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Hosting The Perfect Derby Party with Debi Lilly

Hosting The Perfect Derby Party with Debi Lilly

Known as the “greatest two minutes in sports”, the Kentucky Derby offers the perfect excuse for hosting an intimate celebration at home. 24/7 accepted the challenge but after a quick review of our abbreviated To Do list – scouting for ladylike derby hats and wooing our favorite equestrian-insider, Jennifer Wirth, for her famed mint julep recipe we knew we needed a professional’s touch.

Debi LillyEnter author and celebrity party planner, Debi Lilly (pictured), whose VIP-only parties are always the talk of the town. We caught up with Oprah Winfrey’s favorite fȇte extraordinaire who shared a few simple suggestions for treating guests to an intimate Derby Day gathering.


Derby Day 2013 InviteBy Invite-Only!: With just a few days to go before Race Day, grab a gorgeous Derby photo online (2013 Kentucky Derby illustration pictured) and email friends and family to join you in the “Race for the Roses” this weekend. Derby hats required!

Getting Your Home “Derby” Ready: Now that spring is here and the weather is  warm, try to set elements of the party outside and enjoy the sunshine while you increase your party space.

Set the bar outside on your patio table with pre-made cocktails in oversized drinking jars to make service fast and easy for guests (and you don’t get stuck behind the bar shaking juleps the entire party).

Debi Lilly Mint JulepTurn On Your Inner Mixologist: Here are three handcrafted cocktail recipes – two courtesy of Debi Lilly and one from Jennifer Wirth – we are sure you and your friends will love to sip long after the race has ended.

Sweet Tea Vodka (Makes 4 glasses)
In a glass pitcher or jar, combine two parts Sweet Tea to one part Effen Cucumber Vodka. Add fresh mint sprigs into pitcher, and let sit for a half hour before party. Serve over ice, with lemon to garnish.

Mint Julep (Makes 4 glasses)
In a bowl, muddle (smash) 1 bunch fresh mint, 1 cup powdered sugar and 2 cups water. Add in Bourbon Whiskey, to taste. Serve over ice, with mint sprig to garnish.


Jennifer Wirth MInt JulepJennifer Wirth’s Mint Julep (Makes 6-8 glasses)
3 cups sugar
1 bottle Maker’s Mark® Bourbon (or your preference)
1 bouquet of fresh mint
crushed ice
Simple syrup: In a medium saucepan, add three cups of water and three cups of sugar. Bring mixture to a boil and let thicken slightly. When simple syrup has thickened, pour into a large glass and overnight to chill. When preparing the juleps, fill a 6 oz. glass with crushed ice to the rim. Add two shots of bourbon and fill remainder with chilled simple syrup. Add 1-2 stalks of mint into glass and stir.


Food, Glorious Food: Win the blue ribbon with these attention-grabbing party bites.

Loaded Mac and CheeseLoaded Mac and Cheese
8 ozs. macaroni, whole wheat
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
black pepper to taste
2 cup milk
2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
Cook macaroni and drain. Melt butter then add in flour, salt, pepper, and milk one at a time. Cook until bubbly. Add cheese then stir until melted. Add macaroni then stir until evenly coated. In greased muffin tin, spoon mac and cheese. Cook for 30 minutes at 350º. Top with your favorite flavors: cherry tomato, scallions, sauteed mushrooms, roasted peppers, black pepper bacon, chicken apple sausage, black forest ham…whatever you love!

Wedge Salad
Using small hearts of romaine, cross two hearts onto a small plate or group onto platter. Bake bacon on a cookie sheet in the oven, crumble. Drizzle romaine with a healthy option blue cheese yogurt dressing. Add bacon crumbles on top drizzle of dressing, crumbled blue cheese and fresh black pepper.

Turkey SlidersMini Turkey Sliders
20 ozs. ground turkey (do not buy turkey breast)
2 tbsps grated parmesan cheese
1 clove minced garlic
1 bunch fresh chopped basil
1 bunch fresh chopped oregano
fresh black pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Shape into petite patties. On a medium hot grill, cook burgers for 3-4 minutes, per side, or until browned. Sandwich the burgers between dinner rolls or buns. Serve with small bowls or jars of ketchup, flavored mustards, flavored BBQ sauces, flavored pickles, onions and tomatoes.

24/7 says: Craving something sweet? Finish the evening with a heavenly dessert courtesy of Hot Chocolate’s Executive Chef Mindy Segal. Here’s one of our all-time favs.

Mindy Segal's Chocolate Souffle TartMindy Segal’s Chocolate Souffle Tart
1 9-inch pie shell, homemade or store bought
5 ounces 64-percent dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
3 large eggs, whites and yolks separated
1/4 cup sugar
Preheat the oven to 350º. Bake pie shell until just golden around edges, about 12 minutes. Set aside. In a medium bowl, set over a saucepan of simmering water. Combine chocolate and butter. Cook, stirring, until melted and combined, 5 to 8 minutes. Keep warm. In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks and 2 tablespoons sugar until stiff peaks form. In a second bowl, whisk the egg whites and a pinch of sugar until frothy. Slowly beat in the remaining sugar and whip just until stiff peaks form. Fold the yolk mixture into the chocolate mixture until partially combined. Fold into half of the white mixture. Add the remaining whites and fold until combined. Scoop the mixture into the pie shell; fill to the top of the shell. Bake until the pie doubles in size, has a crust on top, and is cake-like on the outside but still soft in the center; about 20 minutes.

Jg hatHost/Hostess Attire: If any party deserves a hat parade – this is IT. Invite friends to don their derby hats, traditional southern dress, and award best “his and hers” Dapper Derby Day outfit.

24/7 says: Ladies, take your positions! Stand out from the stylish crowd in a feathery, or flowery, crown by Jg Hats (pictured). Gents will look dandy in a seersucker suit and ascot. Not a southern gentleman? Get jiggy with madras pants and hit the mint juleps, hard.

Derby Games and Prizes: I love to print off each of the horses, tape them onto straws and tuck them into cups for a good old-fashioned “Betting Window”. Guests can place bets for first, second, third place. Have fun prizes ready to hand out to the winners.

Hermes24/7 says: Need creative prize ideas? Here are three: A dinner for two gift certificate to Derby Bar & Grill, one of Chicago’s oldest post-Prohibition bars with a cool Kentucky Derby vibe; a Swarovski crystal monogrammed riding crop (meow!); and anything from Hermès (pictured).

Now sit back and linger over a sweet, mint-infused cocktail while the horses gallop by. 24/7’s money is on “Orb”, but don’t quote us. We’re just happy to have friends who know something about these things.

Kerry Shorr, 24/7 Contributing Writer
Co-Founder, Luxe File Chicago

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