Last time on "Food Pairing for the Modern Sophisticate," we told you how to be the best at dining out--how to choose a restaurant, order nothing but the best food and the best wine and get out of some of the finest restaurants in the world without paying a dime. Considering today's economy, it was a very popular installment. We've heard that many former investment bankers and trust-fund artists have had it tattooed onto their arms in full just so that they never forget any of the precious pearls of wisdom that we handed down. In keeping with the theme of penury, felonious conduct and behaving badly on a limited budget, we have decided, this week, to talk about dining at home. Specifically, how to throw a winning, modern and sophisticated dinner party without having to divest one's self of what few winning assets one has left.
When money is tight, sometimes it is better (and cheaper) to have your friends painted on the wall
Ah, the dinner party. Is there any event more charming, more comforting, more indicative of a person's place in society, than the intimate dinner at the home of a friend?
Yes. There are about a million things in the world more fun, more comforting and more socially adventurous than the obligatory dinner at the table of some schnook who you barely know and probably don't like very much to begin with. People who throw dinner parties do so because they have nothing better to do than spend two days cooking and a month guilting vague acquaintances into coming over for rubbery chicken and cheap wine in the pathetic hovel that they call a home. Interesting people do not throw dinner parties. Or at least they didn't used to. This was because interesting people always had something better to do--like drugs, hard time or naive young actresses. Interesting people were too busy destabilizing international currency markets, blackmailing their way into ambassadorships or dying in new and amusing ways to worry about whether or not they had enough chairs, enough wine and enough forks for their guests to steal without appearing cheap about it. Interesting people ate out because they were busy or lazy and wanted someone else to do all the hard work for them. If they ever had friends over to their homes it was only because they wanted to sleep with them and didn't feel like doing it in the bathroom at Le Cirque. Or if they needed help moving a body.But today, things are different. Today, most of the interesting people are as broke as everyone else is, and so have been forced into scaling back their profligate spending. Now, rather than going out to some fine restaurant and dropping five grand on a dinner, they are staying home, playing Pictionary with their (own) wives and children and watching videos from Netflix like a bunch of suburban chumps. And this makes things difficult for the Modern Sophisticate because, with all the interesting (read: rich) people staying home and not going to restaurants, that means there's no one off of whom the charming scoundrel might cadge a free meal. It means there's no one out there leaving their open bar tabs unattended.
It means that even the most well-connected Modern Sophisticate must now face the horror of dining in the homes of friends or, worse, throwing dinner parties of his or her own just to keep in contact with their now-destitute former venture capitalist friends, their former weight coke-dealing friends, their former trust-fund-hippies-with-drinking-problems friends, and everyone else who used to make life interesting.
And while, these days, pretty much anyone can auction off grandma's silver (whether or not grandma is still alive) and use the proceeds to throw the kind of soiree that gets you talked about by all the right people (gossip columnists, political fixers, reality television producers and bail bondsmen), the real challenge is in what to do once you've liquidated all possible assets, incurred all the bad debts you can support, maxed out all the credit cards and still need to look as though you're flying high in the face of disaster.
But don't worry. Food Pairing for the Modern Sophisticate is here to help. Here are a few tips to get you through the worst times:
1) 4 Types of Dinner Parties
The modern dinner party can take many forms. They are:
1) The housewarming party (or the modern analog, the "Housecooling Party," in which the soon-to-be-evicted residents and their guests attempt to do as much good-natured damage to the structure as possible just before abandoning it and going to live in a van down by the river)
2) The holiday party (used to celebrate such arbitrary dates as December 25, July 4, January 1 or whenever the hell Arbor Day is)
3) The birthday party (should be avoided except under the most desperate of circumstances, particularly if it is a party for a child under 18. Or if it involves clowns)
4) The "Special Event" party, which might be used to celebrate a) a promotion at work, b) the birth of a child, c) the receipt of proof that said child is not, in fact, the host's, d) a divorce, e) being found innocent on all counts.
2) Who To Invite
The question of who to invite to your dinner party is the second-most important concern you will have as a host. Think about it in terms of percentages:
25% rich people (May be supplemented by formerly rich people who are currently poor but may become rich again soon provided their divorces/censure votes/SEC hearings break their way)
20% interesting people (a list which includes, but is not limited to, drug dealers, music industry executives, producers, porn stars, C-list actors, bent lawyers, criminals and politicians on the make)
20% fun people (these are mostly party girls, club kids, your weird friends from college, the idiot children of powerful businessmen and anyone with unreconciled substance abuse problems)
15% boring, poor or sad people (because with them in the room, it just makes the rich, interesting and fun people seem that more interesting, rich and fun. Plus you'll always need someone around to run out for more beer or Cheetos in the middle of things)
20% creative people (this includes actors, musicians, painters, sculptors, performance artists, mimes, coked-up comedians, writers or anyone else who's likely to take a swing at someone else as soon as he gets a few drinks in him)
The most important concern you will have as host is who NOT to invite. This list includes:
1) Your parents (unless they're paying for everything and you're at their house. Even still, it's a little creepy)
2) Your priest
3) The cops
4) Anyone who has the slightest inclination toward singing karaoke
5) Anyone who has the slightest inclination toward playing board games
6) Anyone you owe money to (obviously)
7) Small children (unless they are being used as entertainment or are heirs to something and you need to get on their good side early)
8) Any more than one recovering alcoholic or drug addict
3) What To Serve
A dinner party is, first and foremost, about the food. Therefore, the menu is an important consideration. What would your guests like to eat? What would make them feel most happy, welcomed and at home? What foods would best be served at the type of party you are having? These are all things that the good host or hostess thinks about.
