sophie; many people in the fashion industry knew and loved Sophie. She was a good bunny. I really wanted her to get out of the house as often as possible, so picnics became a real excuse to bring her out. She would hop around on the grass. She loved Central Park.”
While Sarah’s hostessing expertise is usually at its best around a picnic blanket, she credits her mother and her frequent dinner parties for her love of bringing people together in the name of food. “We grew up in SoHo, where my mother had an art gallery. It was one of those houses where there were always people over for dinner. If there was an artist in town, or she had an opening…she really cooked for the pleasure of it. She would cook simple things as well as complicated things, but it was not a meatloaf household.” Sarah considers herself the “amateur” of the family, but remains ambitious. Martha Stewart’s “Hors D’Oeuvres Handbook,” which she looks to as her personal finger food bible, is riddled with little yellow Post-it Notes. She admits she hasn’t mastered most of these recipes, but has marked them with a discerning editorial eye noting the “things that I think look pretty, that I think people would like to eat and what I think I can do. I love that book.” While she has perfected the picnic, Sarah is also fond of throwing cocktail parties with pretty finger foods and lots of fresh flowers. “The champagne always flows.”
It is clear the Vogue Magazine editor considers Martha a sort of food mentor and an artist in her own right. “I like the way Martha does things, because I too really care about presentation. Some of it might come from working in magazines. I care what stuff looks like and her stuff always looks curated and special, but it’s also relatively easy to do. It’s not intimidating. Part of the reason I work in magazines is that I also love when things look pretty.” Her shelves are stacked meticulously with colorful dishware and hand painted glasses, affirming this statement. “I have a lot of visual ideas. Some editors really think in words, but I am a visual thinker. I have a strong idea of what I want the page to look like when I am thinking about a story for my section. I am constantly thinking of how it will be executed.” The same attention to detail goes into planning her get-togethers. “It’s all about ‘the mix’. That’s something I have learned at Vogue. You always want a mix of interesting people and diverse backgrounds.”
“I feel like the dinner party is rarer and rarer in New York amongst people our age. As an alternative, hosting a good picnic is a nice way to bring friends and family together, and it’s so easy to say ‘meet me behind the Met!’”
Sarah’s Favorite Dishes:
-Spicy Chicken at Indochine (I’ve been eating this there since I was a kid going to way-too-late dinners with my mom)
-Pistachio Marmalade Milk Shake (hold the whipped cream) at the Bowery Diner–when I am feeling (really) indulgent at brunch. I look forward to this and dream about it in advance. It is a meal in itself. Strange and wonderful.
-Virtually everything at Fred’s, where I have lunch weekly. Standards, for me, include the epic asparagus, the hen of the woods salad, Fred’s bottomless Chicken Chopped Salad (my mother and I once attempted to recreate the creamy balsalmic-dijon dressing), and the world’s best chicken paillard.
-My mom’s Caesar salad. “Diane Brown Caesar salad is not to be missed. I can’t get Caesar salads at restaurants because they don’t come close to hers.”