A Dinner Party with a Difference
Here’s a novel suggestion for your next dinner party (particularly if, like me, your cooking skills are limited to making toast and preparing cereal – which I do very well I might add!) : Invite your friends to your house and ask them to cook.
Before you race to judge my dinner invitation as inhospitable and selfish, let me explain:
I’ve never quite understood the traditional dinner party. There’s a lot of racing around the kitchen in stressful preparation for the impending arrival of your guests. There’s the table to set, the courses to prepare, yourself to get ready … all so you can answer the door with an air of belying-calmness as the perfect host – while in the back of your mind you’re worried about the roast burning.
It’s a rare few people who can choreograph a dinner party that flows smoothly in both front and back of house. More often than not, the façade starts to thin a bit when your guests are left at the table for prolonged periods while you single-handedly rescue the meal from one crisis or another in between chiming into the table’s conversation from the kitchen … just to prove that everything is copasetic.
And then at the anti-climatic end: when everyone is served and satiated; when you can finally relax and let down your hair; it’s time for your guests to go. Adding insult to injury, you’ve got a mountain of dishes (for which you’ve politely refused any help) to tend to.
My idea turns all this on its head.
Years ago I started inviting friends over to my house for dinner … and asking them to cook.
The idea was born out of the fact that in my last house, I had a fantastic kitchen, one that deserved to be used, but was sadly ignored by me. I’ve already mentioned my non-existent culinary skills and it’s a well-recognised fact that most parties end up in the kitchen – so why not start there!
The premise is simple: I invite you over. We set a date. You tell me what you’re going to cook/your menu and give me a list of ingredients. I then go out and buy the ingredients – learning as I go. (ie, learning how to buy particular fillets of seafood, or cuts of meat, or discovering foods on shelves I’d never even glanced at before.) On the night that you’re invited over, you arrive, find the ingredients laid out. And me: my hands washed, knife at the ready, your willing sous-chef for the night, ready to follow your every instruction. A willing apprentice, eager to learn. We open a bottle of wine and start to cook together. No stress, no deadline. The journey IS the destination. We get to enjoy each other’s company, catch up on each other’s lives, bonding over the preparation of food – together. And when the meal is complete we sit down and enjoy the tasty result of our shared experience. No stress on the chef’s part, no judgements, no concerns or responsibilities over whether it tastes good enough because we we’re both a part of the preparation at every stage.
I don’t know, but to me this seems a far more sane dinner party, then the ones where the host is manically racing about, aiming for impressive perfection.
And the bonus for me? I’ve learned something new; I’ve broadened my narrow culinary skills with hints and tips gleaned from learned guest. And if I’ve been paying attention then I’ve actually learned how to make a new dish. One that I can then share with another friend in the future.
Michael, you are so smart.
I don’t invite people over very often for dinner because I am not a very good cook and my husband doesn’t cook at all so I think I am going to try your idea. Thanks for the suggestion.
Patty, thanks for the compliment! I promise it’s a fun approach to cooking and enjoying your guests company without the stress!
If you do stage a “Come & Cook” dinner party please let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear about it!