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Melanie Kahane: creative table settings with a special cachet

Melanie Kahane is not only one of New York's best known interior designers, she is a Manhattan hostess who loves doing all the cooking for her own dinner parties. She finds cooking and arranging attractive tables as creative and as enjoyable as decorating.

She entertains in the elegant East 60s townhouse where she lived for many years with her famous commentator husband, the late Ben Grauer. ''It was hard at first to entertain alone because Ben was such a catalyst socially, and could remember at least 6,000 names! I still stumble when I try to introduce people, but they forgive me because they can feel my love and interest.''

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As for the preparation of the menu, Miss Kahane believes that a ''caring and devoted feeling about food'' is essential to the success of any dinner party. ''I'm not the best of all cooks, but I'm pretty good, and I love the challenge and am not afraid to experiment. I plan what I am going to serve very carefully, and sometimes take the afternoon off from my office, in order to give it the necessary time.''

You can be sure, she adds, ''that anything I cook is both easy and simple.

Her own specialities, she says, include cold Senegalese soup, salmon mousse, and chicken done in dozens of different ways. ''Being a working woman I cannot manage ladies' luncheons at home, '' she comments, ''but I love having friends come for Sunday brunch. The brunch menu is pretty standard at my house and includes fruit juice, an egg dish of some sort, Scotch or Nova Scotia salmon, big slices of beefsteak tomatoes, and Spanish onions covered with a mild vinagrette dressing, a sweet coffee cake, baskets of assorted breads, bagels and buns, and a final fillip of fresh berries or other fruit.''

When it comes to setting the table, she loves mixing the china she has been collecting for almost 40 years. ''I play with mixtures of china,'' she says, ''and I play with centerpieces. In the wintertime when fresh flowers are so expensive, I rustle up different pieces of sculpture from around the house and use them as table decoration. Improvising, to me, is what makes entertaining such a joy.''

Since she converted the dining room of her townhouse to a handsome library, she does all her entertaining in the library amongst books, paintings, and bric-a-brac. This alone, she admits, gives a special ambiance to her dinner and brunch parties. Even the big table that seats 10 for dining is covered to become a useful everyday library table when no parties are in the offing.

Another rule that she follows is always to invite a stimulating mixture of people of different ages and interests. ''Dear old friends are wonderful, but I think they can get a little bored with each other if no new faces are ever introduced to enliven the conversations. I'm always looking for new people to add to the scene.''

When Miss Kahane was invited to do one of the ''designer table settings'' for Tiffany, she chose a country French brunch setting, simple, homey, and unpretentious. ''I tried to imagine how the artist Monet would have served such a meal at Giverny, and that is the idea that I carried out.''

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