Salt 101

Why I Might Be a Masochist for Loving Dinner Parties

It’s 4pm and I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there aren’t enough gallons of overpriced Diptyque soap in the world to expunge the scent of garlic from my fingertips. It’s 4:30pm and I’m sweating more than the meat. At 5pm, I’m nearly crying and I haven’t even started cutting the onions. 5:30pm, I’ve forgotten the heavy cream. 6pm, I wonder why in the world I decided to do this. 6:30pm, the napkin rings don’t fit, the flowers are wilting, the wine delivery is late, and the béchamel isn’t béchamel-ing. At 6:31pm, I’m questioning my existence as a whole. Finally at 6:45pm I remove my apron and get changed. We’re getting there. 6:46pm the wine arrived and a splash of the red is now residing down the center of my new dress. 7pm, the oven dings, Alexa chimes, plates are set, napkins rung, somehow everything is made and ready and warm and, of course…no one is here. Ain’t that always the way. 7:05pm, I’m tired, sweaty, and cranky. “Why the f–”

*the doorbell rings*

“Oh my god! I just followed the smell down the hallway. It looks absolutely incredible! You did all of this? How!?”

7:15pm. Damn, I love dinner parties.

Hosting a dinner party is hard. That’s just a fact. In the end, you’re left sore, broke, and with a fridge filled with the world’s oddest leftovers. Cilantro stems and dried chanterelles, anyone? You second guess your sanity and skillset every 6 minutes. There is no set rulebook or How To guide for every crisis that feels like the end of the world (but in reality has more to do with oven space, folding chairs, and your milk’s fat content than the failing global economy or world peace). And at the end of the evening, you get no trophy, cash prize, or medal of honor for somewhat (ok…barely) keeping your cool. Instead, you get to load the dishwasher, tipsy on cheap wine, exhausted, and alone (yes, I am accepting applications for a boyfriend who really really loves washing dishes).

That said, the fun part about hosting dinner parties is the same reason that they are as stress inducing as they are. Everything can go wrong, but you’re kept on your toes because only some things do and you never know which. You can be a virgin rookie to the art of entertaining or a seasoned professional with a Michelin star, and either way, you will feel like Amelia Bedelia decorating blocks of cheese to make cheesecake, or literally “dressing” a chicken. You will check that you have enough flour 3 days in advance but when you go to scoop a cup of it, there will be mites in the bag. You will remember that you forgot to remind yourself that you promised to get cinnamon on your way home as soon as you turn the key in your lock. Sally will have watched that one Netflix doc on Tuesday and will have decided to go vegan this week, but, of course, you’ll have missed the Instagram story memo while manically grocery shopping. The heavy cream won’t technically have expired, but it will be more lumpy than you’d like it to be, so you’ll go without because…anxiety. You will realize that the chives that you swore you saw in the back of your fridge were but a figment of your imagination, and the candle holders that you bought especially for the evening definitely won’t fit the colored tapers that match your decor.

However, despite the daunting aforementioned strifes, because dinner parties are the type of difficult activity that others benefit from, scott free, for a many times diagnosed people pleaser such as myself, learning how to host a really good dinner party, was my version of being bit by a radioactive spider.

Making my first hors d'oeuvres Pinterest board was the marked start of my true villain origin story.

My villain superpowers? Well, they’re rather selfish, really. Because, while it might seem magnanimous from the outside to take it upon oneself to cook for, clean up after, and tend to others just to ensure that your guests feel cozy, happy, full, and cared for—as at home as they can feel in a home that’s not their own—the reality is that my love for dinner parties is that…but also truthfully, far more self serving. They feast on a 4hr beef bourguignon, I feast on the compliments that come with it. And as unglamorous as it may sound, the validation really does fill me. I could easily posture as a far better person than I am, but that’s simply not the case. I nourish myself with the doting compliments of my guests—satiated only by sufficient praise.

Though from an incomparably affectionate family, I grew up an insecure, brace-faced, frizzy-haired golden child, moved to New York with the rest of my same breed from around the world and became an affection-starved fish in a pond filled with other “big fish.” I was hungry for that special feeling that I once had, so I learned to cook and…feasted.

Becoming the DDD (Designated Dinner (party) Director) of your extended social circle can leave you drunk on the praise, validation, control, and blind deluge of compliments that come with that very selectively coveted role. When you’re the host, you get to exercise your long sidelined god complex and dictate the when, the where, the menu, the music, and best of all, how early…or late…the night ends. That said, with great power comes great…addiction to that power, as they say.

And this is how you find addicts like myself.

For better and for burnt bread, I love dinner parties.

Despite all of the chaos, uncertainty, and anxiety, the process isn’t entirely soul crushing. What’s the price of chopping vegetables for three days while watching a whole season of Gossip Girl  reruns for the payoff of being able to be as loud as you so please while singing Mamma Mia with your friends between the soup and salad courses or having the luxury of changing into a pair of silk pajamas before dessert because you live in a lawless SoHo one bedroom and aren’t in a stuffy restaurant?

The best part is that the routine never gets old. Unlike playing piano or painting a still life, you can never actually master the art. No dinner party is—or has ever been—perfect. They’re not supposed to be. You can be as type-A as you please while preparing for the soirée, but in reality, each one is its own living, breathing, ever changing entity. They’re manic, unpredictable, and exciting. They keep you on your toes…even when you desperately want to sit down.

Truthfully, if there ever was to be a “perfect” dinner party, no one would want to attend. It would feel cold, unwelcoming, and pressure filled—like you’d be sent to the guillotine for using the wrong fork.

You just have to do what you can, try not to completely loose your mind, then remove your apron, light the candles and throw your hands up—c’est la vie, que sera sera, let them eat cake…and everything else.