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TDG: The Compulsive Cook: Being a gracious guest


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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.

oooooookaaaaaaay... So, you're saying what exactly? That you are going to act the way you want to act at a dinner party, hosts' hard work and feelings be damned, and no one is going to tell you differently? Or that you don't care for that kind of writing, in which case I would point out that no one is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to read it.

The evidence indicates, by the way, that a lot of people could benefit from this kind of advice... eGulleteers excepted, of course. :wink:

Do any of you find it interesting that people just don't seem to entertain all that often any more? We entertain all the time, and I gather that the same is true for many of the readers here, but very few of my friends and associates do. This is not to say that I expect reciprocation, but I find it extremely interesting that many people who clearly enjoy and apreciate this kind of activity nevertheless can't be stirred to do it themselves.

Speaking of dinner party behavior... we throw a very lavish and multi-course Thanksgiving dinner every year, for which we send out formal invitations which are RSVP-ed. One year, a couple we had invited and who had just days earlier expressed to us how much they were looking forward to joining us never showed up and never even called to apologize. Apparently they had tired themselves out apartment hunting during the day and decided to rest at home instead of having dinner with us and our other guests. Needless to say, we have never invited them to anything at our home ever again.

--

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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?"

*gah*

A few years ago, Tony Bourdain had a party for one of his novels at my bookstore. Since the book was set in the tropics, he came up with an elaborate punch recipe, involving a jillion different liqueurs, hand-squeezed passion-fruit, and some ultra-swanky moonshine he had personally hauled from Latin America.

The underwear-model/girlfiend of one of the guests took a big swig and trilled "Oooh, this is so good! Is it vodka and Tang?" :biggrin:

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I loved the article, partly because I've been thinking about this question lately. And what I keep coming round to is moderation and balance.

No, I don't think guests should in any way try to control the menu ("Thanks for inviting me, and please know that I don't like cheese or celery"). But at the same time, I don't think they're obligated to eat anything they don't want, and it doesn't matter if that preference is a function of health, religion, diet, or just plain I Don't Like Celery. It is, of course, insanely rude to make a fuss about something you've been served ("Ew, chicken skin!") but it is equally rude of a host to stare at the guest's plate and say "Wassa matter, you didn't like the chicken skin?"

I post a fair amount to a board for people on low-carb diets -- of which I am one -- and the question of how to deal with family dinners comes up a lot.

While I don't expect my family to serve steak and lobster just on my account (on account of delicious would be another story :smile: ), I would also find it pretty appalling if, knowing my dietary aims, they insisted on presenting me with nothing but garlic bread and lasagne -- something that has apparently happened to a number of my fellow-dieters on more than one occasion. So, moderation. If you're a guest, don't be a pain in the ass about your preferences. If you're a host, butt out of your guests' plates, and pay a decent amount of attention to their stated dietary desires.

Oooh, two more rules. 1. Just because I'm not eating the polenta doesn't mean I get to hog the veal chops. 2. There ARE settings in which, yes, you do have eat a bit of everything (Janet's cricket-eating friend comes to mind).

Edited by mags (log)
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Terrific article, JAZ! Don't you wish every guest would read it?!

Question for you all: Don't most of these rules for guests still apply when i give a dinner party at a restaurant? I think some rules should apply (but not rules regarding food preparation if the guests are to place their own order, e.g. wanting their steak medium-rare, substituting vegetables, etc.) To illustrate, with something that happened to me a few months ago:

I told a new friend Julie that my husband and I wanted her, her husband Bill, and her mother to "be our guests for dim sum" at a particular Chinese restaurant on a certain date. Julie and Bill had lived in Hong Kong for a while and I knew they liked Chinese food. She said, "My mother doesn't eat any cuisine east of Greece, but I am sure she would love to come." I offered to have the brunch at some other restaurant serving some other cuisine, but my friend said, "No, no. Bill and I love Chinese food and I don't want to miss out on dim sum." So, all right, Chinese it is. The next day, Julie responds to my invitation by saying, "We all can come on that day, but could it be dinner instead? Bill does like Chinese food but he prefers dinner, is not big on dim sum." So, all right, I went along with dinner instead. Two weekends before the dinner, Julie calls and asks whether they can change the date to the this weekend (two days from now), so that they can visit her in-laws next week instead of this week because "Bill has a cold right now and doesn't want to descend on them with germs." So Julie and Bill thinks it's okay to for him to descend on *us* with his germs?

