Entertaining is all well and good as long as your guests know their place…which is not in the kitchen.
I’m not certain if the protocol (in terms of entertaining) has changed in the UK since we left thirteen years ago – a time in our life when our social life was constrained by the needs of young children, hence fulfilled by a monthly rotation of dinner parties with roughly the same people – but I quite liked the unwritten rules of ownership when it came to the distinction between guest and host.
In those days, the onus on guests was to bring flowers, booze, and interesting conversation, and the responsibility of the host was to provide everything else. Admittedly, if you weren’t Donna Hay, that premise did add some pressure, but what kept you going as you marinated the Coq Au Vin in your tears, devilled your eggs, and began your relationship with Valium, was the knowledge that all your hard work would be recompensed by four of five reciprocal dinner invitations, where you could be the one stuck to your seat, getting lairy, and talking about stuff that only comes out of your mouth after a bottle of fortified wine.
Indeed, the only time you relaxed the rules was towards the end of the evening, when Mrs. Perfect came into the kitchen and offered to clear up, releasing you from your servitude to pop out to the back garden for a furtive joint.
Social etiquette is a little different in Australia. For a start, people offer to bring food with them. And when I say “food”, I don’t mean that moldy piece of Cheddar that’s sat in the fridge since Christmas with a few Aldi olives. They bring plates of the type of gourmet food that wouldn’t look out of place on a Heston Blumenthal menu.
And while that generosity lifts the burden of the host to provide all three courses and canapes, it also adds more pressure to the quality of the food that you are serving.
The other differences are – and this may have something to do with the open-plan style of the homes here – there is more of a hands-on vibe, where guests mill around the kitchen offering assistance and trying to get involved, which makes it much harder to conceal what I like to call my natural cooking disasters.
And then there’s that new breed of men that like to cook and make your mother’s tried and tested home cooking recipes appear amateurish. Personally-speaking, there’s nothing more intimidating to me than a man who knows his way around a sous-vide and who brings his latest cooking appliance with him to knock up the appetizers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that men are starting to take on their share of domesticity, but I’d prefer to see more of them voluntarily clean the toilets beforehand than show off their version of the “Snow Egg.”
And all this camaraderie in the kitchen means that you have to clean it properly, ahead of the event, because people will be in your kitchen. That caked potato on the roof of the microwave (since the time it exploded) and all those tiny scraps of food that inhabit the cutlery drawer (because your dishwasher is still going after twenty years), have to go. You even have to wipe down the door fronts – not exactly what you bargained for when you had that crazy idea of a relaxing lunch.