Provence is relaxed (as if we didn’t know this already). But after spending a week at a small hilltop town near Aix-en-Provence, it seemed to me that hibernation takes over and the whole “casual and laid-back” quickly becomes “cozy sweaters, socks and throws”.

It’s actually perfect. In the month of January when most have had their fill of festive parties and elaborate food, we’re all craving rustic and simple. We want to shed the all the fuss and excess with the New Year, and get back to the basics.

So instead of a sparkly cocktail party, imagine a night with your closest friends at your kitchen table, completely relaxed and filled with conversation and honest, rustic food.

Over the years of eating and entertaining, I’ve learned that more often than not, simple is truly best.

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1. Forget fussy decor.

Use clean dishtowels as napkins, and mismatched dishes or cutlery are encouraged. Instead of flowers, try using a big bowl of citrus fruits for a hit of seasonal freshness. Lastly, and very humbly French, place your baguette right on the table where everyone can rip off a piece.

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2. Use quality ingredients.

The key to making a simple meal unforgettable comes down to ingredients. When they’re good, it takes little to make them fabulous. And the opposite is also true; there are so few components to a simple meal that bad quality ingredients have nothing to hide behind.

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3. The essence of Provence.

To evoke Provence, use ingredients that are local to Provence: olives, citrus, olive oil, Herbes de Provence, etc. Consider doing a version of mimosas with a Provencal sparkling rosé and a hint of grapefruit juice.

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4. It’s about the people, not the food.

Remember that the food is there only as a way to bring people together. At the end of the day, it’s about spending time together and not a perfectly cooked egg.

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5. Relax, you don’t need a recipe.

The beauty of cooking is to understand the general rules and knowing the signs to look for so that you can relax and just have fun with it.

jackie-head shot Jackie Kai Ellis is the owner and baker of Beaucoup Bakery, CEO/co-founder of The Paris Tours, JKE, Bespoken, Recette and The Invisible Thread. To Learn more about her, follow her on Twitter @JackieKaiEllis.