Thursday, March 13, 2014

Nuances of hosting a successful dinner party

We were planning to invite our close friends to dinner for a very long time. Due to a variety of reasons the event kept getting postponed. Who to invite is a very important factor. The right mix and match is essential to ensure the party ends up as a success. Putting the wrong set of people together is as bad as messing up the ingredients of a great dish. Individually the ingredients may be fantastic but together they are a total disaster. Well thought out variety is the spice of partying.

People fall into recognized groups such as immediate family, office crowd, school types, relatives, golf buddies, shipmates and so on. Inviting this homogeneous crowd poses no challenge. All the guests are acquainted with each other and have a similar background. The conversation progresses effortlessly and the alcohol helps it along just fine! But when it comes to inviting a motley crowd one has to do a little bit of thinking. Who will fit the bill?

I still remember a party hosted by Admiral Narpati Datta in the Fleet House in Mumbai – the guest list had Lance Gibbs the cricketer, Nutan the film star with her husband Commander Rajnish Bahl, atom bomb Raja Ramanna and architect Charles Correa amongst others. It was a great combo – the conversation was eclectic and the guests enjoyed each other’s company immensely.

Once I got caught with a group of hot Indian Air Force fighter pilots. With my flying experience limited to a few jaunts in Air India, I was totally out of place. Within minutes they were all air borne – gesticulating dog fights with their palms and making wild growling sounds.By the third drink they were firing missiles all over. In another instance, I was in the august company of singers. With nothing better to do, I started playing with the TV remote while serious ‘alapane’ was in progress and I accidentally switched on ‘Times Now’ with Arnab Goswami shrieking away in total ‘apaswara’!

Try and avoid the ‘know it all’ who will invariably occupy centre stage and pontificate on every subject – from mating of ‘Indian Bull Frogs’ to the ‘Theory of War’ by  Clausewitz. Also avoid the argumentative types – who will leave no stone unturned in their effort to prove they are correct - the Neanderthals were last seen 28,500 years back and not 28,250. Equally disastrous is a combo of silent Sharma and noiseless Narayana. They have nothing to say and can spend the entire evening in solitude.

Be wary of ‘Anecdote Aunty’. She has a bag full of stories to narrate and has come prepared to explode at the slightest opportunity. She will recall the train journey after their wedding night in 1963 from Bhatinda to Nanjangud or the great robbery when they were posted in Chinchpokli. With advancing age, the facts and figures invariably get mixed up; increasing the length of narration and help is sought from the ever-eager beaver, hubby dear.

Please specify the date and time correctly. One does not want the guests ringing the bell when you are still in the bathroom lathering soap. The other day, I answered the door bell only to find a nattily dressed couple with a gift in hand, looking rather aghast at my turnout in multicolored Chumbak boxer shorts. The party was on the 15th and they rang the bell on the 1st.Cataract I suppose.

Once the who, where and when part of the event is decided, the all important aspect of any dinner –the ‘menu’ occupies centre stage.

Ensure the dietary preferences of your guests. On many occasions, my dear wife who is a strict vegetarian has been served meat including ‘Bush Meat’ in Nigeria. Some are allergic to certain types of vegetables and sea food. Do not experiment on the day of the party – bring forth a menu which is tried and tested and eminently doable. I still remember, serving rich tomato soup to a cousin, who promptly acknowledged it with a ‘Good rasam, Pubby!’ A very conservative crowd may not like to stray off the beaten path.

So on 22 Jan 2014 after careful deliberation we served

The party was a great had all the right ingredients. Right mix of guests who appreciated the Mediterranean fare and good wine


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