I grew up in a family that turned Saturday nights into events. Whether we had guests or not, we were expected to change for dinner, not like they did in the days of Downton Abbey, though I think my mother would have loved it.
We’d sit in the dining room. If it was just family and a few friends, dinner was simple. Maybe, a soup to start, then a roast chicken, potatoes and haricot vert. Then there was an assortment of cheese and a green salad. Dessert was fruit, possibly an orange and banana salad with a plate of cookies.
My favorite part of the evening was always the conversation. Somehow it didn’t matter the topic because it would always devolve into tears of laughter. (To this day that is how our party laughter is.)
For larger parties, the house would light up with excitement as everything was prepared. My mother always planned ahead and had everything done in plenty of time. As the clock approached arrival time there was always a buzz of anticipation, but we’d usually find our parents in the living room with a drink, calmly awaiting the first guests.
They loved to entertain and did it with ease and a joy that was so infectious that everyone always wanted to be there.
As much as I love the thrill of meeting new people and the energy that happens when they connect over good food, I’m not a natural hostess; none of this comes naturally to me.
Stress is not my idea of fun, yet more times than not that is what I experienced when I entertained—because I’d find myself in the kitchen finishing up while I’d hear my guests in the other room having a great time. Instead of enjoying the party, I was missing all the fun.
Since I knew it could be done, I was determined to understand how. It took a lot of trial and error but one day when I was living in my small apartment in NYC, I had a dinner party.
Everything was against me. I had eight for a sit-down dinner, with just enough chairs in the apartment and a table I had to push against the wall until it was time to sit down. Not to mention the fact that my kitchen was very small, but I jostled, pushed, stacked, and made it work. I don’t remember what I served, but I do remember that no one wanted to go home. The conversation was electric and the laughter contagious.
There was such joy in the experience that finally I understood the secret to having a great party: it is founded in setting a stage and giving people, including the host, the opportunity to connect and experience that delight—and it has nothing to do with doing it perfectly.
Find great recipes to cook for dinner parties in
Le Kitchen Cookbook:
Everything you need to know to be a good cook.
by Adeline M. Olmer
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