The modern dinner party is high-pressure, high-raised-bar stuff

Yotam Ottolenghi is the chef of the moment. Everyone’s reading Ottolenghi cookbooks. Everyone’s cooking Ottolenghi recipes. Everyone’s practising Ottolenghus in the privacy of their homes, which is a spicy, seasonal sexual position that finishes with a bit of charring and a garnish of fresh fennel fronds.

Yotam Ottolenghi

Yotam Ottolenghi

Even I’m becoming Ottolenghised. I bought his cookbook and I’ve been reading it all week: reading it in the kitchen, reading it in the bedroom, reading it everywhere except the bathroom, because that’s not a good place to read a cookbook; you’re putting the before and after too close together. It’s like watching porn in a maternity ward. You shouldn’t do that either. It kind of jars.

The reason for my sudden Ottolenghification is this: I’m having a dinner party tonight and modern dinner parties are extremely stressful events.

They’re nothing like the ancient dinner party of three years ago, before people knew about sumac, za'atar, pomegranate molasses, kohlrabi, or how to spell “Ottolenghi”.

The ancient dinner party was easy: you just called up friends, they came over, you fed them spag-bol or something barbecued, either from your own barbecue or the one at Charcoal Chook around the corner where the chickens rotate.

You ate, you laughed, you got drunk, you bitched about other friends who were not there and who you’re all very fond of. Then everyone went home, taking all the beers they brought with them, and several of your own.

Ottolenghi restaurant, London.

Ottolenghi restaurant, London.

But the modern dinner party is high-pressure, high-competition, high-raised-bar stuff. You have to start planning weeks before: make sure you have a complete set of quality dinner plates – one for every guest, ridiculous. It’s not like the ancient dinner party days when you could just bring out your old chipped IKEA plates with the dishwasher-baked-on Pad Thai noodle clumps. And if you didn’t have enough, someone got the plastic DIY-art fundraiser-plate that your talentless kid drew when they were five.

You’ve also got to provide a complete set of decent dining chairs: you can’t get away with the ancient dinner party routine where everyone sat on rickety mismatched dining room chairs, trying not to put their full weight on them in case they broke, using the same thigh muscles you use to hover over a squat toilet. And if you were one chair short, you’d bring in the wheely office chair with the broken gaslift, and someone sat there all night, peeking over the edge of the table like a nosy neighbour on a long weekend.

Then you’ve got to serve up restaurant-quality dishes that nobody’s ever eaten before, paired with well-structured wines that have been stored in a zoned conditioning cabinet, matched with a curated music playlist, themed to the cuisine, in a relaxed chewing-tempo. And the conversation has to be intelligent, focusing on politics and culture and non-monolingual narratives in Hispanic magic-realist literature. No more bitching about other friends who aren’t there, or doing your hilarious party trick where you stick a Bic lighter as far as you can up your nose until it gets a laugh or you pierce a brain lobe and pass out.

Stuff you, Ottolenghi, with your quince stuffed with pomegranate stuffed with quince. Get rooted Ottolenghi, with your raw root-vegetable ’n’ kohlrabi slaw. Why I oughta, Ottolenghi: you took all the joy out of dinner party cooking in your quest to celebrate the joy of dinner party cooking – and for that I say, shuck you, and shuck your deep-fried oysters, coated in panko, served with a deliciously tangy sweet-sour sauce.

Danny Katz is an Age columnist.

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