Festive dinner more than just a meal
In her new book, Set A Table, Karen Dudley shares carefully selected recipes, and considers the importance of bonding with guests around the table. She chats more about this with Latoya Newman
GONE are the days of slaving over hot pots in the kitchen a few days before – and even on the day at Christmas.
Karen Dudley believes entertaining guests at home is all about simplicity, being prepared and paying attention to detail.
“When you have people coming for dinner, what you’re actually doing is nurturing culture and nurturing the social glue, you’re nurturing conversation.
“When you host people, you go to some kind of trouble… you honour your guests by thinking about it and considering them – who will not eat what, who would not likely talk to another person, for example.
“You’re engineering a space for conversation and conviviality. You honour your guests by preparing and your guests’ honour you by coming through,” she explained.
“And especially for new entertainers, it is also important for people to see that you are actually accomplishing something. And, it is about the food, of course, but it is also about the social space that you are creating.”
Dudley said often people say “we’ll just go out” or “we’ll just have a braai”.
“Going out is fun, but there’s a certain kind of intimacy about being around the table that you only get when you go to somebody’s home and sit around their table.”
When it comes to catering for your family and friends, Dudley advised that simplicity was best: “A little bit of comfort and familiarity, especially over Christmas, and one or two other exciting and interesting items.
“When you’re slapping off a Christmas lunch that is too big and stressful, everyone is stressing and no-one is actually enjoying the spirit of having everyone over.
“Often, and especially as South Africans, I feel we don’t want anybody to lose out or to be offended in some way.
“For example my granny would make sure everybody had their preferred dishes – so this one needed beans and that one got a breyani and this one needed a curry and that one must have pasta…
“What happens when we try to do too much, is we lose the impact of what we are actually trying to do,” said Dudley.
She said it was important to set the environment right: “Make the table bigger so that everyone is sitting at the table at the same time to eat. Have that moment of looking at each other and saying “here we are, it’s been another year, but here we are together as a family”.
“It is important for our children to be anchored in this way. That, this is what it is about.
“This is where you belong, with your family.”
Dudley has lived and honed her culinary skills in Washington DC and in London, but now lives in Woodstock, Cape Town, down the road from The Kitchen, with her husband and two children. Her previous books, A Week in The Kitchen and Another Week in The Kitchen, have collectively sold 29 000 copies.