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TDG: The Compulsive Cook: Being a gracious guest


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JAZ's good-guest manifesto.

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Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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You have said it all, Jaz. That's the way I was raised. And as a host, you follow the example of your guests. It they pour their tea into the saucer to drink it, then you do exactly the same. If they eat their salad with their fingers, you do the same! It's about making them comfortable not about showing how superior you are. Graciousness is all!

Anna N

Edited by Anna N (log)

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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I agree with JAZ on what it means to be a gracious guest, too.

I can speak for myself: I do offer to set things, help take the plates and so forth into the kitchen, throw stuff out, etc., but it all depends on the context. I do all those things and more at a seder, most of the time, but there could be more formal situations in which it was expected for guests not to do anything but relax. When I visit my cousins, I will do dishes if they let me, also. I think the main thing is to offer; then, it's up to the hosts to accept or reject the offer, but the offer has to be sincere.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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As a guest, I will always offer to help setting or clearing or whatever, but I'll let the host decide whether he or she wants help. As a host, I've very occassionally accepted offers to help carry things into the dining room, but only if they are close friends. I never let my guests help me clean up. I've invited them, they are my guests, and I don't want them to work :smile: I want them to relax and enjoy the company. Other than removing the dishes, from the table so everyone can relax and enjoy coffee, I don't usually clean up until my guests have left, so I don't make them uncomfortable that I'm "working" and they aren't.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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Booyah, JAZ, booyah!! Fortunately, most of our guests are always very appreciative.

The one other pet peeve that I have is when I inform folks it's time to sit down for dinner, and 5 minutes later, when I'm ready to serve, all of them are still standing around.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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As a guest, I will always offer to help setting or clearing or whatever, but I'll let the host decide whether he or she wants help.  As a host, I've very occassionally accepted offers to help carry things into the dining room, but only if they are close friends.  I never let my guests help me clean up.  I've invited them, they are my guests, and I don't want them to work :smile:  I want them to relax and enjoy the company.  Other than removing the dishes, from the table so everyone can relax and enjoy coffee, I don't usually clean up until my guests have left, so I don't make them uncomfortable that I'm "working" and they aren't.

I generally agree with this, but we have a couple of guests who truly, truly want to do this and enjoy the clean-up. They're very good friends who are always on our "A" list for invitees. I think they enjoy the socialization involved with the clean-up. As hard as I've tried, I can't convince them not to help out. I've stopped trying.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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As a guest, I will always offer to help setting or clearing or whatever, but I'll let the host decide whether he or she wants help.  As a host, I've very occassionally accepted offers to help carry things into the dining room, but only if they are close friends.  I never let my guests help me clean up.  I've invited them, they are my guests, and I don't want them to work :smile: I want them to relax and enjoy the company.  Other than removing the dishes, from the table so everyone can relax and enjoy coffee, I don't usually clean up until my guests have left, so I don't make them uncomfortable that I'm "working" and they aren't.

I generally agree with this, but we have a couple of guests who truly, truly want to do this and enjoy the clean-up. They're very good friends who are always on our "A" list for invitees. I think they enjoy the socialization involved with the clean-up. As hard as I've tried, I can't convince them not to help out. I've stopped trying.

That's true. I have a very good friend who just does it. If they are really close friends, I don't object. And sometimes it's fun to let friends participate in the cooking process. One of my friends doesn't cook. So they are over here for dinner quite often on a Saturday. Sometimes I'll let them bring the meat so they don't feel guilty about eating at our house all the time. Mostly though, my rule of thumb is I invited you, I'll provide everything, do the work. Your job is to enjoy yourself.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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We do a lot of entertaining, because I love to do it. We frequently are told by guests that they need to have us over some time. I generally respond by saying that they're doing us a favor by coming to our house, allowing me to cook, and we don't have to get a baby sitter. Reciprocity is not expected at all.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Exactly. We also do a lot of entertaining, for business and pleasure. Entertaining for business is a very different prospect than entertaining friends. We love to have people over for dinner, and I love to cook so I'd always rather have people over to our place.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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Amen to this. I once made lasagna and realized that we were going to have LOTS of leftovers if we didn't add more warm bodies to the table. I invited some friends over and one of them actually asked, "Is it prego or ragu sauce?"

Being a new dad, I don't always have time to make sauce from scratch and I said, "it's not prego or ragu but it is a pre-prepared sauce I got from Costco".

She thought about it, then said, "ok I don't like those but I'll come to dinner anyway."

:blink:

Soooo... now here I am serving dinner to someone who's already decided she won't like the meal.

*gah*

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As a host, I've very occassionally accepted offers to help carry things into the dining room, but only if they are close friends. 

I generally agree with this, but we have a couple of guests who truly, truly want to do this and enjoy the clean-up. As hard as I've tried, I can't convince them not to help out. I've stopped trying.

That's true. I have a very good friend who just does it. If they are really close friends, I don't object.

I almost always refuse offers of assistance to help. But I really love it if guests in my home make themselves comfortable - just get up and find a glass and pour some juice, or wash some dishes that are in the sink. Someone that has that level of confidence and comfort in our friendship is always welcome to help!

