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|Written by Will Parker|
|Wednesday, 20 May 2009 19:00|
Nothing symbolizes a person’s passage into independence quite like the occasion of throwing that first dinner party. A true coming of age event, the dinner party signals an invitation to guests to look into the organizer’s world. Much more than just a meal, it functions as a show of maturity, generosity, wealth and coolness. What is more, it allows the organizer an opportunity to display his or her unique, eclectic sensibility – which, if everything goes according to plan, exudes a nonchalant hipness that screams, “I’m better than you.”
Forget for a moment that pretty much every dinner party you’ve ever attended has been exactly the same. The hosts have fretted for hours over the right mix of foods to serve: the store-bought canapés, served with pomegranate cocktails; the ubiquitous chicken dish served with a fresh green salad (organic of course) and balsamic dressing; and the flourless chocolate confection dessert, concocted from six types of chocolate and a splash of framboise liquor. All delicious, all impressive, all been done before. Then there’s the atmosphere: the mix of mellow ambient grooves which are catchy, yet unknown; the dimmed lighting complemented by a preponderance of tea light candles; and the modern farmhouse table set with its imported linens and Riedel stemware. All classic, all chic, and all pretty standard.
Not that the expected is necessarily a bad thing – for beginners, throwing a cookie-cutter dinner party is certainly a rite of passage. Should they attempt to organize something too avant-garde, they risk their guests classifying their formal debut as a major failure. It is for this very reason that dinner party virgins need to hit the mark and deliver everything that is expected of them, and more. This may mean studying what type of wine goes best with maple-glazed scallops (a fresh and fruity white, in case you’re wondering); what direction to steer the conversation throughout the evening (food, travel, and literature are innocuous enough); and what type of hand soap you should keep in the guest bathroom (ensure that it is only lightly scented). There’s a lot to think about before losing that dinner party cherry.
The neophyte is expected to make everything from scratch, so buying a roast chicken at the local grocery store isn’t really going to cut it. The hosts will also be judged on their entire home, so focusing any last minute cleaning efforts on the dining room may be misguided. In addition, proper attire is expected of both guests and hosts alike – wearing your University hoodie doesn’t quite make the same statement as your most ostentatious wardrobe showpieces. “Oh, this old thing? It’s just something I threw on… Yes, it’s Armani Privé. No biggie.”
With enough time, effort, money, and preparation, the debutant will undoubtedly make a splash with his or her first dinner party. If your guests leave slightly jealous, you know you’ve done a good job. All the pretension and exaggeration has finally paid off, and the hosts have entered into adulthood, where they will be expected to continue throwing similar standard dinner parties for the rest of their lives. Hurray!
Or, having lost their virginity, as an alternative they can choose to spice things up in the dinner party department. I cannot begin to tell you how highly I recommend this course of action. Forget the pompous show, and figure out what a dinner party is really about. For those of you who are still new to this concept, a dinner party is about spending an evening eating with your friends. Friends are absolutely the most important part of any successful get-together. While it is certain that a dinner party host will be scrutinized and judged to some extent regardless of whether or not it’s their first time, as the host, that person is in control of who’s doing the scrutinizing and judging. Make sure you only invite people you would want to spend an evening with. Make sure you invite friends who are interesting, fun, and like you because you’re a great person, not because you have great silverware. Also make a point to invite only a few people – a party of 4 to 6 persons including the hosts is most conducive to easy conversation. As soon as you start inviting a dozen people plus their children and their dogs, you are going to be responsible for ensuring everyone is included all evening. It’s not worth the bother.
I also suggest you forget trying to be Martha Stewart (unless you truly enjoy that), and make something simple, tasty and fresh. Or, if you aren’t in the mood for cooking, buy something you enjoy. There are no rules that require a host to serve three hors d’oeuvres, one main with two sides, a dessert and accompanying beverages. If you want to have some friends over and order in Chinese, then go for it. For the Marthas out there, my one suggestion would be to try to serve things you can prepare ahead of time. Most likely your friends already know you are a domestic god(dess), so they don’t need to witness the spectacle of flipping your tarte tatin in real time. The other benefit to making things ahead is it gives you time to actually enjoy the company of your guests, rather than the company of your stovetop.
I do, however, suggest a few dinner party essentials regardless of whether you are a first-timer or a seasoned pro. First of all, make sure that your place is clean. If you’re having guests over, it’s normally a good idea to ensure that your table has been wiped, your dishes don’t have crud on them, and your bathroom has been sterilized. Nothing quite kills the ambience like eating in filth. Secondly, make sure you have a variety of beverages on hand beyond the alcohol. Be it water, juice or soda, having options means your guests don’t have to feel awkward if they’re not in the mood for whatever cocktail you might be serving. Along the same lines, make sure that you watch your guests’ drinking, and don’t be afraid to put them in a cab home at the end of the night. Thirdly, if you are having friends over whom you don’t eat with very often, make sure you know if there are any food concerns before they arrive. Learning about a nut, lactose, or gluten allergy as you sit down to your pad thai or tandoori chicken is an awkward situation to say the least. And finally, make sure you take some time to enjoy your guests! Don’t hide in the kitchen or constantly run around getting people refills. A gracious host will let his or her guests know to help themselves or ask if they need anything.
With these tips in mind, no matter how green the host, a great dinner party is almost a guarantee. So if you’re still waiting to lose your dinner party virginity, I wish you all the best, and know that you’re going to be fine. Just make sure you hide the ketchup, From Justin to Kelly DVD, and copy of US Weekly when your guests arrive. Unless I’m coming over – in which case, can I borrow your US Weekly?