I pleaded a prior engagement, the dinner was cancelled to my great relief, and I will never invite them again.

Perhaps the fact that the dinner would be at a restaurant made my guests think they could depart from the host-guest paradigm?

What do you think? Were these guests rude?

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One hopes nutcakes is being facetious.

JAZ... Great article. This thread, particularly the tabouli comment, is making me wonder about my raw tomato etiquette. I agree with all of the principles in the article and try very hard to comply, as a guest and as a host. I don't have any dietary "taboos" but I do ABSOLUTELY HATE raw tomato. I mean, it makes me gag. If it is served in my salad, I just leave it. If I get tabouli, I eat around it. (I actually like the part around the tomato.) If someone notices, I just say something like... "Oh, I am weird. Raw tomato is one of those things I just really don't like. Maybe it is genetic." or something like that. I agree that for a host to press the point really bugs me.

I gave a very large party for my son. Between his friends, my friends, and our friends, we had one vegetarian, one who doesn't eat anything green, two fairly observant Jewish, and one allergic to shellfish. The answer was a buffet that featured a lot of different authentic Mexican dishes, some of which could be used to assemble "burritos" in tortillas. Since everyone here expects shrimp, I was able to keep that separated from all of the other food as a pickled shrimp recipe served at another "station" along with a crabmeat dish. It all worked. (The guy who doesn't eat anything green almost cleaned out the guacamole and still talks about it to this day.)

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Perhaps the fact that the dinner would be at a restaurant made my guests think they could depart from the host-guest paradigm?

What do you think? Were these guests rude?

It shouldn't have and yes. Several times over.

The veal chop/polenta mention raises another problem. With so many people on Atkins, when pizza is ordered for the office (and not only mine, I've discovered), some people will take three or four slices right off the bat, scrape off the toppings, and toss the crusts. Leaving one slice per at best for the rest of us. And blithely say 'well I need to eat a larger proportion because I'm not filling up on crust like you guys.'

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when pizza is ordered for the office (and not only mine, I've discovered), some people will take three or four slices right off the bat, scrape off the toppings, and toss the crusts. Leaving one slice per at best for the rest of us.  And blithely say 'well I need to eat a larger proportion because I'm not filling up on crust like you guys.'

Whoever does that is a total asshole.

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In response to the questions about whether one really has to eat everything, my opinion, despite what I wrote (I was rather overstating my actual sentiments), is that one doesn't. It depends entirely on the circumstances and how one handles not eating a dish.

If, as Marlene suggested, you just quietly avoid eating it, or if as Elizabeth did, you eat most of what's served and skip one dish, that's fine. Usually. In my friend's case, the banquet was given in her honor, and the crickets were a big specialty, so yes, she really did the right thing in eating them. In the case when I ate the pasta with gorgonzola, the hostess was a really good friend of mine who was just venturing out in her cooking and she was really proud of the dish. She actually knew about my thing with blue cheese, but it just didn't occur to her that gorgonzola counted as blue. I just felt that it was better to eat a little bit (and blue cheese makes me gag, so it wasn't easy. My advice in this situation is not to breathe while you're eating.). But in other situations, I've skipped salads with blue cheese when they were part of a family style dinner. Like Elizabeth with her tomato thing, I take care in those cases to eat everything else and compliment the host on what I do eat.

It's a little different when someone serves something that's just bad or badly made, like the lasagne with cottage cheese, but I actually think those are the times you should just eat some. I remember a dinner at a friend's where she made hamburger helper with a side of Betty Crocker blueberry muffins. Maybe because I had all that practice with my college roommate, I don't have a problem eating that sort of thing if it means not hurting the cook's feelings.

Because that, really, was my point -- just be nice to your host. And of course the host has obligations as well, as several people have noted, which I'm tackling in my next column. A host should never draw attention to a guest's not eating something, and never call them on it. But that's for next week.

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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.

I really don't like to be lectured about etiquette (or anything else) either, and my first reaction to such articles is often the same as yours.

BUT

I truly was appalled at the original article, and it really did bring to mind all sorts of egregious behavior by past guests. And when discussing it here on the original thread and with friends, I realized that among the "foodie crowd" sometimes our passion for good food and drink makes us do and say ungracious things -- often (I hope) unintentionally. And maybe it doesn't hurt to get a little refresher course.

