Interior designer Brandie Herbst has harbored a passion for gastronomy since she was old enough to read. The flaxen-haired Michigan native considers herself a self-taught cookbook chef with a
propensity for readapting recipes by illustrious toques. Although she grew up baking and cooking with her Polish and Finnish family members (who always made everything from scratch), her current tastes diverge from the flavors of her childhood.
“My cooking style is so different from how my aunts, uncles, and grandparents used to cook,” Brandie says. “I even cook differently than my mother. She does more classic, homegrown comfort foods, whereas I’ve stepped into another stratosphere and am more adventurous with flavors and menus.”
One of her greatest culinary talents is preparing French and Asian dishes to include fare like pho, a Vietnamese soup she often makes for her husband, Todd, co-owner of Big Time Restaurant Group in West Palm Beach. She began with an easy “faux pho” but, with help from a Vietnamese friend, graduated to a more authentic version using a homemade bone broth. “I became more comfortable and figured out how to navigate a cuisine that was totally foreign to me,” Brandie recalls.
When she’s not in the kitchen or decorating homes for clients like restaurateur Rocco Mangel, Brandie enjoys traveling abroad with Todd and their three young daughters. She collects wine keys from hotels around the world, and the family’s passports, filled with stamps from destinations like Kyoto and Saint-Tropez, are testaments to a life well-traveled. Sojourns to Spain, Turkey, and Greece top the Herbsts’ bucket list.
Brandie’s wanderlust spirit and fondness for global flavors also take center stage in the intimate fêtes and larger bashes she frequently hosts at the couple’s Palm Beach residence.
Last year, for instance, Brandie and Todd had friends over for an Indian supper they’d won in an auction at their daughter’s school. To augment the evening’s South Asian theme, Brandie hand-piped mehndi designs onto cupcakes and also hired a henna tattoo artist and dancers to perform a Bollywood-style show.
“I love having a little surprise,” Brandie says. “We cleared the furniture out of the living room and the dancers performed then taught us how to dance.”
This past summer, she invited six close friends to her home for a festive, Thai-themed celebration. And this time, she handled the food prep. For the six weeks leading up to the dinner party, she practiced the complex art of Thai cooking on Todd.
“I’m not picky, but I’m very direct when it comes to food. It’s my career,” Todd says. “She took it seriously and made a lot of additions. It was a challenge she intentionally put in front of herself.”
Brandie notes that while these recipes were new to her, many of the components were already staples of her pantry. “Cilantro and Sriracha [a Thai chili sauce] are probably the two most commonly used ingredients in my house,” she says. “I use Sriracha more than ketchup [and] I must have cilantro in something every day, whether it’s eggs or sprinkled on top of sweet potato fries.”
With the menu set, she turned her attention to the decor. While island hostesses often delegate event details to a professional planner, Brandie delights in doing the heavy lifting herself, like arranging the flowers and creating elaborate tablescapes from repurposed household sundries.
“I’ll pull things out of the kids’ rooms I think would make a fun conversation piece,” says Brandie, nodding to a Pottery Barn tea set tray and a Tiffany bowl filled with colorful Legos. “There’s inspiration all over the place.”
Hours before her guests arrived, Brandie transformed her ranch-style home into a verdant Thai retreat. Starting with a blue-and-white base, she weaved in pops of purple, pink, lavender, and gold. On the dining room table, she layered Kim Seybert bamboo placemats beneath her treasured Aerin Lauder plates and topped them with floral napkins from Anthropologie and wooden Constellation napkin rings, also by Kim Seybert. A trio of Chinese vases held yellow Mokara orchids, and pink and yellow lotus blooms floated in Arte Italica Burano dipping bowls.
She hung swags of purple Phalaenopsis orchids from the chandelier and placed Cymbidiums inside the candle cups so that they softly glowed when the lights were lowered. Lastly, she set a takeaway gift beside each plate: a small, decorative wooden box with a carved soap inside.
That evening, Brandie, Todd, and their daughters welcomed guests with help from the family’s Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Delphine.
In the living room, Ervin Machado, the sommelier at Louie Bossi’s Ristorante, served Asian beers and a special Cucumber Smash cocktail, presented in a pineapple-shaped glass garnished with lime wheels, edible flowers, and Thai basil. Machado also picked the wines and Champagnes for the four-course dinner that followed.
“When you go to Brandie’s house for a dinner party, it’s about being completely and utterly pampered,” says guest Amy Lagae, who’s known Brandie for 10 years. “It’s not just about the food. She sets a scene. It’s like you’re going to a play. There’s a theme and a setting. No detail is left unturned.”
While the group chatted and sipped their libations, Brandie made quick trips to the kitchen, each time returning with a decadent platter of canapés. The hors d’oeuvres included cumin-spiced chicken rice flowers; pork and plum endive wraps; lemongrass pork rose dumplings; summer rolls with pickled cucumbers, radishes, carrots, and jalapeño; and a crudité platter with sea salt wonton crisps, a red curry dipping sauce, and basil-and-chili-pepper hummus.
When the kids headed to bed, Brandie escorted her friends into the dining room. The group discussed two of their favorite subjects—children and travel itineraries—while being served the first course of green papaya salad. Next up was a beef green curry spooned over fragrant jasmine rice. Brandie had planned to make the curry paste herself but had a popular Thai version shipped from overseas, instead.
The evening’s most anticipated dish came next: shrimp pad thai. “That dish was the one I worked on the most,” says Brandie, who sourced the majority of her ingredients from Whole Foods and local Asian markets. “There’s a specific noodle you have to get and a certain way to make the sauce. The shrimp have to be cooked on the spot, as do the noodles. There’s a reason why these things are left to the Thai.”
As guests tucked into the savory dish, condiment caddies with traditional Thai sauces, like a flaming-hot chili sauce and a cucumber relish, made the rounds. When Todd first tried them, he knew he was “tasting something special.”
Amy Lagae agreed. “My husband, John, told me Brandie’s sauces were absolutely the best he’s ever had in the world, and he’s a hot sauce connoisseur.”
The meal ended on a sweet note when Brandie presented a coconut panna cotta paired with a mango sorbet to cool any remaining fires.
After the last couple had left, Brandie and Todd tossed around ideas for their next shindig that included a Nobu-style Japanese dinner. “It’s fun when you have someone like Brandie who enjoys what she does and is good at it,” Todd says. “If she’s willing to continue doing it, then I am as well.”
Thankfully, Brandie shows no signs of slowing down. She adds: “There’s no greater gift I can give than cooking, hospitality, and warmth. It’s an honest reflection of who I am.”