Cross & co. create five-star
experience at Carrs Hill
Nargis Cross (left) and executive chef Peter Bowyer are part
of the Carrs Hill team that welcomes some 20,000 University
guests a year to the presidents home.
Cross is probably one of Charlottesvilles busiest hostesses
and not just during the winter holidays.
who manages Carrs Hill, is responsible for the happiness
and comfort of nearly 20,000 guests a year, January through December.
Carrs Hill serves both as the private home of President
John T. Casteen III and as an elegant setting for official University
of her biggest entertaining challenges was a dinner for a national
childrens literacy group hosted by Linda Johnson-Robb. Cross
had to drop plans to put wildflowers on the tables in honor of
Johnson-Robbs mother, Lady Bird Johnson, because Johnson-Robb
is allergic to flowers. Instead, Cross worked with a local florist
to create centerpieces that featured books, stuffed animals, fruits
and vegetables but no flowers.
recipe for success includes many different ingredients, not the
least of which are experience, dedication, teamwork and a sense
of humor. Together with Peter Bowyer, executive chef, and Barbara
Jett, executive housekeeper, the trio handles more than 200 social
events a year, from occasional breakfasts-for-two for visiting
dignitaries and their spouses to annual student receptions for
entertain a guest is to make yourself responsible for his
happiness so long as he is beneath your roof.
The Physiology of Taste
secret is an organized filing system bulging with detailed checklists
on each event the nature of the occasion, the guest list,
the menu, the décor, the china and the budget everything
that Emily Post suggests one keep records of and more.
organization ensures that annual events run smoothly, that VIPs
are not left off guest lists, and that a hickory-smoked ham isnt
served by mistake to a major donor who eschews pork. Together,
she and Bowyer note the food preferences and allergies of frequent
diners, relying mostly on memory.
Bowyer, who marked his 10th year working at Carrs Hill last
month, enjoys the variety of his job and the opportunity to try
new things. Devoted to French cuisine since a trip to France in
1994, Bowyer has mastered other styles, including Italian, Spanish,
Mexican, Chinese and Indian.
Cross five tips for successful party planning
the tone with décor: pleasant surroundings, pretty
flowers and a beautiful table make for a great event.
physical comfort: the room should not be too hot or
too cold. This is especially important for events held outside
under a tent.
a good mix of people: for official events, its
important to have all the key people there and VIPs should
be seated properly, and for informal events, its good
to invite people with shared interests to stimulate conversation.
good food: a well-prepared meal always contributes to
a memorable event.
yourself: if youre relaxed and having a good time,
the chances are your guests will, too.
has enjoyed working for Casteen over the past decade. He
loves good food and he loves good serving, said Bowyer,
adding that Casteen also has an adventuresome palate and has encouraged
Bowyer to use his imagination in the kitchen.
feel like part of the family here, he said.
member of the Carrs Hill family is Barbara Jett, who has
served the University for 43 years. The head housekeeper shuns
the limelight, but works quietly behind the scene to ensure that
the house runs smoothly.
is responsible for hiring the bartenders and temporary servers
for Carrs Hill events. She also supervises Violet Baker,
a housekeeper in the residence.
a relative newcomer to the team, took over as manager of Carrs
Hill in March 1996 after 18 years managing grant awards and working
as an editorial assistant for the department of psychology.
shows all the professionalism one would expect from the presidents
staff, but when youre at Carrs Hill, she treats you
with all of the kindness she would a guest in her home,
said Robert D. Sweeney, senior vice president for development
and public affairs. Nargis, Peter and Barbara make Carrs
Hill one of the finest entertaining experiences in American higher
education. They have been key to the success of our past and present
sample of events on the packed Carrs Hill calendar typically
includes an August reception for 2,500 new students, a reception
at Fall Convocation for 1,100 students receiving intermediate
honors and their parents, a dinner buffet for 400 international
students and their host families, a reception for 250 new faculty
members and a continental breakfast for 500 alumni. Dozens of
smaller events take place throughout the year.
does her own quality control by keeping an eye on what sells and
what doesnt. She also has a good vantage point for viewing
changes in peoples tastes. She has seen fish, especially
salmon, grow in popularity over the past few years, while red
meat has declined in popularity although older men still
tend to prefer the latter, she said.
plan many of the events out of our budget, said Cross, whose
office door in Leake Cottage bears the sign, Office of Minor Events
and Financial Wizardry. But the Office of Development pays
for many of them with private funds. Most of the events have a
very practical purpose to strengthen the Universitys
relationships with people who are important to us.