I know I'm a little late on this, but have you guys watched Come Dine With Me on BBC America? It's a competition where four home cooks take turns throwing three-course dinner parties for each other. Kitchen mishaps ensue, everyone gets awarded points for their efforts, and one person wins a 1,000 pound prize in the end. Needless to say, I love this show. (If you don't have BBC America, there's going to be an American version soon. Which I'm sure will be trashy and awesome.)
If you ever feel nervous about having people over for dinner, Come Dine With Me, like many reality shows, will make you feel immensely better about yourself. On the episode I caught, a truly crazy lady messed up her famous pavlova (pronounced "pava-lova") recipe about ten times, first undercooking it and then burning it. In the end she fished out several failed meringue discs from the trash and smothered them with passion fruit and whipped cream, creating a wobbly "passion fruit volcano." A male contestant made a "Mexican" dinner of chili (with Marmite...shudder), nachos, barbecue ribs, and an ice cream sundae for dessert. Oh, and Sex on the Beach cocktails. He's British, okay?
The most surprising and interesting thing about this show is people's expectations. One woman griped about not being given a hostess gift. Others said that they didn't feel properly "entertained" by other hosts. Entertained? Isn't a meal and good conversation enough? Of course, this is a competition and there is a certain amount of sabotage, mainly in voting. And complaining.One woman, a pig farmer who lived in a mansion (really), made a rustic meal of homemade pheasant terrine, sausages with apples, and some sort of fancy tart for dessert. Everything she served was homemade, sourced from her own animals and lovingly prepared. Maybe it was a class issue, maybe it was jealousy, maybe the terrine had a little gristle--whatever the reason, she came in last place. I think the other contestants were put off by her enormous old house. Mr. Mexican-Marmite-chili placed first. But he did give everyone a tiny cactus and did card tricks.
Ridiculous as the actual food might be, it was fascinating to watch real people entertaining in real environments--tiny apartment kitchens, oddly decorated living rooms, massive dining tables with candelabras.
What made the contestents decide to make fusty chicken Kiev, or barbecue ribs, or set a table with red napkins twisted and tucked into Champagne glasses? What made one of them want to turn mackerel and mushrooms into pâté? Was it an idea found in a book or magazine? Was this how their mother set the table for company? Why do we serve the things that we serve, anyway? A dinner party is an expression of self: how we want to appear to others, who we really are, and something in between.
[Images from BBC America]