Setting the Table
ONE EVENING THIS FALL — the first truly cold night of the season — my partner, Chloe, and I invited some old friends over to our place for dinner. We spent the day devising a menu, planning a playlist, and buying cheese and wine. By the time our guests knocked on the door, soup was simmering on the stove and vegetables were roasting in the oven — sufficiently welcoming smells to arrive to, we were assured.
What followed was an evening of laughter and good conversation, the kind that comes when there’s almost too much catching up to do. It was all the things a dinner party should be: fun, intimate, and memorable. But as we cleared the empty table afterwards, exhausted in the early hours of the morning, we talked about just how sadly novel it felt.
It turns out we are the kind of people who always think we’re entertaining, when in fact it’s an exceedingly rare occurrence. My guess is that most of us are like that. Life is busy. We work hard, see our friends when we can, and retreat to the comforts of Netflix and a glass of Scotch at the end of the week. Or we go out — and we love to go out — because the effort of having people over seems so daunting.
But as the weather changes and the holidays approach, I’ve been thinking more and more about what it means to have people over — to invite friends and strangers into your own space, and cook for them, and talk without the noise of the outside world. It seems to me that it’s the closest you can get to the people you care about — and as a result, vital to the very act of being human. (Maybe that’s why, subconsciously, this issue includes a feature on holiday party looks, and life advice from the chef and consummate host Yotam Ottolenghi.) This season, I’ve resolved to do more of it.
Much like we talk about personal style when it comes to fashion, hosting requires an element of yourself laid bare. You can shape a menu to your ambitions, curate a wine list to your tastes and travels, invite a guest list from your wide-ranging network.
You can also do none of those things, so long as the sentiment is there. Preparation and fancy cooking can make for an excellent night, but really, it’s worth seizing any opportunity to welcome people into your home for a bite, a drink and a laugh. The week after our elaborate dinner party, we had a couple of close friends over for beer and tacos — the kind assembled with a kit from the grocery store. And frankly, it was pretty great, too.