Slideshow: See photos from Jennifer Aniston's dinner party
"Jen's house is a beacon," says television producer Ellen Rakieten, one of the regulars at her table, who has arrived on this cool Monday evening, along with seven other friends, to share a meal, toast the chefs, and shake off the detritus of the day gone by. "You always know you're going to have a great time, and you're going to leave feeling better than when you came."
As lively as her home is, Jen seldom entertains—at least not in the fussy-hostessy sense of the word. What occurs here feels closer in spirit to those spontaneous gatherings that used to crop up in that dorm room everybody was magnetically drawn to in college—only with a considerable uptick in sophistication and square footage. "Her friends are in and out all the time," says Jewels Elmore, who, with her sister, Jill, shares a job as Jen's private chef. "Jen's a homebody. It's been so much fun to create a place where everybody feels comfortable, like one big family."
"Comfortable" is putting it modestly. Because while Jen's friends might credit her with the house's appeal—"She makes it a place where people want to come and hang out," says Jennifer Meyer—Jen herself knows that the real secret to its buzz is the delicious nourishment of all kinds that emerges from the kitchen. "My friends love coming over because they get fed," says Jen. "It's the best restaurant in town."
And indeed the food that's being served this evening is not merely delicious, it actually seems to satisfy a body's deepest, cellular-level craving for wholesome, fresh, pure ingredients. Take the tostadas, for instance: tangles of shredded raw kale and cabbage, cilantro, corn, black beans, and tomatoes served on crisp corn tortillas with grilled shrimp on top. Or the salad of mâche, cotija cheese, and avocado tossed with a dressing whose main ingredient is fresh Cara Cara orange juice.
Jen's dinners weren't always like this. The actress once saw her kitchen as little more than a place to store PowerBars and prepackaged Zone meals. Then, six years ago, along came Jewels, and the changes she brought with her are as clear as sunshine. Jen now describes her kitchen as "a sanctuary that has become the most important room in the house." She loves to drop in as dinner is under way, hopping up onto the counter and sampling the various dishes as they come off the stove. "This kitchen is the best place to be," says Jen, nibbling on a shrimp. These days, she fuels her body with ripe fruits and vegetables, cheese and yogurt, and, for the first time in her life, fish. "I used to hate fish," she says, "but one day Jewels handed me this thing, and I tasted it." Now she asks for Jewels's salmon all the time. She's also become a convert to Brussels sprouts. And, at 40, she's never felt—or looked—better.