Some of the world's top chefs share their favourite tips on how they make their dinner parties a success. And many still enjoy cooking at home, even after a hard day toiling over a hot stove at work.
The recipe for dinner party success
Due to the very nature of their jobs, many chefs lust after light and airy foams, they are passionate about purées and can be reduced to a state of rhapsody by a savoury jelly or a sous vide piece of meat. But what happens when they down their fancy tools and cook at home? Does Gary Rhodes tuck into bread and butter pudding on a regular basis (from his svelte appearance, it seems unlikely), does Scott Price, the executive chef at Verre, whip up Gordon Ramsay's signature lobster ravioli for his loved ones at lunchtime? And can mashed potato ever be just that (lumps and all) or must it always be pomme purée?
The majority of us relish the chance to forget about our work when we finish for the day, so with this in mind, do chefs really enjoy cooking at home? Does the passion for food that drew them to the profession as eager-eyed youths - free of scars and cynicism - still exist? And what happens when there's not a commis around to scrub the potatoes or take the fall for an under-seasoned sauce? Can the UAE's top chefs even remember what it's like to peel an onion?
It seems that Gary Rhodes is still keen as mustard. "When we [he and his wife Jennie] do entertain or have a dinner party, I can't wait to get back to the stove," he says. "My favourite time to do this is during the summer months in the UK, when it's fresh, simple al fresco dining." Hakkasan head chef, Lee Kok Hua, is equally enthusiastic. "I love having dinner parties and entertaining guests," he says. "It is my passion inside and outside of work".
Oh yes, the dinner party; that Saturday-night pastime so beloved in the eighties. Well, dig out your prawn cocktail glasses and plug in the hostess trolley because it's back. Inspired by an increased need to be thrifty, a desire to actually use the umpteen glossy cookbooks that line our bookshelves and (dare we admit it), a fascination with the staggeringly popular TV show, Come Dine with Me, the dinner party is in vogue once more.
But how to avoid coming to blows in the kitchen, serve drinks with an air of serenity and offer a starter course that extends beyond the (fusion style) Twiglet and Bombay mix combo? Advice from those in the know is to avoid over complication. "I really like entertaining but I always keep things fresh and simple and prepare as much as possible in advance," says Scott Price. "That way I can sit down to enjoy the conversation."
Visitors to the home of Margaux head chef, Sebastien Didierjean, can look forward to homely, gutsy food. "My favourite dinner party dishes are friendly and tasty; tartiflette, cous cous, raclette, spaghetti bolognese," he says. "Of course, the food is important but so too is the company and conversation." Vineet Bhatia is also a fan of relaxed, unfussy evenings. "Most entertaining at our home is extremely informal and quite laid back. I like to leave my formality at work."
His lucky guests often begin their meal with a selection of wraps accompanied by various dips, before tucking into grilled meats straight from the tandoor or an Indian style barbecue. At Gary Rhodes' abode you can look forward to his favourite pan-fried salmon with leek and parmesan risotto, followed by homemade lemon tart and a cheese platter piled high with tasty breads and seasonal fruit. I don't think I'm alone in saying that I'd more than happily set the table and do the washing up, in return for a meal like that…
Whether you look to Nigella Lawson, Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver for guidance, most home cooks find a certain reassurance in following a recipe. Not so for the professional chef, who relishes the chance to abandon the recipe book and cook without restraint. As Scott Price says: "The team and I spend all day in the kitchen following recipes. When I'm cooking at home, I like to switch off and let my imagination run free; I think that's part of the allure of cooking for me."
His view is seconded by Vineet Bhatia. "As cooking comes from the heart, I never cook from a recipe, it comes naturally and I just like to go with the flow." Rather than adhering to rules, Sebastien Didierjean professes to follow only "my instincts and the market, bien sur!" So, they all enjoy cooking at home, but what about being cooked for? The pressure of having a professional chef around for dinner is enough to leave even the most confident amateur cook quivering over their canapés.
As Gary Rhodes rather wistfully observes: "I love being cooked for. However, it is very rare for people to invite us to their homes to eat, most take the safer option of inviting us out for dinner." After years of friends being too intimidated to cook for him, Vineet Bhatia says he now takes matters into his own hands. "That's one reason I never confirm I'll be attending a party, I just turn up and even then I often end up cooking at the friend's house. But I love it when my wife cooks," he adds, "her style is so different to mine and most of the time it is better."
Lee Kok Hua, meanwhile, likes to remain in control both in and out of the restaurant kitchen. "I prefer to do the cooking and my family prefer it that way too," he says. Despite these high-flying chefs being able to dine out in the finest of restaurants, as and when they please, they all claim to love eating at home. Scott Price is a firm believer that food should play a pivotal role in family life and Gary Rhodes tells me that his family eat together as often as possible. "The dinner table is the greatest social meeting point in the world and it allows the perfect opportunity for us to wile away the evening, munching on good food."
So then, the elusive recipe for dinner party success, as devised by the professionals seems to be simple, tasty food, good conversation, plenty of relaxation and easy on the host(ess) histrionics. It all sounds easy enough, in theory…