Is the dinner party dead?
I ask this because I cannot remember the last time I actually planned a three or four-course meal, consulted a recipe book, bought a lot of strange and expensive ingredients, thought about what wines I wanted to serve and set my table to 5 star restaurant standards.
Nor can I remember any of my friends doing any of these things either. Dining round other people’s houses these days generally involves a braai (bring your own meat), a communal effort (bring your own course) or a large bowl of pasta knocked-up at the last minute (bring your own Parmesan) with all the emphasis on casual, no effort, easy prep and – most importantly at this moment in time – cheap.
Yes, I know that seeing the friends is the real reason for getting together but just occasionally, I yearn for a posh evening in. Something that involves digging all the wedding present serving dishes out of the cupboard, dusting off the fish knives and forks, which I thought, would be so useful and which haven’t come out of the box – yet. And having just one more go at making something elegant out of a paper napkin – an impossible task.
I don’t really know why I have these yearnings as I have a very poor record at preparing dinner parties anyway. Twenty years down the track and my sister still remarks on my disastrous Sesame Prawn Toast (the recipe in the newspaper definitely said to use 500g of lard – they only corrected it down to 50g a week later) followed by the un-Crispiest Duck ever with homemade pancakes the size and thickness of Frisbees. I haven’t cooked Chinese since.
I’ve done a Salmon en Croute that was all croute and no salmon because I didn’t roll the pastry thin enough. Pork Fillet in Red wine which came out looking like a large pink penis and, continuing in that vein, a Spotted Dick pudding with real suet which I steamed for six hours and still only succeeded in cooking the outer two centimetres leaving a spotty, stodgy mess within.
I like to say that eating at my house is always an adventure, but I fear that for many of my guests their adventure tends to take them to McDonalds on their way home.
Conventional wisdom has it that you shouldn’t cook a dish for the first time when you invite people to dinner, but I think that is a load of rubbish.
After all – 'she who never makes mistakes, never makes anything at all' and, although I know that my sister still wishes that the latter had been the case on the night of Sesame Lard Toast. I say onwards and upwards and give you a toast to experimentation, the odd disaster and the occasional resounding triumph!
What's gone wrong for you – other tales of dinner party disasters warmly appreciated!
Cathy Marston is the owner of The Nose Restaurant & Wine Bar and a fulltime, professional eater and drinker. Any food, any drink, anywhere, anytime...