When entertaining at home it is the “where” and the “who” that become the pillars upon which a host, or hostess, can build a truly memorable repast. Each home’s location, and the guests that are expected, provide the inspiration for the host to create a one-of-a-kind performance, where both stagecraft and culinary adventures play a part.
The goal is to affect two distinct realms: that of emotion and that of imagination – and to do so with a theatrical effect that will bring forth and mirror the warmth of human contact. The most successful seated dinner, luncheon, or more casual gathering is the one that achieves an intertwining of both.
Whether hosting a larger get-together or an intimate dinner over the flickering light of candles, it all comes down to a harmonious mood and the excitement of surprises, created by the chosen elements as devised by the host.
At the table, the elements that one can unveil include the decorative centrepieces and candles, as well as the choice of an elegant tablecloth and napkin set, or a more austere table where the cutlery, china, and glassware take centre stage.
All should be selected with an overarching view as to the effect one seeks to enhance in the planned formal luncheon, intimate supper, or country gathering. Small gatherings of up to six people are more prone to intimacy, while gatherings of eight and up are ripe for surprises and dramatic denouements.
This performance, much like life, evolves in a span of space and time as the dishes are presented; its flow entices the participants to become part of the performance. The meal is thus the distillation of a single moment in time, as well as the expression of a place, its people, its traditions, its culinary culture, and the produce of its land.
Within these parameters one is guided by traditional, and some new, rules of etiquette that are the modern framework of the art de la table.
Ingredients, serves 8
2 large shallots, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter or extra virgin olive oil
4 large courgettes, washed and cut into slices 1 potato, cut into thin slices (optional)
500ml chicken broth
Leaves of 1 small bunch basil or coriander, plus more for garnish
Knob of butter, for serving
Crème fraîche or olive oil, for serving
- In a large pot, sauté the shallots and garlic with the butter over medium heat, stirring constantly until the shallots are transparent, 3 minutes. Add the sliced zucchini and the potato slices, if using. Continue to stir.
- Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Let simmer on low for 7 minutes. Immediately blend with an immersion/stick blender or pour the mixture into a standing blender, in batches, if necessary, as the contents are hot, so the vegetables stay green.
- When smooth, blend in the basil. Return the contents to the pot. Stir in a knob of butter and serve topped with crème fraîche or olive oil and fresh basil leaves.
Ingredients, serves 6
Flesh of 2 avocados
Kernels from 1 ear cooked sweetcorn
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
350g crab or king crab meat or cooked shrimp/prawns
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chopped coriander leaves, chopped chives, and chopped parsley, plus more whole leaves for serving
Crab claws, for serving (optional)
Baby greens, for serving
Mayonnaise, for serving (optional)
Lime quarters, for serving (optional)
- In a medium bowl, thoroughly mash the avocado, then stir in the corn, 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice, and salt.
- In a small bowl, mix the crab, mayonnaise, the remaining tablespoon of lemon juice, salt, pepper, and herbs. Place a single-serving (6 to 7.5cm) round ring mould on a serving plate. Fill the bottom of the circle with the avocado mixture and top with the seasoned crabmeat. Remove the ring and repeat for the remaining servings.
- Decorate with crab claws or coriander leaves and serve with baby greens. Serve mayonnaise and lime quarters on the side.
Green puy lentil salad
Ingredients, serves 8
400g green Puy lentils
2 bay leaves
1 carrot, cut into 3 to 4 pieces
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons hazelnut oil
2 tablespoons grapeseed / vegetable oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Parsley or chervil leaves, for serving
- Rinse the lentils and place in a saucepan with 1.5litres of cold water, salt, the bay leaves, the carrot, and the garlic. Simmer until tender but still firm in the centre, about 25 minutes.
- Remove and discard bay leaves, garlic, and carrot pieces. Drain the lentils, rinse with cold water, and refrigerate. When you are ready to serve the salad, whisk the vinegar, mustard, and oils to make a vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper.
- Transfer the chilled lentils to a bowl. Toss with the vinaigrette. Add the shallots and parsley and toss again. Garnish with parsley or chervil.
Meringue pavlova with cream and berries
Ingredients, serves 8
4 egg whites, at room temperature
235g granulated sugar
500ml whipping cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
Fresh strawberries and raspberries
Strawberry or raspberry sorbet (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 200°F. In a bowl with a hand-held beater or the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add a pinch of salt and continue to beat, adding 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar at a time and beating well after each addition, for about 15 minutes in total.
- Once egg whites are whipped, place a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet.
- Use a pastry tube fitted with a large plain tip to pipe the meringue into concentric circles on the parchment paper, starting at the centre and continuing until you have used up the meringue.
- Bake about 2 hours at 200°F, until the meringue is cream coloured and firm.
- Turn the oven off. Leave the meringue in the oven for several hours or overnight without opening the oven door.
- When ready to serve, carefully peel away the parchment paper. Whip the cream with the confectioners’ sugar until firm. Fold in the mascarpone.
- Put the meringue on a cake plate. Cover it by alternating and decorating with the whipped cream and red fruits and then add scoops of sorbet.