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A Holiday Dinner at Home in Dallas With Former ‘Deb of the Decade’ Cornelia Guest

With Cues from Her Legendary Socialite Mother, C.Z. Guest, the New Texan Creates a One-of-a-Kind Table — Marlboros and All

BY // 12.07.22
photography Afritina Coker

In the 1980s, New York party girl Cornelia Guest smoked Marlboros like a chimney. She was rebellious for a debutante, but Guest was no typical society ingénue. As a teenager, she hung out with Mick Jagger and danced till dawn at Studio 54 and Odeon with Andy Warhol, who attended her 18th birthday bash along with Truman Capote and Doris Duke. For her partying ways, the press crowned her “Deb of the Decade” and voraciously covered her many late nights out. In 1983, she told a Washington Post reporter that she estimated she’d gone to 365 parties the previous year — in essence, one every day. The former deb, who turned 59 last month, is still down for a good soirée.

“I love to get a house ready for a party,” says Guest, now an animal rights activist and actress whose recent roles include a turn as Cassie Brooks in Ryan Murphy’s cult series American Horror Stories, airing now on Hulu. In 2020, she sold her house in upstate New York and decamped for Dallas, where the climate suits her better. “People like to have fun in Texas,” Guest says.

She speaks with the same patrician Mid-Atlantic accent as her late mother, C.Z. Guest, a legendary socialite immortalized through the lens of photographer Slim Aarons. Her father was the late British polo champion Winston Guest. Wild-child days behind her, Guest entertains several times a month, either at her Dallas home or her East Texas ranch. “It’s fun to do the flowers, think about where you’re going to put people, and all the little touches for the table,” she says.

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Antique horn cutlery, silver salts, crystal tumblers, and a polo trophy. (Photo by Afritina Coker)

For a casual, seated dinner Guest hosted recently at her 1920s house in Highland Park, the table was set with dinnerware inherited from her parents. There were bone china plates depicting racehorses that belonged to Winston, along with his old polo trophies filled with vibrantly hued roses, Guest’s favorite flower. The horn-handled cutlery and etched-crystal tumblers and goblets belonged to C.Z., who also gifted her daughter with a pair of silver stag-head hurricanes from Christian Dior in Paris for her 16th birthday. Such a gift might have disappointed a less worldly teenager, but Guest inherited her mother’s love of setting a pretty table and immediately fell for them.

“My mother said I’d always use them and she was right. I’ve taken them everywhere I’ve lived,” she says.

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The table is always set with individual vases of Marlboro cigarettes, as her mother did in the ’60s. (Photo by Afritina Coker)

Guest gave up smoking years ago, yet she wouldn’t dream of hosting a dinner party without a table set with individual antique vessels filled with Marlboro cigarettes, a ’60s touch inherited from C.Z. and Winston. “My parents always had them at the table, and I have them at the table because it’s the rudest thing — you are at a dinner, and five people get up and smoke a cigarette. So I have them there and tell them to smoke away,” she says.

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In 2014, Guest sold her family’s Long Island estate, Templeton, where her parents hosted legendary dinner parties with the Kennedys and her godparents, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, for whom she curtsied. These days, Guest’s dinners are much more low-key.

“It was a different generation when dinners were very formal,” she says. “There was a fish course, a meat course. In saying that, I don’t eat that much, but I love to have lots of food available. I don’t generally do plated food. I love buffets even at formal dinners because it gives people a chance to get up and chat.”

For dinners at home, Guest always does her own flowers. “My mother taught me that. She always did her own flowers. She had a rose garden, and I have a rose garden at the ranch. It’s not fussy or complicated: We grow them, we pick them, we stick them in a vase,” she says, stretching out the word “vase” with an aristocratic drawl. One of her favorite containers for roses is a blue frog given to her by her father, who collected antique Chinese porcelain. “I always think about my parents when I set the table,” she says.

 

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Marko Matijas, a partner in Cornelia Guest Events, relaxes with Guest and Wolf. (Photo by Afritina Coker)

Cornelia Guest Events Catering Comes to Dallas

In 2010, after helping a friend with a party at his house in New York, Guest started a catering company with Marko Matijas. Since then, Cornelia Guest Events has thrown parties in New York for Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, and Bulgari. “We’ve done a few in Dallas, but I’d like to do more,” Guest says.

The seed for her catering business was planted in the kitchens at Templeton. “We had an incredible chef growing up, Roger. He was amazing. I loved being in the kitchen watching him cook,” she says. (Roger, of course, is pronounced in the French way). She has a story: Once, Roger was soaking a ham. Her Dalmatian puppy — a gift from her parents after she broke her arm — grabbed the ham and took off with it to the pantry. “Roger was so mad,” remembers Guest, who nonetheless was still allowed in the kitchen, her future aspirations as a cook undaunted.

Guest became a vegetarian, then a vegan, after learning how animals are abused on factory farms. Her 2012 cookbook, Cornelia Guest’s Simple Pleasures, focuses on vegan cooking, but her catering company, which employs a chef, will cook with meat if asked.

“I never try to impose my beliefs on anyone,” she says. For the dinner photographed in this story, Guest and Matijas whipped up her favorite vegan version of Shepherd’s Pie, a savory dish with minced meat and mashed potatoes that was a staple of her childhood. “It’s such a yummy dinner with a salad on a cold winter’s night,” she says. “My friends laugh because every time I invite them over, we have Shepherd’s Pie. Luckily, everyone loves it.”

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