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I invited some friends over and one of them actually asked, "Is it prego or ragu sauce?" 

That cracks me up. And reminds me of something that happened to my cousin Carol. She and her husband were invited to another couple's house for dinner, and the main course was lasagna, which tasted terrible to Carol. She feared that the ricotta was bad, but she saw that everyone else was eating, so she was polite as possible and ate what she could.

A couple of months later, Carol invited the couple to her house for dinner, and she made lasagna. They guests declared it delicious, and the wife asked, "What's your secret?"

"Well," Carol said, "no secret really," and described how she made it, including of course using ricotta.

"Oh, ricotta!" the wife declared. "That's the secret!"

"Why, what do you use?" Carol asked.

Guess what she used? Cottage cheese! BLLEEECH!

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You crack me up JAZ!!! I really enjoyed the peice.

Here are my two stories:

1. My sister once invited someone for dinner -- who half way through got up and said "I think this dish needs something" - then proceeded to the kitchen to RECOOK the dish the way he liked it... *^*%%$

2. I once hosted a dinner for about 30 people. Called each one and asked about prefernces or allergies.. no nothing I was told.. we eat everything. Then the fateful day arrived. i had cooked a huge meal. One couple came up to me and said, "Remember I said my mom would be coming with me... well here is the problem -- she does not eat ginger, garlic, onions, potatoes, meat or any root vegetable" -- what can she have?" Where is Miss Manners when you need her. I swear I wanted to smack her.

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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I recall an instance where we were dining at a friend's home and were served tabbouli. I have a very strong aversion to raw tomatoes (maybe doesn't meet Jaz's requirement of food that would take me to the hospital ...) so I did not take the tabbouli, although I enjoyed and complemented everything else on the table. Later my husband said that he thought that I should have eaten some since it was being served to us.

So, my question is: if five or six items are on the table and it is being served family-style, is it necessary to have some of everything? I know that when I host and a guest takes a large portion and then leaves it on his plate, I think, "I would rather you had not taken any!"

Do my "gracious guest" skills need retuning? Please advise.

Elizabeth

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"You're having Stove Top Stuffing?!?!?!?  I'll be right over!"

:smile::biggrin::laugh:

Mr. Varmint's funny . . .

Great piece, JAZ! As the child of a southern mother, your article resonated with me in a big way. Thanks to Mama, I have always endeavored to be as gracious a guest as I can; I even make sure to refold the bathroom hand towels after use, leaving them as I found them (yes, I'm rather, um, "compulsive").

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Ok, here's another question pertaining specifically to the article: I personally do not like chicken skin. When served chicken with skin, I just remove the skin and eat the chicken. The article seemed to imply that this would be acceptible guest behavior, although I got the impression that it would be frowned upon. What are other people's opinions?

-Eric

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Ok, here's another question pertaining specifically to the article:  I personally do not like chicken skin.  When served chicken with skin, I just remove the skin and eat the chicken.  The article seemed to imply that this would be acceptible guest behavior, although I got the impression that it would be frowned upon.  What are other people's opinions?

-Eric

:shock:

I thought the article said that it would be fine if you just removed the chicken skin and didn't eat it. Just don't complain about it.

Once again, great article JAZ

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If you bring wine and expect it to be enjoyed right away, that just means you don't know shit about wine. Agitation should be avoided, even in wine with no sediment. Any good bottle will benefit from a couple of days (or at least hours) settling-in time.

Moreover, every etiquette authority I know of is unanimous on the point that it's rude to bring wine with the expectation that it will be consumed right away. For example, Letitia Baldridge:

Don't . . .

Say to your host, "This wine is for tonight." (Your host will already have opened the wine for tonight.) Say instead, "These are for you to put away and to open on another festive occasion."

The point of bringing a gift to your host is to bring a gift, not to control the meal.

On the close-friends-helping-to-clear point, the issue here is that close friends are really like family. Once they cross that line the applicable principles of etiquette change because they become part of the hosting team as well as the guesting team.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Ok, here's another question pertaining specifically to the article:  I personally do not like chicken skin.  When served chicken with skin, I just remove the skin and eat the chicken.  The article seemed to imply that this would be acceptible guest behavior, although I got the impression that it would be frowned upon.  What are other people's opinions?

-Eric

:shock:

I thought the article said that it would be fine if you just removed the chicken skin and didn't eat it. Just don't complain about it.

Once again, great article JAZ

Yes, the article does say say that removing the skin is an option. However, Lesson #4

Unless eating the food will send you to the hospital or violate a major moral principal, eat some.
seems to indicate that some of the offensive food should be consumed. Since JAZ made it seem like the skin was an integral part of the chicken it would follow that not eating the skin would violate this lesson.

-Eric

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I think I would quietly set the skin aside. If my host noticed and asked if everything was alright, I might say something like "oh yes" just saving the best for last" and possibly claim fullness at the end, as in "oh I want to eat this, but everything else was so delicious, I just can't eat another bite". At no point would I make any mention of how I disliked it.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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I don't like to be lectured about how to behave at dinner parties. That kind of writing really turns me off. Joyce Goldstein used to have a horrible column in the SF paper where she would lecture people on how to behave in a restaurant, etc.

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