Palms, manzanita and magnolia leaves symbolize the beauty of the holidays and set the stage for a perfectly designed dinner party in the 8,000-square-foot Miami Beach penthouse of philanthropist/entrepreneurs David and Leila Centner.
Garlands of florals and berries adorn the welcoming foyer, dining room and Corvette-red party room. Old-world vases filled with red roses are displayed atop the Yamaha piano near topiaries resembling Christmas trees. Silver leaf chandeliers, chairs and runners sparkle with elegance while red cymbidium orchids highlight ornate napkin rings and other appointments atop the dining table. “It was a pleasure to add a touch to such a beautiful home,” says Vivian Gonzalez of Vivian’s Petals. “The Centners have the finest of everything.”
The couple constantly have people visiting. They like hosting both formal and informal parties, especially during the holidays. “We have our own chef, cook healthy and gluten-free, and make sure that our guests are enjoying themselves,” says David, an inventor, entrepreneur and technology visionary with successful ventures in web development, online marketplaces and electronic toll collections. Celebrity chef guest Amaris Jones praised the hosts as “beautiful souls” who are health-conscious but love flavor. “They are fun hosts, great conversationalists and relatable people who give great parties with delicious food,” Jones says.
The holiday party for 12 people was held recently in the dining and red party rooms of the Centners’ 8-bedroom, 10-bath oceanfront beach house. In addition to celebrating giving and honor as part of the joy of the holiday season, the couple introduced guests to their latest project: the opening of The Centner Academy in Miami’s Design District. Leila, who was chief financial officer of the couple’s Highway Toll Administration until it was sold in 2018, explains that The Centner Academy is a learning institution where students can get everything they need to be strong adults in the super competitive and often harsh world of today. Since children suffer from mental and emotional health problems due to a variety of issues—including longer and more regimented school days, too much screen time and not enough free and creative play time—the Centners are fighting these problems through modern education. “I am passionate about education, women and children, so I started the academy with a conscious, emotionally intelligent component,” says Leila, also a clothing designer, who is impeccably dressed in a hand-printed bronze-gold creation from Paris and matching Roberto Cavalli stilettos. “When you give kids a way to understand emotions, they can do anything. People who live in anxiety don’t prosper. But these traits need to be learned.”
“We are a connected and loving school with zero tolerance for bullying and more of an emphasis on character and citizenship,” adds David, wearing a gold Cavalli dinner jacket with a black Cavalli shirt, jeans and chic black Versace loafers. “On this foundation, we offer an incredible academic experience that prepares them for the multinational global economy. Our students will totally support each other through their critical years of growth and learning.”
The couple took their own spiritual journey to India where they meditated and engaged philosophy so they could understand emotional intelligence. They also studied what it takes for small children to be able to deal with trauma. “We learned what causes anxiety and frustration and how to turn power completely inward,” Leila says. “I teach our two daughters [Aviva, 4, and Adina, 2] that words won’t hurt; it is how you react.” Adorably clad in Dolce & Gabbana dresses, leggings and purses, the Centner daughters paraded around the party rooms with their various nannies, who are teaching them Hebrew, Mandarin, Spanish and, of course, English. “We want everyone to be happy, connected and peaceful human beings,” says David, who has two grown children from a prior marriage.
Party conversation alternated among topics like improving the world in general, holiday plans, world travel, food, and the good life in Miami as guests sipped specialty cocktails and munched on passed appetizers such as steak tartare spring roll, foie gras crostini with cherry and thyme, lobster melt, and seasonal butternut squash with crispy rice in wasabi aioli. Before dinner, guests gathered around the handcrafted interchangeable ping pong/pool table in the red party room. They took turns competing against each other and admiring the antique chess table the couple acquired at a Sotheby’s auction.
As philanthropist Angela Birdman guided her well-known developer husband Lewis to the dining table for dinner, he quipped that “she drags me to parties.” Although Angela confided that her husband “likes to work more than drink,” once he laid eyes on the festive holiday table, he stopped in his tracks to applaud the hosts. That table, created in visually striking Red Jasper marble from Pakistan, made a bold statement, glittering with floral and crystal elegance. Located below a custom Italian brass and silver leaf chandelier, and near a red mirror made of rubies and gemstones, the holiday season and its wonders radiated from every corner. Place settings wowed with Italian goblets and Christofle flatware flanking Vista Alegre dinnerware, a porcelain tied to the culture of Portugal that is characterized by its whiteness and bright and uniform glaze. The Constellation Culinary Group cooked up an extraordinary meal of earthy, rustic food symbolizing home and earth with robust, complex selections. “We created a winter holiday menu so guests would feel in spirit with the season,” says Nicole Hernandez, Constellation’s regional director, speaking for Chef Aaron Janus.
Paired with Adobe Wine’s new Racing Collection of fine reds, guests were treated to a first course of pomegranate molasses duck breast with walnut pesto, micro herbs, frisée, blood orange, chive blossom and sunny-side-up quail egg. This was followed by a palate cleanser of mulled cider sorbet. The entrée of sliced New York steak was served with corn purée, brown butter baby corn, beef ribbons, baby beets and French beans in a red wine demiglace. The sweet ending was an impressive Buche de Noel (yule log) with a natural forest vibe of mushroom meringue, edible moss, powdered sugar and sliced blueberries.
“David and Leila are great folks with a mindfulness about health,” says philanthropist and businessman David Beall, a franchisee of Pinkberry Ventures, and a member of the family who owns the world famous Blackberry Farm in the mountains of Tennessee. “They always go out of their way so that we feel comfortable and enjoy the meal.” The entire evening was a perfect salute to what makes the holiday season so rewarding: giving to others with loving hearts among wonderful friends.
Constellation Culinary Group
Florals & Decor
Vivian Gonzalez of Vivian’s Petals
Adobe Winery’s Racing Series