We’ve been around the block with Jennifer Ellison since her ACU event planning days in Abilene, Texas. (What can we say? We do love our West Texas gals.) Early on, we noticed her ability to tell a story through tabletop, great food, and a welcoming atmosphere while gracefully navigating the ever so important logistical decisions. It made all the sense in the world to us her namesake company Ellison Event Productions would introduce us to the supper club of our dreams with Fort Worth Crowded Table; a concept that focuses on female-friendships and female-led chef experiences. (Subliminally sending messages to get on that list.)
Besides good taste in tabletop rentals, Jennifer makes a mean playlist. We like to think of her as the Brandi Carlile to our Maren Morris, the Natalie Hemby to our Amanda Shires. The Linda Rondstadt to our Trio. (If you don’t get what we’re saying, dive deep into the superwomen groups: the fairly new Highwomen and the 1987 Trio album by Dolly Parton, Linda Rondstadt, and Emmylou Harris–you’re welcome.) We adore the philosophy of a crowded table with friends, new and old, and felt it was a proper way to welcome the Fall soiree season. We’re just as sure you’ll fall in love with both Jennifer and the idea of a crowded table. (Anyone who invites Ted Lasso to the table has our hearts.) So without further adieu, enjoy your new bestie in her own words.
A Seat at the Table
We love the idea of the Fort Worth Crowded Table. How did you conceive the idea and with whom?
The idea came from a program I started in 2011 when I lived in Abilene called Dinner Club. The premise was, we wanted to build female relationships while also expanding palates. After giving our chef the budget, the only other instructions I gave were to give us a unique meal that we couldn't find anywhere else in town. We started with a core group of women and at the end of the meal, we asked them to give us two names of other women that we should invite to the next dinner and it progressed from there. We let the current guests pick who our next invitees would be. That's the basic premise of what we're now doing in Fort Worth.
My fiance, Laurie, and I love to entertain. After 2020, that need to entertain and share our home grew into sort of a purpose for us. We found ourselves not only wanting to meet new people in our city, but to create meaningful relationships with other women. We decided our new mission was to "expand palates while building relationships'' and we can't think of a better way to do this than around a crowded table filled with amazing women. It just so happens that Crowded Table by The High Women is one of our favorite songs and has become somewhat of a theme of our home. Hence the name, Fort Worth Crowded Table.
At the end of the year, we'll have a large reception inviting all of the Crowded Table guests so everyone can meet each other and see who has been invited during the previous months.
The menu, chef, and tabletop change each time. Tell us about this process and who you’ve worked with so far.
Our focus, first and foremost, is on the women who will be participating in the dinner. Not only the dinner guests, but also our female chefs. Once we select the chef, we give her full creative licensing on the menu. Our one request is that she expand our palate by not serving something you could get at any basic restaurant in the area. We want the meal to be an experience.
Our next step is to think through the tabletop. We own a decent amount of china and formal place settings, but I love to bring in accent pieces with pops of color or unique textures to enhance the table. That's where P.O.S.H. comes in! One of my favorite things about Crowded Table is getting to spend time in the showroom with Jordan picking out our rentals. From there, the concept has come together, and my last step is building the centerpieces and creating the final touches like place cards and menus.
We've collaborated with exceptional female chefs like Jenna Kinard and Caitlyn Hooker. Chef's that have immediately bought into the Crowded Table concept and have celebrated our mission through creating beautifully crafted dishes, all while telling their story. At the end of each meal, one of our favorite features is having the chef sit down at the table with us so they, too, can get to know the women around the table. We laugh, cry and laugh again telling stories of who we are, where we've come from and where we want to go. "We" being the women around the table. It's beautiful and soul-filling.
The idea of expanding palates comes up a lot, so this is a three-part question: What’s the best way to do this with tabletop, atmosphere, and conversation.
Obviously, this originated with our directive to the chef to expand our palates through the dining experience. What many people don't understand is that a "dining experience" is so much more than food.
The tabletop is meant to be warm and inviting, it also gives us an opportunity to expand what someone might think of the average place setting. We have carefully curated playlists that help with not only the ambiance but also in welcoming our guests and keeping the mood light. It takes a brave person to walk into a stranger's home for dinner. We want them to feel comfortable, and music plays a critical role in creating a welcoming atmosphere. The champagne they receive upon arrival also doesn't hurt!
The conversation is somewhat of an unknown at the beginning of the meal. Again, keep in mind that most of the people sitting around the table are strangers. The key is asking questions that prompt the guests to reveal what makes them remarkable. Each person around the table has a story. By the end of the dinner, we've not only expanded their palates, but we've also expanded their circle of friends.
