July 2, 2020

We’ve come a long way from imposed solitude to being able to hang out in groups of five. Now is a great excuse to have a dinner party and show that you haven’t let yourself go. Put away the plastic cups and frozen air fryer snacks, you’re not in college anymore. You want to be the host that makes people stay up past their bedtime and remember for days to come.

In the past five years of being a food writer, my lifestyle consists of frequent dinners in and out. But I was in awe when I first witnessed my partner, Mathieu, host a French apéro for his friends. Aside from being a gracious entertainer, he put in hours of work visiting the butcher, cheesemonger and bakery, making gravlax from scratch, polishing silverware and conceptualising the welcome drink. From afar, he made it seem like a walk in the park. And ladies, if a man is a gracious host, he is probably a generous lover as well.

Mathieu and I really love having dinner parties. We like brainstorming ideas for our next party menu or taste-testing the welcome beverage. Regrettably, we’ve not been on the receiving end of many house party invites. One might contest that we aren’t the most popular of couples, (I sure hope not) but I have reason to believe that hosting a party can be intimidating for many. After all, we’ve been raised as a generation to consume more than we create. Plus not many would risk tarnishing their reputation in the event that the dinner goes awry.

The purpose of a dinner party is to create an environment for socialising. And that’s only achievable with a group of individuals who are willing to meet new people and are not anti-social. Consider a diverse mix, with riveting personalities from industries such as music and the arts. Have an out-of-towner friend? They always make the cut. I recall Mathieu having a limit on the number of French people (no more than half), to avoid situations where the conversation ostracises anyone who isn’t from there.

Practise mise en place: putting everything in place. Outsourcing is also the key to keeping one’s head above water. Sometimes you’ve got to put your own sanity first. It would be criminal to spend too much time in the kitchen time, while guests are mingling, in which, I’m guilty of. Blame it on the inner introvert in me, but the idea of assembling pulled pork stacks in the kitchen, while nursing a rum punch during intermissions is extremely appealing. Take it from Mary and Martha, but don’t draw comparisons between the two women. We are all valuable and have a purpose. Whether it is serving or fraternising, prioritise your time. Pick up a dessert or a charcuterie and cheese platter, and get ice delivered. Ultimately, nobody’s going to judge when there are free food and drinks.

Since I have shared my tips with you, here’s a step-by-step rundown on how to go about throwing a dinner party. I can’t guarantee success, but at least you won’t be pulling your hair out.

Guests are told to arrive at 6:30pm for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, but most likely I’ll be in the shower or at cold storage doing an emergency cornichon run.

Guests are told to bring themselves and a bottle of wine. Unless you’re an esteemed guest or a close family friend, I prefer you not to prod around my private collection of whiskies and rum. Bring booze that you’ll actively drink (and share)—wine is always nice. But note that the fridge is off-limits, the last thing I want is my choux tower toppling over as you wedge your prosecco in.

Guests are asked to provide dietary restrictions and allergies in advance, and I will do my best to ensure there is a special dish or two before the alcohol wreaks havoc on an empty stomach. If it’s a minor aversion to scallions, bear with me and politely pick them off.

6:45pm: The doorbell chimes. After inaugurating the party with a zestful pop of the champagne cork, we top those flutes containing our pre-mixed French 75 base (gin, simple syrup and lemon juice) with bubbly. The placid room fills with light and fleeting conversations as guests arrive in 10-minute windows, with Spotify’s ‘Dinner with Friends’ playlist playing in the background. Compulsory introductions are made between guests. You want to build an intimate space for deeper friendships to evolve. Booze is the best facilitator, so be sure to stock up.

The table is set with a myriad of saucisson, rillette, country pate and fresh baguette. Cornichons also find their place on the board. For pescatarians, there’s homemade gravlax, glistening slices of cured salmon splayed out over a luscious frisée salad and vegetable sticks with an aromatic onion dip.

Wines soon find their way into polished glasses. Ti’ Punches await in the corner of the room where Neisson Rhum Agricole blanc meets lashings of lime juice and dark brown sugar. It’s a real confidence booster and I won’t tell you how many I had earlier in the day.

7:30pm: Freshly fried Asian-inspired scotch eggs crowned with a bit of caviar is served.

8:00pm: The room stirs with excitement as a golden slab of crispy pork belly is carved at the table. Bring out the mustard, toothpicks and napkins.

8:45pm: I’m assembling pulled pork burgers on the fly and slicing them into halves. These are layered with a tangy coleslaw and sriracha mayonnaise for a leg up.

9.30pm: A cheese platter with the likes of Saint Maure de Touraine, Pouligny Saint Pierre, Petit Langres, Saint-Nectaire and a Gorgonzola of your deepest fantasies, steals the spotlight.

10:00pm: A lemon tart decides to show up last minute. It is eclipsed by a tower of choux au craquelin filled alternatingly with bacon whisky and salted caramel ice cream. Things get messy and there are attempts to tip prized rums into bowls of salted caramel ice cream. By then, everyone should be tipsy and turn a blind eye.

11.30pm: K-Ci & JoJo is crooning over the sound system. You’re beginning to reassess your friendship with the self-proclaimed DJ.

12:00am: The last person has enough couch time before making a move. You shift all the stray glassware and plates to the kitchen sink, grateful that your due diligence has paid off. Pro tip: frequent washing throughout the party will reduce your final workload significantly. Depending on how many glasses you had throughout the night, the living room will look even more dreadful in the light of day.

But guess what, a good dinner party is measured by the amount of stemware that needs to be washed.