The Dinner Party
Before we start cooking, we should think about how we intend to present our food to our guests. That means how the table will look, how our guests will be seated and the type of occasion. So we will start with presentation and the preparation of the table.
If it is a formal occasion, only a WHITE tablecloth will suffice, if its family and close friends you may use colourful tablecloths. Always have a look at what you are proposing to use, check for unsightly marks or stains, then give it a quick run over with the iron to freshen it up as nothing looks worse than ugly creases. Now we have a nice clean, crease free tablecloth we must think about how our table will look to our guests, presentation is everything. So we need to be careful dressing the table.
These MUST be stemmed glasses, and you need to have different types, at least three. Obviously you need
Champagne glasses, which we will call "flutes" because of their long shape and they are only used for this beverage or something very similar, such as Kir. Then you will need classical shaped stemmed
glasses, larger for water and smaller for wine. If you wish to be more sophisticated, you can add a third of smaller size which will enable you to serve red and white wines into different glasses
(smallest for white wine).
Order on table is from left to right, starting biggest: (Champagne flute) - water glass - first wine glass - (second wine glass). If you only have one size of glasses, put two side by side per person (it's imperative that you have one for water and one for wine)
Knives should be on the right side of the plate with the blade turned towards the plate.
Forks are on the left side with the prongs on the tablecloth.
Soup-spoons are placed alongside the fork, outside of the same.
Teaspoons or cake forks are on the top, between the plate and the glasses.
If you have several pieces on the same side, the rule is to have them in the order of use. You may a different number of pieces on each side.
If you wish to make your life easier, have a different service setting per course: salad setting, meat setting, cheese setting, cake server and even foie gras special knife.
Plates must be placed 2 centimetres away from the table edge. If they are decorated, the pattern is displayed on the topside; the plates should be around 60 centimetres apart.
At the outset, it is bad form to have one plate on another, except for a soup entrée where you may put the soup plate on a dinner plate.
You must use the same set of tableware, except for cheese and dessert which can be different, or if you use a very specific pieces like a soufflé dish or a gratin dish. In this case, white dishes are preferable, as they will match perfectly with any other set of plates.
Now we have the basics, we must look at the decoration and accessories, these are just as important. However, it must be remembered that decorations must be small things that are not in your way or hiding your guests... they must fill your table but NOT overload it!!
So we will start with the Service Dishes and Accessories:
Foie Gras Dish: A Porcelain Duck will assure a refined and classical presentation of your favourite Foie Gras.
Fat/Low Fat Sauce: If you cook roast meat, possibly a leg of lamb, sauces will have to be served in a saucer, preferably one, which gives the choice to take fat or low fat gravy.
Small Saucers: If you chose to serve various sauces for a Fondue Bourguignone, or if you cook a dessert with hot chocolate, maybe Chocolate Profiteroles. You might need them for a Buffet too.
Miniature Dishes: They will allow you to present all original ideas you may have, for instance serving Chocolate Truffles at coffee time…
Condiments Set: Absolutely necessary on your table.
Oil & Vinegar Set: This will be a great success if you serve lettuce/salad, as your guests will be able to adjust your vinaigrette to their own tastes.
Bread Basket: If you need to have bread on the table the infamous baguette is preferable. Alternatively, you may prefer an assortment of bread rolls, in which case simply lay one of your napkins in the bottom of the basket.
This is a very personal choice, something that you need to decide for yourself. There is no right and unique choice...your choice of wines will depend on the type of dinner you organize (formal, casual…) and the tastes of your guests (if you know them). There again, if you organize a casual barbecue party, you have the option of serving the same fresh light red wine or rosé during the whole time, but make sure its chilled!! However I will try to give you some very basic ground rules.
Entrée: generally accompanied with a dry white wine or Rosé
- red wine for red meat; light red wine for white meats
- dry white wine for fish or seafood
- - on a general base, fresh and light red wine goes with everything
- - however I would consider rosé for a formal gathering; but it is good and fresh for casual meals in hot weather
Cheese: red wine; preferably full bodied with powerful cheese flavours.
Dessert: sweet white wine
Now we have selected our wines, we must ensure they are served correctly, traditionally they are served by the host, who must a few drops in his own glass before serving the guests (this is to check that wine does not taste like cork).
Ladies are, of course, served first and glasses never filled above the halfway point, as well as that a glass should never stay empty.
The host must keep an eye on all glasses on the table and refill any empty glass immediately.
My recommendation is that you should uncork a good bottle at least half and hour before use, that way it has time to breathe. As a general rule of thumb, white wine must be served cold, but not frozen. You should think about putting it in the fridge a few hours before drinking.
There again, red wine is supposed to be served at room temperature: "chambré".
But be careful, this was the room temperature of our grandparents, before heating systems and air-conditioning!
The ideal "room temperature" is actually 16°C to 18°C...
Remember, wine should always be served before the dish arrives on the table, so that guests can taste it.
The bottle is left on the table, so that your guests, if so desired can read the label.
Finally we must seat our guests, as the last thing we need is a rugby scrum around our beautifully decorated table:
Try to find the best combination knowing that:
Host and hostess do not sit side by side, but face each other.
Gentlemen and ladies must be alternated as much as possible.
The male guest of honour seats to the right of the hostess, and the lady guest of honour to the right of the host.
Left hand sides are "second best"!
Married couples should not sit side by side nor face each other, except if they are newly wed
(less than 1 year) or officially fiancés.
Having done this, if you still have different alternatives, first take into account the natural affinities and different personalities of your guests. As for yourself, be practical and choose a seat providing you an easy reach to the kitchen...(even if you will try to leave the table as little as possible…)
Always prepare your "table plan" in advance and seat your guests one by one when you are ready to serve! It is permissible to have place card holders next to each plate if you are afraid of forgetting.
Now your table is set and the meal is about to be served. Everything has its place...the strongest ritual here...Dining. The rules are known, and there are many, and it seems I know them! It must be in my genetic make-up! I know detail after detail...let me give you three: