On the last Saturday evening of January, on an unseasonably mild Midwestern winter night, 10 30-somethings gathered together for one super-fancy dinner party. It began at a fund-raising auction. My brother raised his paddle and clenched an in-home dinner with an accomplished local chef. He kindly invited several of our friends, who were at the fundraiser that evening, to join him for what was eventually named Matt’s Fancy Fat Kid Party. This entire post would be just about the food – which was practically indescribable – except that the behavior of the guests – who have known each other for nearly 20 years – was just as entertaining. I think we can all use this experience as a learning opportunity.
5 Keys to Throwing an Elegant Dinner Party in Your 30s
1. Set an attractive table.
One might give a great deal of thought to the presentation of the tablescape; Perhaps selecting elegant linens, coordinated chargers and china, and dynamic flatware. There are artists who get paid to craft striking centerpieces. Many hosts will consider contacting one of these artisans or, at the very least, consult Pinterest.
With Matt’s Fancy Fat Kid Party, I received a text from my brother the Friday before, that read: “Can you be at my house at 9:30 tomorrow morning? They’re dropping off a table.” See, Matt didn’t realize this would be a “sit-down dinner”. I guess he kind of figured the chef would just throw the food up on the bar and we would pick at it like a football party. While he was out, and with the delivered table set up in the basement, I scoured his bachelor pad for something to put in the center of the black tablecloth. A poinsettia from the holidays with 4 petals left? A Glade scented candle? I left it bare and sent him a text on my way out the door: “Consider stopping for flowers or something. Think black and gold.” He didn’t stop. There were no flowers. It didn’t matter.
2. Attention to ambiance.
Upon entering your home, you want your guests to feel like they are part of something special. This can be achieved with a signature cocktail, warm embrace, prompt removal of their jacket, soft lighting and elegant background music.
At Matt’s Fancy Fat Kid Party, we all spent a handful of minutes mingling around the kitchen before eventually shuffling down to the basement for vodka cocktails (cranberry and Red Bull, respectfully) and a pre-dinner screening of Straight Outta Compton. Once they announced the first course was en route, Matt made the decision, as any seasoned host would, to pause the movie and turn up the 90s rap playlist already in rotation for the service staff upstairs.
3. The menu is everything.
For a true culinary journey, pick a theme for your event menu. Tell a story from salad to the sweet ending with thoughtful fare and exciting, innovative offerings.
For Matt’s Fancy Fat Kid Party, several suggestions were thrown out (the advantage of having an exceptional chef on your guest list who can offer such ideas). After nothing registered on my brother’s face when I mentioned, “An evening in Paris,” “Seafood Reimagined” or “Molecular Gastronomy,” our friend the chef dreamed up the concept of pub fare. The children of this vision arrived in front of us, one after the other, as 5 plates of the most palate-pleasing food I’ve ever had in my life. People always say that after a good meal. But this was it for me. Like, you know when you’re so full you fear you’ll vomit but, given the choice between puking or missing one more bite, you go for the bite? This was that. Not to mention Hank and I have been living in Whole30 land and, even though we had 3 days left, we decided to indulge. You guys, I would compare this cheat to fulfilling your one celebrity gimme. It was the Ryan Reynolds of cheats. The specifics are a haze of duck fats and sou vides, but we’re talking about chicken wings drenched in bacon marmalade, flavor-rich pork jowls in a tender red pepper and chive crepe, a Wagyu beef burger with a fried pickle, red onion jam and life-changing ale cheese, a delicate crab cake atop a honey-jalapeno mousse and, the grand finale, freshly fried donuts with espresso gelato and a chocolate spoon. It was a filthy food porn movie, with more moaning and “mouthgasms” than any one wooden table should be subjected to. I think we were all changed a little bit that night.
4. Engage in polite conversation.
Before the event, it can be helpful to consider a list of topics to keep the chatter going at the table. Make connections between your guests and use this as an opportunity to catch up with your friends.
The problem with Matt’s Fancy Fat Kid Party was that we brought together a group of friends who enjoy each other’s company just a little too much, and each other’s company is typically accompanied by a healthy amount of cocktails. It’s easy to take your buds out of the bar, but not so easy to take the bar out of your buds. My brother was raised by the same man as me, and that man makes quick work of dirty words. We spent our childhood stepping around F bombs, and tiptoeing past JC land minds, until we eventually learned the value of just using the colorful vocabulary ourselves. Matt and I have never found a curse word we didn’t like and, once the wine and laughter started flowing, so did our swearing, and so did the guests’. When I think of those poor, helpless servers just trying to put the plates of food down in a sophisticated, synchronized fashion as Matt pumped his fist and chanted, “1-2-3 … hell yeah!” Or how the peanut gallery let the “holy shits” justifiably roll off their satisfied tongues upon their first bites … Without any verbal confirmation, we collectively abandoned any attempts at being classy somewhere around the start of the first course. It was a dangerous combination of comfortable company, glasses of drunken grapes and happy bellies.
5. End the evening with a nightcap.
Offer your guests a warm coffee with a hint of Bailey’s, finger of aged scotch or bold brandy as a delightful way to cap off an enjoyable evening.
You know in a movie, when they use a montage or flashbacks to reveal a vital element of the plot? Well, that’s kind of what the day after Matt’s Fancy Fat Kid Party was for me. One long, weird montage. At some point, a giant teddy bear was brought out of the toy room and I remember people in various states of cuddles with him at different times. I remember my husband demonstrating he could french braid on my friend Jenn’s hair. I remember much talk about ubers and really bad dancing. You know, the kind where it feels like you’re Channing Tatum’s wife in Step Up, but you’re really just shuffling side to side? I remember combining beautiful wines in one glass, with no regard for the integrity of their bouquet or Wine Spectator score. We all know how evenings like that can be; once the train picks up enough momentum, it’s really hard to stop it.
As I take my second round of Tylenol and reflect on my behavior at Matt’s Fancy Fat Kid Party, do I feel embarrassed? I mean … I’m gonna go with no. Sure, there is a time and a place to button your top button and play the game, and that can be enjoyable in its own way. But what fun is life if you don’t give yourself permission to snuggle with the giant teddy bear while watching Straight Outta Compton once in a while, too? You can’t take yourself so seriously. After all, what’s the saying … “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” It was a merry time indeed.