AND

I'm sure you understand that hyberbole is a big element of my writing. I was serious in my intent, but somewhat facetious in my delivery.

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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?

My answer would be no. Take what you want. If the hosts specifically ask later whether you want something you haven't tried and straight-out make the point that you haven't had any of it, say that you're getting full and need to leave room for dessert. At that point, should they insist that you at least try it, take a little. But I also think that, in the context of a varied dinner like you've described, saying "I love everything else but don't like tomatoes much" is not impolite, if you're asked why you haven't had any tabouleh. I'm a New Yorker, and perhaps people in the South, Midwest, Mountain States, etc., might have different views on this, but I think your husband is being highly oversensitive.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I have kind of a different problem when I'm a guest. As a near-complete omnivore, I have no problem eating everything. And hosts who really love to feed people really love me because I really love to eat. But because of my chosen, uh, profession, I'm constantly being asked -- both by hosts and by other guests -- to give my opinions on the food. It's extremely awkward, because I'm rarely allowed a simple brush-off answer like, "It's great!" People want details. JAZ do you get that a lot too, given that you teach about this stuff?

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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What do you think? Were these guests rude?

Who wouldn't think they were rude? Presumptuous, inconsiderate, basically pricks. :laugh::laugh::laugh:

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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JAZ, your article hit home, especially the chicken anecdote. I once held a small dinner party and served chicken. Upon being served, one of my guests proclaimed right away that she didn't like chicken skin. When I simply nodded in acknowledgement assuming that she would just move it aside and get on with ther meal, she then looked at me and said "I don't even like it on my plate" and sat there expectantly until I finally had to get up and remove the skin from her plate and discard it. (much like one would do for a 5 year old)

Another thing I hate is when people call you up at the last minute and ask if they can bring a friend who just dropped into town. Don't people realize that the fixings for a meal are bought ahead of time. if you're just ordering pizza, it's fine but sheesh!

I don't mind accomodating little requests, but I have no patience for dinner guests who behave as though their every preference should be catered to, even if it means derailing my meal plan. As far as I am concerned, if you know that your preferences are so specific, do us both a favour and don't accepte the invite. "Cause even if you do, try bullying me around inmyown kitchen and you know it'll be that last invitation you'll get from me. I guess I am less tolerant because I eat anything. I appreciate that in other people because I see it as a sign of not only graciousness as a guest, but versatility.

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But because of my chosen, uh, profession, I'm constantly being asked -- both by hosts and by other guests -- to give my opinions on the food.

This always happens to me at restaurants. People will bring me to their favorite restaurant and ask what I thought. First of all, I'm off-duty--do you expect your off-duty cabbie friend to give you a ride everywhere? Second, they don't actually want my opinion, just praise for their choice of restaurant. I can handle that.

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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Nice article. Hyperbole or not, JAZ, these precepts should be branded on the backs of the hands of those who have broken one of them.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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I get around the food dislikes by asking people in advance what they CAN'T eat or are allergic to.

Very frequently, I can't serve things that most normal sane people such as eGers would be able to eat. Things like cilantro, pork, shellfish, bell peppers, eggplant, meat and jalapeno peppers to name a few things common amongst people I know. Sometimes, I'll need to prepare things with a completely vegetarian base for the veggies that might pop in at a moment's notice. Everyone gets a copy of the menu three or four days in advance of the get together, this way there are no surprises and everything is up front.

Now, I know, some people can't be bothered by accommodation, but the thing is, I like to cook and I LOVE cooking for other people, not to mention I like to entertain (though if only my apartment were bigger, *sigh*), so making alternate things is not a problem for me.

I will say though, that none of the people I count as friends have ever mentioned to me that they consider chicken skin to be poison.

Thanks be to the food goddess.

Soba

Postscript: The cilantro, eggplant and jalapeno-hating friend used to loathe sushi and sashimi until I converted him to the joys of pristine, well-made sushi. I think the "all-you-can-eat" sushi palace for $20 a visit had a lot to do with it, and the fact that tuna tasted like roast beef to him. Ah well, one victory at a time. :blink::smile:

Edited by SobaAddict70 (log)
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I'm glad now that my father was so stern with us. If we made it known that we thought something was icky, he would get really angry because he had worked hard on that dinner after a long day at work.

