An Enchanted Evening

Elizabeth W. Cook and her grandmother, Dr. Elizabeth Heard host an elegant Southern dinner to celebrate VIETRI's 40-year anniversary and company founder, Susan Gravely's, new book ITALY ON A PLATE.

There’s little doubt that the enchantment, artistry, and landscape of Italy’s Amalfi coast captivates anyone who has ever traveled there. The food, conviviality, and relaxed atmosphere is without a doubt inspiring, and for some, life changing. Such was the case for Susan Gravely, her sister Frances, and mother Lee, when they visited in 1983. The trio stayed at the San Pietro Hotel in Positano and became enamored with the hotel’s hand painted dinnerware—so much so that they arranged to tour the factory in the nearby town Vietri sul Mare. That excursion yielded what would become VIETRI, a lifestyle brand and the largest importer of handcrafted Italian products in the American tabletop industry.

Susan Gravely holds a bouquet of greenery and peach and white roses in a glass Vietri vase.
Susan Gravely, founder of VIETRI and author of ITALY ON A PLATE
A white ceramic Vietri filled with greenery, and white and pink roses sits on top of a large black baby grand piano.
Jenna Griggs with Denham’s Florist, filled a VIETRI bowl, planter, and glass vases with a springy mix of pink, peach, green, and white florals including Coral Charm Peonies, White Lisianthus, Peach Hypericum Berries, Peach and White Van Dyk Tulips, Green (Emerald Green) Hydrangeas, Peach and White Ranunculus, Viburnum, Peach (Juliette) Garden Roses, Peach (Tiffany) ,Coral (Coral Reef) and White (Playa Blanca) Roses, Freesia, Helleborus, Italian Ruscus, Silver Dollar, and Lepidium Green Dragon.
Two warm lamps light a hallway nook decorated with pink and white roses in a Vietri bowl.
The Book Italy on a Plate has a photograph of pesto filled crostinis on the cover.
With a foreword by Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun, Italy on a Plate is an exploration into Italy’s staggering beauty, unparalleled style, artistic legacy, and incredible food. In addition to beautiful photography and thoughtful prose, the book includes 50 favorite family recipes from some of Susan’s dearest friends from regions throughout Italy.

Since that visit, Susan has traveled extensively throughout Italy and become fluent in the language and culture. “Italy’s spirit continues to enchant me. Its enthusiasm, passion, style, and romance live in its people, and, through my work, I have met many incredible Italians and enjoyed so many home-cooked meals,” she says. To celebrate the brand’s 40th anniversary, Susan reflects on her experiences in Italy on a Plate. Part memoir, part recipes, and part travelogue, turning the pages is like sitting down to dine with the author and her friends in the midst of a vineyard on a seemingly endless perfect day with a glass of Rosati in hand—a feeling that tastemaker Elizabeth W. Cook and her grandmother, Dr. Elizabeth Heard, longtime VIETRI collectors, wanted to replicate in Columbus, Georgia while welcoming Susan to their city for a book signing at Park Place Interiors.

A grandmother and her daughter sit on a couch together smiling.
Elizabeth Cook places greenery in a clear vase.

For dinner, Elizabeth and her grandmother served traditional southern fare. “Susan treats us to Italy in her book, so we wanted to share the flavors of Georgia with her,” Elizabeth says. On the menu: Country Captain Chicken, a classic chicken and rice dish that has deep flavors and a rich history. “It is a Columbus, Georgia staple,” Elizabeth adds. Guests also enjoyed Asparagus with Lemon Zest, Pear Salad with Cream Frisée, and Southern Butter Biscuits. For dessert, the duo served slices of 7-Layer Coconut Cloud Cake from local bakery, Caroline’s Cakes.

A bouquet of greenery, and white, pink, and orange peonies and roses decorate a table with green placemats, green embroidered napkins, and white plates with a green bordered menu on top.
To complement VIETRI’s Incanto pattern, Elizabeth and Dr. Heard chose placemats from Deborah Rhoades, custom Haute Home dinner napkins, and pewter snail place card holders from Berner & Co. Party guest Emmie Ruth Wise illustrated the floral illustrations printed on place cards as well as the border on the menu.
A small bouquet of pink tulips and white roses sit in a glass Vietri vase.
White tulips and orange roses top a white buttercream cake.
A large table is filled with green and pink bouquets and personalized place settings.

Throughout the evening, discussion was lively and thoughtful, reinforcing Susan’s philosophy for entertaining: “A table is a metaphor. It’s about sitting and talking and meeting someone new, and hoping that we all leave feeling happier, we’ve laughed, we’ve learned something, and we think, ‘What a great night it was!’”

Guests gather outside at a party.

The Art of Hospitality

Elizabeth Cook and her grandmother place the finishing touches on a table setting.

Elizabeth enjoys party planning and entertaining. Here are her tips for a successful evening:

Mix it Up: I love inviting people of all ages. If there are multiple members from the same family in attendance, I usually try to separate them and mix people according to their interests.

Invest in Timeless Designs: Choose tabletop pieces you can use over and over again. The Incanto pattern from VIETRI is great for special occasions and everyday use. This is the set I use daily at home.

Make it Personal: My grandmother and I pulled our collections together for this dinner. I incorporated fun, touches like a Dascoli tablecloth while we used her classic George Jenson silver bowl alongside my VIETRI Hibiscus floral vases.

Don’t Overlook the Guest Bathroom: We included fresh hand towels from Haute Home, a candle from VIETRI, and their best-selling hibiscus vase filled with fresh flowers.

Take it Easy: If you can, set the table in advance so it is one less thing you need to do the day of. Don’t forget to pour yourself (and grandmother!) a glass of wine, relax, and have fun! Your guests will feed off your energy.

Guest talk at an outdoor party.
A small bouquet of greenery, white, pink, and orange peonies sit in a Vietri vase.

By Cathy Still McGowin

Photography by Morgan Duke