My editor asked me to write about how to throw the perfect dinner party.
But theres a problem: while I host quite a few myself – and pull them off pretty well, I think – I dont have much to compare them to.
You see, nobody ever invites me back.
I can count this years invitations on one hand (two, to be precise, and one of those I ended up doing the cooking). Who knows what amazing dinner parties people are throwing these days, what lavish accoutrements and flamboyant table decorations theyre whipping out? Not me, thats for sure.
Still, there are some basic rules that should mean things wont turn out to be a complete disaster.
1 – Have a clear cooking workspace
First up: tidiness. You should spend at least half an hour getting everything ready before you start any cooking. Organise your pots and pans. Put the seasoning and spices where they belong. You want to have everything to hand. Next find all the equipment youre going to use and set it aside.
Theres nothing worse than getting to a critical moment in a dish and realising you have no idea where the sieve has gone. Getting everything spotless also means that when people inevitably end up gathering in the kitchen, they get a decent impression of your house.
If you have the luxury of a kitchen island, make use of it to prepare dinner. It means you dont have to get everything ready in advance as you can turn cooking into a bit of theatre while people sit and watch. I have a hob on the island so I can do everything there, but even if youre just preparing cold starters its much better than shouting through from the kitchen or cooking with your back to your guests.
2 – Get your shopping done early
I always start shopping a few days in advance. I love to shop and try not to have any preconceived ideas of what Im going to serve until Ive seen whats available.
If you pick a recipe before you set off, you might end up being disappointed when you cant get everything you need.
Head somewhere like Borough Market, where you never know what youre going to stumble across.
When youve found a couple of hero ingredients you can start to build your menu around them.
If youre buying meat or fish, ask the butcher or fishmonger what goes well with it – theyll be happy to give you advice and will probably point you in the direction of another stall that sells it. Youll come home with some great ingredients that are bang in season.