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Jamaica butler to teach art of entertaining at Queens College

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Sometimes people just need a little reminder to have fun.

Jamaica resident Nikolaus Christmann has dedicated much of his life’s work as a professional freelance butler to this idea.

The German native has counseled a countless number of people on how to throw parties, and he will soon be teaching two three−hour classes at Queens College on hosting these events — which for Christmann is not just about what dishware to use or what foods should be served.

It is a chance to remind people to let loose, live a little and learn something about people.

“You can have a great time, and it’s very rewarding,” Christmann said. “People are much freer in their talking at dinner parties in private homes. You’re not rushed out the door like at restaurants. You remember the point of eating together, which is conversati­on.”

During the more than two decades Christmann has worked as a butler, he has been amazed to see just how many people had no idea how to hold a dinner party. After witnessing many botched attempts at entertaining, he decided to teach courses to help individuals learn the ins and outs of hosting social events.

Christmann, who has worked in places like the Ritz Hotel in Paris and the dining room of the now−defunct Lehman Brothers on Wall Street, will teach two three−hour dinner hosting courses at Queens College June 13 and June 20. He has taught the courses at Queens College once before.

“I break the class down into two parts, the food and wine and the hosting,” Christmann said. “The first part is easy. When it comes to guest relations, that’s the most difficult part. You have to deal with so many temperaments. You have to guide people to a wonderful evening.”

Christmann emphasizes that while the aesthetics of a party are important, they are by no means the point to a gathering.

“My students are always surprised at how simple it is,” Christmann said. “You make the menu, set the table and that’s the end of the story for that part. Next is making sure people are having fun.”

This portion of the party, Christmann said, is a crash course in improvisation. Hosts and hostesses must be able to quickly read and react to guests’ faces: Are they bored? Is someone dominating the conversation? Are they uncomfortable with the topic at hand?

It may not always be easy to navigate the party, but Christmann said it is worth it. After all, he said, dinner parties are all about communication. The art of conversation, so easy to forget in the age of Twitter and Facebook, is revived, and Christmann said individuals revel in what humans have done for ages: talk about art, politics, history.

Christmann, who grew up on a farm and vineyard in the Mosel region of Germany, said his path to being a butler was a natural one.

“My parents always emphasized the importance of good table manners,” said Christmann, who alleges his age is a “state secret.” He has worked to help execute breakfasts, lunches, dinners, teas, cocktails and special events from two to 140 people.

For more information, visit cnikolaus.com.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

Posted 6:35 pm, October 10, 2011
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