Good dinner parties are like making good bread. Get the steps right, be patient, and the final result will blow you away (as anyone who has successfully made homemade bread will attest). Friday night in Jaffa I was lucky enough to be a guest at the table of a master baker, a Dinner Party Expert named Hila.
Hila, a lovely Australian woman, runs a private company in which she hosts and caters meals for intimate groups of visiting Congress people, dignitaries, and other important folk. Her food is Glatt Kosher, and she runs the whole thing from her own home. Once a month or so, she invites a bunch of people from different backgrounds (mainly native English speakers) and hosts a shabbat dinner party out of the goodness of her heart.
15 people, 5 hours, 6 courses and about 12 bottles of wine later the dinner party came to a close. Hila made it look easy. Here are some basic ingredients towards making a successful dinner party that I learned from her.
Invite 6 people you know. Then have them each invite one other person that they know. This causes stimulating conversation, not the same old topics you’d be talking about if you invited only people you know. Different backgrounds, ages, professions means there will always be some interesting pairings going on:
A deep discussion over the merits of instagram is taking place here.
Don’t underestimate the power of a place setting. Make the environment pretty. This gives a festive, special vibe to the party and enhances the flavor of whatever food you make (stuff just tastes better when you eat it off a tablecloth-it’s a fact.)
There's no food on it yet but the table itself looks good enough to eat.
Alcohol is important. With alcohol, a dinner party ( like good wine) will only get better as it ages. We had pre-dinner aperitifs of cranberry liquer, a middle course of basil sorbet with a vodka shot* and a steady consumption of red wine throughout the meal.
This was the wine table. We just kept replacing the emptys with the full ones.
Food. Lots of it. Doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to be good. Hila spoiled us- we dined on: carrot soup, assorted bruschetta, Polish cucumber salad, spinach salad, chicken liver pate with stewed fruit, Basil sorbet, hummus, challah, roast chicken with oranges and cinnamon, polenta, individual apple crumble, lemon curd pie and quince sorbet…phew. I would of taken pictures but I was too busy eating. And eating.
I barely had the strength to click the shutter by the time the meal was over.
5) GIVE/RECEIVE HELP
Dinner Parties are better for the guests and the hosts if everyone chips in to help out. Help clear dishes between courses, assist in food distribution, open wine. Don’t let the host be the waiter/chef/busboy. Helping together also strengthens the bonds of dinner guest-ship.
Be active in offering the host your assistance.
Make many toasts! Not the bread,I’m talking about the declarations that everyone drinks to. Frequent toasts throughout the meal are a further opportunity for table unity and a chance to be funny, meaningful, thought-provoking and appreciative of the gift of dining on good food with pleasurable company. We toasted to our host, to our jobs, the beauty of a stormy sea, to snails (inside joke), to love.
So have a dinner party. You won’t regret it.
*About the basil sorbet- It is used as a palate cleanser between the courses. I don’t know how Hila made it (there is a good-looking recipe here ) but her innovation was brilliant. Serve the sorbet in a shot glass with a shot of chilled vodka next to it. Eat the sorbet, and as you finish the last bite exhale, and on the exhale take the shot of vodka (don’t breath in between the exhale and the shot!). The result is the feeling that your entire body was refreshed with a cooling wave from the inside. Try it!