These days, though, all of these questions have been superseded by one, more important one: what can you afford to serve all these degenerates? Here are a few suggestions:
If you open a can of those Chef Boyardee ravioli and stab them onto toothpicks, they count as appetizers.
Pate de foie gras is too expensive. Try to use the fattened livers of less pricey animals--like pigeons or pet store guinea pigs.
Soup stock can be made by boiling the tassels from all those loafers you no longer have to wear now that you're working the drive-thru window at the local Burger King.
Consider some of the less common species of the animal kingdom. Just because people don't usually eat sea otter doesn't mean they aren't edible. And most zoos these days have shockingly lax security.
An attractive salad can be constructed from shredded back issues of Metropolitan Home or Architectural Digest.
The important thing here is to have plenty of liquor on hand. Get your guests drunk enough and they'll eat pretty much anything. Better still, they probably won't remember your Cream of Nothing soup the next day.
4) French is Your Friend
Still having trouble figuring out how to make your dinner party seem classy when all you're doing is inviting your broke-ass friends and all you're serving is whiskey consomme? The French (as usual) are the solution to all your problems.
Say you want your guests to bring their own food (because you don't have any). Well, you could call your dinner party a potluck, but even saying "potluck" in public makes you sound like some kind of hayseed Midwestern farm wife. So instead, call it un parti ou amener votre propre dîner--which basically means a party where everyone brings their own dinner.
Alternately, you can claim that all the food being served is being done in the style of Le Cuisine Nouvelle Francais, which will allow you to get away with serving anything from flavored air to snails that you found in your garden. No matter what you do, your guests will think it was deliberate and pretend that the gummy bear souffle you made from leftover Halloween candy is the best thing they've ever eaten.
For more fun, call your party a jeu de cuisine (a food game), where everyone has to make a dish featuring one special ingredient. If you want your party to be amusing, choose an unusual ingredient like trotters, weed or KY Jelly. If you just want something to eat, make it porterhouse steaks, an inch thick, at least.
5) Yeah, But Can I Make This Pay?
Yes, you can! All it takes is a little creativity, a straight face and a willingness to break a few minor laws.
For example, everyone loves a wedding, right? But weddings are expensive, difficult to plan, and legally binding. You know what's not, though? An engagement party! So throw yourself one. Pick a fake fiance. Choose a date. Demand that all guests bring ridiculously expensive gifts. Then wait two weeks, make a sad announcement about finding your new nearly-significant-other in bed with a tranny prostitute and/or some famous, local political figure that deserves a little slandering, and sell or return all the gifts for cash. Most of your friends will probably stay quiet about it because the scandal involves a public figure. And those who don't will get on the news any maybe score themselves a reality show or a book deal, at which point you can mooch off them for years.
Considering the kind of world we live in today, if one is attractive enough one can probably pull this scam twice a year, at least, without arousing any suspicion. Ugly people should only try it once every couple years, though.
When the engagement party thing gets old, you might want to try throwing a charity dinner for some terrible-sounding disease that you completely made up (and which you have a DBA in the name of). Because chefs are always looking to get their names attached to good causes (in order to make people forget how they normally behave when released from their kitchens), you can probably get the food for free, and people to prepare it. Pleading charity might also get you a discount on the liquor--particularly if you are willing to have fake advertising samples made up with the names of Budweiser, Grey Goose, Jose Cuervo and Jameson Whiskey prominently featured. But don't get greedy. I'm sure that sufferers of Filipino Brain Fungus would be happy with around $1000 a plate.
Finally, you could always fake your own death. In collusion with a friend, work out the specifics of your untimely (but sexy) demise, then announce that a party is being held in your honor. Ask for people to bring booze and food. Once everyone has gathered, have your friend go around the room collecting "donations" since, in accordance with your final wishes, your body is being ritualistically mummified and launched into space--and that shit ain't cheap. Since everyone there will likely be feeling a bit fragile (and, as the night progresses, drunk), they'll probably be generous, especially when your friend tells the sob story about how your hard-working parents--who've never said a word about all those terrible things they know about most of the people in attendance--can't afford the special space-mummification procedures required by NASA for launching a body into orbit.
The only problem with this kind of dinner party is that you can only do it once. And then have to leave town forever. But really, after five fake engagements, two fake charity dinners, a French potluck, two jeus de cuisine and that time when everyone at your party went blind after drinking your bathtub Kahlua, it might be time for you to start thinking about a change of scenery anyhow.