What inspired you?
‘I needed to be independent. I got married six months after I graduated high school. I had no college education and all I knew was to say yes and take orders from my parents and my husband. I woke up one day and decided that I needed to assert myself and be independent. What did I know? I knew how to cook and bake. I love feeding people, opening my home and my heart.’
She told me that the first item she found in a little antique store was an epergne, a little flower or nut holder. It didn’t have an insert but she paid $60 for it because it was fabulous looking and she knew it was special.
‘When you become a collector, the more you learn, sometimes it’s not so fabulous looking but it’s more valuable. I donated it.’
Your table settings are outstanding and original. What is your secret?
‘Doing a table I blend and mix inexpensive with expensive. I love unique. A lot of people wouldn’t think of doing it because it’s a matter of being brave. It’s a matter of not being afraid to blend different countries on a table. I blend bohemian and Murano glass and the finest English china. I like to mix old and new. Wonderful dishes can go with Japanese flair. Speaking about the Japanese, they can teach the world how to flower arrange. They are minimalists. You must be able to see the vase when you’re doing flowers. You must see the fantastic vase. The arrangement should enhance not overshadow because then the bush wins!’
Have you ever had a disaster dinner party?
‘I always prepare enough main dishes so if something is overcooked, there is plenty to eat. I’ve never had a failure table setting. That’s not my area of disaster!’
Monday night is family dinner night at the Wisemans. Usually 12-18 people are at the table and they are treated almost as elegantly as grown-up guests.
‘I have to think of the 4 and 5 year olds and I don’t want to terrorize them but they’re all pretty much sophisticated because they’ve been exposed to my menus all their lives. It’s not unusual for a 5 year old to ask if he’s having shrimp or oysters and mushroom pasta.’
‘I love you, Arleen. Don’t forget to be at Montreal Museum fund raising evening on October 30th.’
Check back tomorrow for a special poem by Hainya's granddaughter.