Dinner parties. Don’t you just love them? However, for some hosts it seems to be a sort of torture.
I reckon they really started to become popular in the eighties. And of course I blame Delia, because she was the one who gave those who liked to cook the confidence to cook for others. She was an absolute phenomenon to such an extent that she joined the ranks of those recognisable by only their first names such as Elvis, Lulu and, er, Jordan.
If you knew someone was “Doing a Delia”, it gave you confidence that your host might be able to relax and enjoy her (because it was almost certainly a woman) evening along with her guests. Delia’s cooking was commonsense and reliability. And if that sounds boring you might not have tried some of the recipes put out by other cooks on today’s TV where the emphasis all too often seems to be on one-upmanship and a need to impress with complexity rather than make eating what it should be: enjoyable. Hence hosting dinner parties bring some people close to a nervous breakdown.
A quick flick through cookbooks, or a search on the internet, for dinner parties throws up the word “impress” time and time again along with “etiquette” and “table décor”. So is that the point of a dinner party? Purely to impress? If you believe that, no wonder they can be stressful.
I know I went through my own phase of aiming to impress when inviting people around to eat and am as guilty as anyone of missing the point. It got to the stage where I started to become paranoid because nobody was asking us to their house. Did nobody like us? Had my big mouth finally got the better of me? Was there something wrong with wearing Old Spice? Then, one day, after I confided in the daughter of some often-fed friends of ours that I’d never been invited into their house, she let it slip that her parents were too scared to cook for me in case they didn’t come up to scratch. That rather brought me down to earth.
I didn’t actually think that I was able to cook any better than anybody else but thought it was only right to try as hard as possible with the sophistication of the food. Complex adventurousness was what it was all about. But I was missing the point which was that a dinner party is about bringing people together with wine and food and good craic. It’s a traditional party but with fewer people, all seated.
And if that’s the real point of a dinner party then it makes sense to make things easy, allow the host to drink as much as the guests without being chained to the stove (unless it’s that kind of party) and get as close as you can to guaranteeing success by doing things as simply as possible with the best possible ingredients.
It’s why, at such occasions, I now cook things such as slow-cooked casseroles and dishes than can be reheated.
But, at your dinner party, if you positively want to make sure there’s absolutely no chance of failure, with the wine and witty conversation flowing in equal measure, don’t forget St Delia.