Whenever I’m in France, one of my favorite things to marvel over is the pure and simple pride the French take in the preparation of their meals. Seriously, the loving care and attention to detail that restaurant servers award to even the lowliest Roquefort is enough to make any foodie’s heart positively squeal with glee. It’s for this reason (along with the fact that French sauces alone could solve most of the world’s major ills) that there is simply NOTHING in the world like a French dinner party – seriously, ya’ll, the Spanish may have their tapas, the Americans may have their Whole 30 diets, but the French have got that whole adult, fancy dinner party thing down pat.
So, why should we care? Well, I, for one, feel like dinner parties exist solely on episodes of Mad Men these days – and that’s a serious shame! Inviting a circle of friends over for delicately-prepared, homemade snacks and drinks is cheaper than eating out, it’s way more intimate, and you don’t have to virtually shout across the room when trying to have a conversation (seriously, what is UP with this latest restaurant trend that says in order to be considered trendy, you must make your restaurant as humanly loud as possible?!). And though it helps, when trying to achieve the perfect French-style dinner party, to live in a rambling French farmhouse in the Breton countryside with your perfect winemaker husband, this certainly isn’t a must. Even lowly urban apartment-dwellers (like me) can host a good dinner party à la française! Here’s how it’s done:
- Make butter and cream your best friends. People, I’m not talking becoming merely acquainted with butter and cream – I’m talking becoming each other’s inseparable, one-and-only soulmates. This doesn’t mean you need to completely clog your guests’ arteries with saturated fat, but it does mean stepping clear away from that tub of non-fat sour cream you were holding. A little butter and cream never hurt anyone, as the French well know, and embracing the usage of these two ingredients in your cooking will result in some seriously happy guests.
- Pay special attention to the arrangement of the meal you’re serving. Sometimes, amongst the chaos of dinner party prep, it can be tough to find the time and energy to make your food look well-arranged. But, trust me, this attention to detail is so worth it – it’s nice to take pride in your cooking, and also, people really like eating pretty food (this is just science, okay?). My advice: prepare what you can in advance so as to leave more time for the actual arranging.
- Actually pair wines according to the food they’re accompanying. Just say no to that Bota Box you were lingering over at the grocery store and instead take a little time to figure out what wines actually go with what foods. At the very least, you’ll feel like more of an adult while doing it. Use this handy-dandy Pinterest chart and you’ll be on your way to faux-sommelier status in no time! (Side note: find a good way to work in the phrase ‘faux-sommelier’ at some point during the party.)
- Use this time to delve deeply into subjects you might normally find taboo. Generally speaking, there are fewer things the French despise more than small talk at the dinner table. If you haven’t delved into all things philosophy, literature, religion, and death by the end of the meal, you’ve basically wasted the evening. Seriously though: isn’t all that stuff way more fun to talk about than your job, anyway?
- Serve all the bread. All of it. Don’t question this. Just do it.
About the Author: Justine Harrington is the Admissions Director for SPI Study Abroad. She’s currently on a one-woman crusade to tell everyone who’ll listen about the true transformative powers of bilingualism, intercultural education, and meaningful global travel. Find her on her yoga mat, leafing through her Lonely Planet guide to Iceland, or on Twitter at @Justine_Travels.