A version of this story first appeared in the December 2014 issue of The Life e-magazine in The Straits Times Star E-books app, with the headline "Festive hostess". The story was published in The Straits Times on Dec 24, 2014.
Entrepreneur Elaine Kim entertains with ease and finesse during the Christmas season, her hostessing skills honed since age 17 when she started planning children’s birthday parties as she waited to enter medical school.
Even with two young sons now, she hosts dinner parties every other month, inviting different groups of people to her bungalow off Dunearn Road.
Says the 32-year-old, who runs events design company Milk And Honey which does intimate parties such as baby showers and tea parties: “I’ve entertained and hosted many parties before, so this is not out of my element. It’s also something I enjoy doing.”
But for Dr Kim – who is also a palliative care doctor at HCA Hospice Care – Christmas is the best holiday of all.
Christmas Day is purely a family affair, with the extended family gathering at her house to eat, drink and be merry.
She says: “As Christians, Christmas is treasured by me and is the most important time for the family. It’s a time to be close to the people who are closest to me, and to enjoy their company.”
She is the daughter of Dr Lily Neo, Member of Parliament for Tanjong Pagar GRC, and Dr Ben Neo, a renowned gynaecologist.
Her younger brother, Elvine, 27, is also a doctor.
Her parents did not throw elaborate parties, though they celebrated every special occasion such as birthdays and holidays.
Dr Kim is married to Mr John Kim, 36, a Korean- American venture capitalist who was born in Boston.
The couple, who wed in 2010, have two sons, Kyan, three, and Luke, who is 11/2 years old.
Her in-laws live in Seoul and, in a new tradition of sorts, have come to tropical Singapore to spend Christmas with them the last two years.
They are here this year (2014) too.
Preparations for the big day started early this month, when Dr Kim’s father ordered three live 2.4m-tall Christmas trees from a nursery for his home, and those of his two children.
Together with her children, Dr Kim decorated the tree with ornaments she has collected over the years.
“The children get very excited because when they see the tree, they know Christmas is coming. We usually reuse the ornaments, but I do top them up with new ones if we need to.”
The days leading up to Christmas Day involve going to – and hosting her own – dinner parties.
Today, she celebrates the season with her extended family on her father’s side, with the venue changing every year.
Tomorrow, the first order of business is going to church.
The extended clan will head back to the couple’s house for lunch, put together by Dr Kim. For most parties, she cooks the dinner herself, but with a busy Christmas morning, she does not have enough time to cook.
So she usually orders meats from a butchery and pops them into the oven to roast, while the family are at church.
Her family are treated to a vast array of dishes which can include a herb-crusted lamb rack with rosemary, pork crackling, prime rib and bread-and-butter pudding. She usually pre-orders the ingredients she will need for the meal.
She says: “The final menu depends on what inspires me at the moment. But it’s usually quite an English menu, partly because I spent childhood summers in Norfolk where I have family. So, for me, the whole roast dinner, with puddings and crumbles, is very close to my heart because it reminds me of that time.”
However, she steers clear of roasting a turkey: “It’s very hard to get it perfect because often, it ends up dry.”
Instead, she prefers to buy turkey from The American Club, Grand Hyatt Singapore or The Fullerton Hotel Singapore.
The food alone may suffice to please a hungry guest, but Dr Kim’s holiday entertaining extends to the decor too.
As the couple knew they would be entertaining often, they remodelled the basement kitchen and dining area in their three-storey bungalow to fit up to 12 guests for a sit-down dinner.
The centrepiece of the kitchen is an island, where guests can help themselves to the food on display on the counter, before moving to the dinner table, which overlooks a mini swimming pool.
The 12-seater dining table, which Dr Kim designed herself, is made from a single piece of Suar tree trunk from Indonesia. It took seven men to carry the table into the house.
There is a small, built-in bar counter behind the dining table. The two areas are separated by an automated glass door.
The elegant tableware and decorations add to the party vibe. For a recent dinner she threw for her church friends, each guest had a plate charger which is placed below the dining plate, a linen napkin held together with a solid silver napkin ring, two sets of forks and spoons, and a knife, all set on a linen place mat.
The evening ended on a sweet note with guests taking home boxes of chocolate from Hediard.
For Christmas, Dr Kim keeps her hostess outfit casual, such as a black cocktail dress.
She says: “I’m not very fancy with my clothes. I spend most of the time thinking about how to dress up my children. So, they’ll either be running around in a Santa costume or in reindeer-decorated shirts.”
The sweet scent of fresh flowers will waft through the dining area and kitchen, from floral arrangements created by Dr Kim. Her husband picks the wine – there will be champagne, a red and a white wine.
He also plays DJ, picking a Christmas jazz playlist as the background music, piped into their sound system.
This is Dr Kim’s preferred set-up for her parties. She keeps it simple, choosing between two sets of plates, a chic black set from Crate & Barrel and a white-and-silver ensemble from Wedgewood.
The Wedgewood set holds precious memories for her: “It was a wedding gift from close friends who bought it off my wedding registry. I would rather use it than just keep it away.”
If children are at her parties, they are treated to a party within a party. Dr Kim will set up a cupcake ferris wheel, a gingerbread house and a toy train running through the food display.
“For the kids, I try to do something a little bit more whimsical. It’s not just the adults who get to have fun. The kids get really excited about seeing the whole display.”
Although she is known among her family and friends for throwing fabulous parties, she emphasises that any fancy set-up is secondary to the company.
“You have to remember that a party is about the people, and so I always put my guests first. This means thinking carefully about the guest list, and making sure they are comfortable at the party. And you should always enjoy the process.”
What Dr Kim's guests were served at a recent dinner
Sparkling cranberry cocktail with fresh cranberries and mint
A selection from Belgian chocolate company Leonidas
Turkey & ham
Honey-baked ham and a turkey from The American Club
Three different types of sauces are laid out for the turkey and roast meat
Lychee martini cake with cranberries
A version of this story first appeared in the December 2014 issue of The Life e-magazine in The Straits Times Star E-books app, with the headline "Festive hostess".
More from The Life magazine here.