I'm constantly amazed at my coworkers (age seems to be unimportant), who will look at something in SOMEONE ELSE'S lunch and say "yuk." So you don't like it? Keep it to yourself.

Edited by MsRamsey (log)

"Save Donald Duck and Fuck Wolfgang Puck."

-- State Senator John Burton, joking about

how the bill to ban production of foie gras in

California was summarized for signing by

Gov. Schwarzenegger.

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Another thing I hate is when people call you up at the last minute and ask if they can bring a friend who just dropped into town.  Don't people realize that the fixings for a meal are bought ahead of time.  if you're just ordering pizza, it's fine but sheesh!

I don't mind accomodating little requests, but I have no patience for dinner guests who behave as though their every preference should be catered to, even if it means derailing my meal plan.  As far as I am concerned, if you know that your preferences are so specific, do us both a favour and don't accepte the invite.  "Cause even if you do, try bullying me around inmyown kitchen and you know it'll be that last invitation you'll get from me. I guess I am less tolerant because I eat anything.  I appreciate that in other people because I see it as a sign of not only graciousness as a guest, but versatility.

Last minute guests are also a pet peeve of mine. If it is an ultra casual party, fine. But when I am throwing an intimate birthday party for a group of close friends plus SO's, it is a little unnerving. Inevitably, I am come across as an inflexible grouch.

What's the etiquette for last minute guests? I say bring a nice bottle of something; offer to bring food. Should you eat less knowing that food was already purchased/planned before the host knew you were coming?

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I love cooking for people, and want them to enjoy what I prepare. So yes, I want to know beforehand if they're vegetarian, allergic, just plain "don't like," whatever. I consider those issues a challenge to my creativity, not an insult. :laugh:

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These have been some fine responses to a fine article. It's so easy to behave properly; I don't understand why people can't. :rolleyes:

Usually when I invite guests for dinner, I know what the focal point(s) of the meal will be: osso buco, on one occasion, another time fettucine with a lamb ragu. When I issue the invitations, I inform the potential guests of that. I also ask if they have any allergies or restrictions -- so that I can figure out what to make (or NOT to) for the rest of the meal. I have very nice friends; no one has ever said yuck to what I'll be offering.

Since I usually make too much anyway, :raz: extra guests would not be a problem. (I'm a Jewish mother at heart, and besides, I love leftovers.) Besides, I don't do intimate-and-formal at home.

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My party ettiquite problem is my own. I love cooking for others and am pretty good at putting a dish or two together, but invariably when I am making a multicourse dinner one of the integral parts of the meal ends up tasting like crap, burned, not ready in time for when it should be served or in one case left in the refrigerator only to be discovered after everyone had left.

Everyone always says that dinner was great (my friends must all be more gracious than everyone else's) and my wife, who is always honest about that sort of thing agrees, but in my own mind I picture them talking about how awful everything was as they are going to their cars.

So I always end up complaining about my own cooking and being the insufferable one. I guess I need to get better at cooking or stop having dinner parties.

Bill Russell

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bilrus, repeat after me: Never complain, never explain.

Only YOU know how you wanted it to come out, and it may not have met your expectations. On the other hand, they only know how it DID come out, and since you always set a high standard, they assumed that everything you made met that standard. So they had their expectations met, because they didn't know any better, so to speak. Or because they're right and you're wrong. :raz: This kind of ties in with JJ Goode's article in The Daily Gullet.

I believe that the hardest thing for a good cook to do is learn to accept others' praise. Because the cook is always working toward an ideal of which the guests may not be aware.

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I guess I am less tolerant because I eat anything.  I appreciate that in other people because I see it as a sign of not only graciousness as a guest, but versatility.

I guess I don't understand why what I eat somehow equates to being rude or gracious to you. I can certainly understand how I CAN be rude to you with reference to what I eat, like the woman who insisted on having her chicken skin removed. But if I choose to keep kosher or be a vegetarian, if blue cheese makes me gag, how on earth is that not being gracious to my host?

This all reminds me quite a lot of the thread about customers making special requests in restaurants, which ultimately seemed to me to be about control -- about who gets to control the meal. And you seem to be saying that if I exercise any preferences -- if I opt not to eat porkchops or pasta or blue cheese -- I am rudely stealing control of the meal from you. And since it's MY mouth that this meal is going into, I don't really see where your control comes into it.

Again, if I make some kind of fuss, it's a different story.

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