Jim and Gaye Engel Host the Ultimate Dinner Party

The Engels marry Parisian refinement and sophisticated personal details to host the fine fete

Jim and Gaye Engel host an elegant, Parisian-inspired Ultimate Dinner Party.
Photography by Jerry Rabinowitz

When Jim and Gaye Engel entertain, the result is a well-choreographed occasion featuring a fresh, often home-cooked meal served atop an elegant table, followed by dancing or mingling under the stars on their home’s terrace overlooking Lake Worth. As with all seemingly effortless productions, preparations begin early. Up to a week before a formal dinner party at their French manor–style home in the estate section of Palm Beach, the table is set.

“I love to create a beautiful, welcoming table with vibrant flowers, especially orchids, and Gaye loves to create wonderful cuisine,” says Jim.

“For us, it’s divide and conquer,” adds Gaye. “How lucky are we that it’s fun for each of us?”

Given this proclivity, when the two were asked to be one of the couples to host the annual Ultimate Dinner Party, they didn’t hesitate. The event, which took place in select homes on a night in November, raised funds for Children’s Home Society of Florida, whose mission is to implement lasting, safe solutions for children and families on the brink of foster care. This year, the organization presented philanthropist Patty Myura with the Caring Heart Philanthropic Award.

“Patty is a dear friend of ours, and she is just a lovely, kind, open person,” says Gaye.

“Gaye and I believe in the charity and several of our friends have been involved,” Jim adds. “We were honored to be asked.”

The home is the couple’s third on the island and was built for entertaining, with nearly

every room boasting expansive water views. Although the main rooms feel intimate enough for a cozy tête-à-tête, the home easily accommodates a crowd, such as the 40 who attended the couple’s twenty-fifth wedding anniversary celebration two years ago or the 100 they entertained for a fundraiser benefiting the Palm Beach Police Foundation, one of the many charities the Engels champion. Gaye takes over in the kitchen whenever she can.

“Cooking and entertaining are my way of welcoming people into my home,” she says. “I want them to know I’ve spent time thinking about them when I create a menu.”

Growing up near Montgomery, Alabama, Gaye recalls the women in her family always gathering together to prepare meals. Though she has cultivated a wide variety of culinary specialties, she says “the Southern girl in me” harbors a penchant for desserts, like the popular rum cake that is becoming her signature hostess gift.

She designed her own kitchen to be a chef’s dream. “I wanted a lot of work space with a huge refrigerator and freezer that could hold trays of food, ready for entertaining.” The six-burner Wolf range also has a grill and a griddle, she notes. “We’ve had professional chefs prepare meals in here, and they can have multiple work stations, plus we have a warming oven.”

For the Ultimate Dinner Party, Gaye was not cooking, but Jim maintained his role as chief table designer. After choosing a dramatic fuchsia and gold color scheme, his first step in realizing his vision was a visit to Family Produce and Flowers Shop, one of his favorite florists in West Palm Beach, to select several bright pink orchids to visually anchor the table. He interspersed small, tight bouquets of various blooms, marching in concert with the taller orchids and endowing the display with a whimsical air. Lalique crystal bowls, which the couple acquired during frequent trips to France, bookended the centerpiece.

Jim and Gaye Engel displayed their family crest—a shield depicting an angel with a sword on one side and a wreath on the other, symbolizing peace through strength—on the evening’s dinner menu as well as on Peterbrooke chocolates that greeted guests at their place settings. Flutes of Dom Pérignon and canapés such as tuna tartare with sesame aioli tantalized taste buds during cocktail hour.

“For most [of our] very large parties, I start decorating up to 10 days before,” says Jim. “I want the table to be unique, but I also want it to be inviting, warm, and elegant, so it’s very important that the flowers are not overpowering and don’t obstruct guests’ views of each other.”

To incorporate their own history into the evening, the Engels emblazoned the menu with their family crest, which features an angel with a sword on the left side of a shield and a wreath on the right. “The protector is the angel with the sword and the wreath is for peace; it means peace through strength,” Jim says. The crest also decorated the wrappings of the chocolates Gaye special-ordered from Peterbrooke Chocolatier in Palm Beach and nestled in the center of each place setting.

In German, Engel translates to angel. If they look closely, visitors will spy cherubs throughout the design of the home—perching atop exterior stone arches, gazing from above interior doorways, and adorning the six sconces in the main salon as well as the early nineteenth–century bronze chandelier in the foyer. “We love our antiques that we have collected over the years,” says Gaye. Together, the Engels enjoy prowling favorite dealers and flea markets on their travels. On a trip to Paris, Gaye unearthed six crystal cordial glasses etched with cherub faces at the massive Clignancourt market.

Francophiles to the core, the couple planned the evening with a soupçon of French flair. The dozen guests arriving at the aptly named Mon Paradis (“My Paradise” in French) were greeted with flutes of Dom Pérignon Brut 2008, which the couple had selected specifically for the Ultimate Dinner Party on a recent trip to Reims with their daughter, Ashley, and her husband, Kevin. “We wanted to bring a little bit of France to our guests,” says Jim. Canapés of foie gras on brioche—a favorite of Gaye’s—along with tuna tartare with sesame aioli and a twist on fish and chips, made with imported caviar, accompanied the bubbly.

Executive Chef Drew Garms and his team prepared a memorable feast that included poached Maine lobster tails with mango, smoked avocado, pickled endive, and toasted macadamia nuts.
Executive Chef Drew Garms and his team prepared a memorable feast that included poached Maine lobster tails with mango, smoked avocado, pickled endive, and toasted macadamia nuts.

“It’s obviously an extravagant evening and we take as much creative liberty as [the hosts] encourage,” says executive chef Drew Garms, who prepared the menu. The couple wanted a unique take on a traditional French meal but left the rest up to Garms. “I talked to them for feedback on what to serve, and they said they wanted something light and refreshing, with a little Florida feel.”

Caramelized pear and financier cake with vanilla gelato
Caramelized pear and financier cake with vanilla gelato

Dinner included poached Maine lobster tail with fresh mango, smoked avocado, pickled endive, and toasted macadamia nuts, followed by Champagne sorbet with berries and wood-roasted beef cheeks with pommes Dauphinoise and heirloom carrots. For dessert, guests were treated to caramelized pear and financier cake with vanilla gelato. Jim selected wines from his cellar, a Puligny-Montrachet and two different Bordeaux, to enjoy with the meal. Afterward, attendees mingled on the terrace, accompanied by the soothing notes of pianist Daniel Farrokh.

As entrepreneurs who build, own, and operate—along with daughter Ashley—a chain of child-care facilities in Illinois, the philanthropic Engels say they can’t imagine a more worthwhile cause for the Ultimate Dinner Party than one that supports happy, healthy families. “Placing children with a loving family will forever change their lives in the most positive way,” says Jim, who believes that creating an event that joins new and old friends with support for a noble cause makes it that much more enjoyable. “We really look at this as a special and fun way of giving back.”

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