Setting the table

The most memorable dinner party I’ve ever hosted is far from my most successful culinary endeavor.

It all came about one day when I was having coffee with two of my colleagues from the office. They had both gotten married within the year, and I wasn’t too far ahead of them in making it to the altar. Since none of us were “princess brides” with long, flowing gowns adorned with lots of lace and bling, we decided we should have a dinner party with the three couples and wear our wedding dresses. After all, what other occasion would we have to put them on again?

I am pretty comfortable in the kitchen, and I’ve never been afraid to try new recipes on friends. After all, they are friends, right? And, in any event, we would never leave the table hungry. So I began searching through all of my favorite cookbooks for a suitable, celebratory menu for our “wedding dress” feast. It was a bigger challenge than usual, because one of the husbands owned a restaurant and was an experienced chef. Not to worry. I found a recipe for the perfect entrée—Roast Duckling with Kumquat Sauce—in one of my more trustworthy cookbooks. Things were lining up for a perfect evening.

I worked for a week on the kumquat reduction sauce, which I had never made before. The morning of our big event, I set a lovely table with polished silver, ivory candles, and fresh flowers. Just before our guests arrived, all the ingredients for themain course were staged in the kitchen for easy preparation.

The ladies arrived all decked out in their pretty dresses. Each one of us had accessorized with a bit of humor and disrespect. I wore red tennis shoes with my dress, and my husband’s boutonniere was a fly he had tied that would never catch a fish. We sipped champagne, enjoyed friendly conversation, and mused over what a fun idea we had hatched.

Finally, it was time to eat. After the salad course, I moved to the kitchen, with a tiny bit of anxiety, to plate the roast duckling with kumquat sauce. I was a bit concerned by the look of the duck when I opened the oven door. There wasn’t the sizzle of bubbling juices and the crispy skin that I had expected. But, I took a deep breath and served it up anyway. As I positioned each plate in front of each guest, I became more and more convinced that this bird was not done. I took my seat and another deep breath, and with a face as red as my shoes, I said, “If your meat isn’t cooked enough I can put it back in the oven.”

Without missing a beat, Chef Richard stands up, takes off his jacket, and says, “Let me help you out here. Do you have a sharp knife and a large skillet?” The two of us scurried into the kitchen with all of the under done birds and proceeded to slice the meat from the bones and sauté it in a hot frying pan. Within a few minutes, we had re-plated the entrée and it was ready to be served—again. Richard was my new hero for coming to my rescue and saving the duck.

When I think back on that dinner party now, I remember the laughter, the friendship, the fun conversations that filled the room, and the whimsical accessories that we all wore. The evening was about sharing our time together, not about serving the perfect meal. The six of us are still great friends and we still cherish the connection that was strengthened over roast duckling with kumquat sauce.


CelebrationZoe Bartlett