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COOKING & ENTERTAINING WITH STYLE : Getting to Know You : Entertaining in the New L. A. / Visiting with Joel and Margaret Chen, Yukuo and Akiko Takenaka, Agustin and Maria Garza and Jorge Santos

November 05, 1989| RUSS PARSONS | Parsons is food editor for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

Jorge Santos says he learned the three keys to giving a successful party from his mother, a noted hostess in his native Antigua, Guatemala.

"Most important, always mix people," says Santos, who now lives in a spacious, art-filled home near Santa Monica Airport. "You have to remember that everyone is interested in what other people do, but if you just have doctors, all they'll talk about is surgery. If you just have businessmen, they'll talk about stocks.

"The second thing is to always have good music. That is why I have a dance floor in my living room, because when there is good salsa music, people are going to want to dance. They can't stand still.

"Finally, there must always be good food. And at my parties, I always serve the very best Guatemalan food, since I think it is truly one of the world's great cuisines and I am very proud of it."

A typical menu at one of Santos' parties would include lengua de Rigoberto (tongue prepared in a way he learned from his grandmother's chef), a spicy estofado of chicken or pork, and then as a centerpiece, Guatemalan enchiladas--dramatically different from the Mexican with a crispy fried tortilla topped by finely chopped, spiced pork and beef; a pickled salad, eggs, tomato sauce and queso de jalata . There might be pache, or tamales made from potato and steamed in platano leaves, a subtle stew called pepian and finally, for dessert, some bunuelos, hot from the fryer.

Santos has his own line of Guatemalan-inspired napkins and place mats that are sold nationally in such high-end department stores as Gump's, Nieman Marcus and Bullock's as well as in smaller Southwest design-oriented shops such as Umbrello.

"In Guatemala, we are very fortunate," he says. "We have borrowed from so many places. We have the sophistication of Europe, the comforts of America and the spice of the exotic from the Indians.

"Guatemala was always called the 'silver cup' because it was so clean and so elegant. But Guatemala is a very difficult place to live in now. It was famous for its night life and for its social scene. Now you must be off the streets by 6 p.m. No member of my family had ever left the country, but I told my father 'I am like a bird, I must be free. If I stay here, I might as well be in a monastery'."

Santos sees his style of entertaining as being a direct translation of what he learned at home. "My mother was a very beautiful lady and was very famous for being the best entertainer in Guatemala," he says. "The president, the ambassadors--everybody came to her parties.

"I love to give parties like that. I invite 75 or 100 people--all kinds of people: doctors and lawyers and businessmen, and my Italian and French friends too--and we have a lot of food and good music. Everybody shows up. I've never had a cancellation."

For business entertaining, Santos prefers to go outside the home, taking people to some of his favorite restaurants: "You don't want to be intimidating in your home. In business, you can't always control who you're with."

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