Editor’s note: Christian Garceau is the founder and chief planner of A Social Affair Event Management. “A Social Lifestyle” is his blog, offering advice and reflection on food, style, design, hosting, entertaining, and etiquette — lifestyle elements with both personal and professional implications.
Whatever your professional or personal goals may be, I have a very simple piece of advice. It not only guides this blog post about food, entertaining and lifestyle, but guides much of my writing, and much of my philosophy about life. The advice? Throw a dinner party.
While it can certainly be useful in making friends with a neighbour so you have someone to catsit while you’re away, or in making a much-needed alliance at work, I think it’s important because of the mental muscles you will flex. In some ways a dinner party can be a microcosm of the social, personal, and professional obstacles that come up in life. Gathering resources, careful planning and execution, social interaction — all skills for life and skills for a dinner party!
But well before you send out the invitations you’ll need to know how to cook, and how to cook well. I often talk about cooking, food and recipes with friends and family (I’m sure to great anguish for some) but it’s so important to know how to execute a few really stunning dishes, whether you’re eating them alone or with friends. We all know that in order to live you need to eat and in order to live well, you need to eat throughout each and every day. But if you want to live really well, you need to be able to make food that is delicious, that is inviting, and that is nutritious.
You could probably achieve this by paying someone to prepare and serve each of your meals, but the economics of that are unrealistic for most. So the choice is between eating processed foods with little value to your body and soul or learning to cook.
KFC and Pizza Hut are my fast food demons. At my largest, I thought about them incessantly and made excuses about why it was ok to order them in again (sometimes both on the same day.) But the pleasure was so short-lived, really just a matter of minutes. Grease-induced nausea, followed by guilt and a good dose of shame was the unfortunate hangover. I don’t think that’s the experience you want eating alone or with friends, and it’s definitely not the experience you want to share with your dinner party guests. So I recommend learning to cook.
I’ve long been fascinated with cooking, and when I was younger I made a hobby of preparing increasingly difficult and challenging meals. I’ve made 30-layer crepes, I’ve half-deboned a chicken and covered the whole thing in fastidiously prepared puff pastry, borrowed my mother’s car to venture to numerous Asian markets across the city to find a pepper or root, and I’ve cried over spilt, organic milk, lost to the kitchen floor before it ever had a chance to become my excellent, homemade paneer cheese. While I’ve learned that cooking that way is, in fact, a hobby and not sustainable to the frequency of which one needs to be nourished, it did teach me many wonderful realities about cooking.
Personally, I’m drawn to cooking because it’s so much more than just eating. It’s science, it’s technique, it’s art, it’s social, it’s generous. Long ago they used to say that “the way to a man's heart is through his stomach” — that’s, of course, archaic and ridiculous and small-minded. Now we know the way to every heart is through the stomach. Food is social, and food is emotional, and relationships of all kinds have been forged and broken over a meal. In a more literal sense, the food you eat directly impacts your health and most importantly your heart and the blood that runs through it.
That in itself can be a motivation for many to learn to cook, your health. Personally, I’m thrilled by the science of cooking, as to why some techniques work so well (like getting shatteringly crisp chicken skin is as easy as baking powder, yet the secret to the crispiest roast potatoes of all time is baking soda), while others are simply nonsense (like searing meat to “seal in the juices.”)
You might derive satisfaction by preparing nutrient-rich and satisfying meals together with your children. Maybe cooking can be your secret weapon in the dating game. Beautiful food presentation — “plating” — is a worthy instagram goal. Homemade pastries and an interesting tea blend are the perfect excuses to invite a neighbour over. Personally, I can get a little giddy when a new friend tells me I’ve “ruined” a dish for them in any other setting than my own. Creating bonds over food is usually my end goal, and if someone thinks of me everytime they eat a certain food, I’d say I’ve been successful.
Hobbies often attract other hobbies, leading to new areas of interest. The social implications of sharing food with colleagues, friends and family led to my other areas of passion, like the design and styling of event decor and tablescapes, hosting, entertaining, and social and business etiquette. I’m also quite certain that my passions are a big part of being an event planner (the other parts being an odd passion for project management, spreadsheets, and an inherent habit of following-up on everything.)
If you already love cooking, food, and entertaining, I hope I can inspire new ideas and approaches, and I hope you’ll share your ideas with me directly, in comments, or social media. If you’re new to the kitchen and can’t tell a pillar candle from a taper candle, I hope I can embolden you to take new risks and discover new, fulfilling experiences. And lastly, if you’ve ever had a moment of anxiety related to hosting a dinner party or attending a networking function, I hope a shred of wisdom can be found in these pages.