There’s clearly a passion for event planning and community building, where did that come from?
For me personally, it came from my family. My parents always had people in their home and they instilled a deep sense of hospitality in their children. My mother was a successful caterer and owns a restaurant. Hospitality is in my DNA. I've been an event planner for 17 years, so the need to entertain is somewhat ingrained in who I am. I was fortunate enough to find someone in life who also loves to entertain and has a passion for inviting people into our home. Without community, without family, friends and faith, I don't know how people exist.
What’s your favorite sisterhood moment so far?
Our very first Crowded Table lasted five hours. We didn't plan it that way, it just happened. We anticipated two or three hours. What happened far exceeded our expectations. The group of women around the table connected in a way that completely shocked us. We discussed everything from family, faith, careers, to goals and dreams, failures, fears and more. It was genuine and real.
After all of the courses were served, our chef, the fabulous Jenna Kinard, came and joined us at the table where we all discussed what makes us remarkable. That's a question most women aren't comfortable answering. Women oftentimes deflect or give a vague answer for fear of sounding boastful. We didn't allow anyone to shy away from the question and we had amazing answers. Every single woman around the table was remarkable in many ways and it was incredible to not only celebrate who each person is but to toast their accomplishments.
Best cooking tip or chef-inspired takeaway from the series?
Add salt to everything.
What is the thought process when picking the tabletop?
Is it bad to say that I don't have a thought process? I truly chose the tabletop based on two things: the menu and my mood. Obviously, the menu dictates the type of plates, bowls, and utensils we'll need. But the overall look comes from so many places. My mood––what's inspiring me that day. The weather. My favorite band at that time or the song stuck in my head. Thoughts of vacation. Nature. Architecture. The new inventory at P.O.S.H.! It's less of a process and more about the inspiration for me.
What’s coming to the table next? And how can someone get involved?
When our PR team designed the logo and creative concept, we kept in mind the desire to start Crowded Tables in other cities. Sort of a franchise if you will, but not in a corporate way. Our dream is that Crowded Table becomes a women's movement, building relationships and uniting women of different backgrounds over a meal at crowded tables across the US. At a time when things in our country are so divisive, I think people, especially women, are hungry for opportunities to gather, build community, and foster lifelong friendships.
The dinner is invitation only, but if someone wants more information, they can reach out to us on social media, through the website, or email me.
Dream Chef and Guests?
Chef: Cat Cora (The first female Iron Chef, first female Culinary Hall of Famer, Mom of six, founder of @chefsforhumanity – no big deal.)
I like a table of 10, so my guests would be (including myself):
What dish are you looking forward to trying next?
The chef is completely in charge of the menu, so I'm excited to find out what our next dinner holds. There hasn't been a single disappointing dish yet!
The Haute Seat (Rapid Fire Questions)
Favorite POSH piece: Cutipol GOA Gold & White Spoon
Favorite style to set the table: Contemporary
Favorite food: Southern Soul Food
Favorite Fort Worth spot: My house. Truly. But if you want me to choose a public place, I'd go with the rooftop deck at Tinie's.
Favorite distraction: Movies
Favorite music: This is not a fair question. But if I have to pick one genre, I'd go with Americana.
What always makes you laugh: My brother and sister.
Dinner is not complete without: Good music. And a delicious bread of some sort.
If you order me a drink, it’s always ____ unless it’s a. _____: Water. Unless it's a coke. Or a Tito's & soda with two limes.
The best company is: Are you looking for an actual company? If so, I'm going to say Ellison Event Productions. If you're meaning "company" as in guests coming over, I'd say our Framily.
When in Fort Worth: Smile. And don't leave without visiting Near Southside and the Stockyards.
To set the mood, you: It's all about music and lighting.
I make a mean ____ for dinner, but like to visit ____ for a special night out for their ____ dish: Rustic Italian Chicken with crusty bread ... and... Piatello for their Tagliatelle Bolognese
The best conversations involve: Honesty and trust.
You know guests are happy when: They won't leave, ha!
As well as the following websites:
You know we have to mention the tabletop picks. We love how Jennifer mixes flatware (a subtle yet strong statement!) as well as incorporates color and style with stemware.
Wood Beaded Charger | Wedgwood Vera Wang Marble China | Mixed Flatware of Cutipol Rondo Matte Gold and Lucca Silver & Gold Flatware | Mikasa Smoke Wine Goblet | Silver Bella Wine Glass | Vintage Clear Water Glass