x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Steak knives at dawn: why my disastrous meals make me a winner

Katie Boucher believes her lack of culinary talents make her a perfect candidate for a charity dinner party competition in Abu Dhabi

Gazpacho makes an attractive and refreshing cold vegetable soup - when it survives the mixing process.
Gazpacho makes an attractive and refreshing cold vegetable soup - when it survives the mixing process.

My problem, I have deduced, after a dinner party career consisting of many more misses than hits, is that I think I'm a much better cook than I am. I want to whip up a twice-baked cheese soufflé and beef Wellington, but what I'm actually capable of is a different story.

I love cook books and cooking programmes. I even subscribe to a cookery magazine. But reading about food is one thing. Delivering a decent three-course dinner that is delicious without being sickly, innovative without being showy, and served in a socially acceptable time-frame (even the best main course will start to lose its appeal after 11pm) is, I find, a minefield. That makes me the perfect candidate for a charity Come Dine with Me-style contest which is being held in the capital in the next few weeks.

For those who don't know the format, it involves four strangers having to give a dinner party for the others. Each gets his or her turn to show off, while the guests make snide remarks about the cooking and hosting skills. First, a little on my cooking: I remember my mother telling me that when she got married she could just about boil an egg. Going to university at 18, I made a similar discovery. Luckily I lived with a mother-hen type who cooked for us every night for two years. While everyone else was living off kebabs and chips, we were treated to good, hearty meals such as barbeque chicken, sausage casserole and leeks in cheese sauce.

One night, when she was away, I managed to whip up croissants with cheese. But that was just the once, and I had my mother on the end of the telephone throughout. It wasn't until a few years later when I had my own kitchen that I decided to rev things up a gear. Suddenly everyone was throwing dinner parties, and they weren't serving lasagne any more. I needed to get with the programme. The first thing I bought, for no particular reason, was a blender. It seemed like something a cook should own. Who knew there were so many ways to make soup?

Gradually, largely thanks to the food writer Nigel Slater, I expanded my repertoire to include the odd pie and roast. Puddings continued to elude me, but that didn't stop me from trying. My baked bananas (in their blackened skins) with white chocolate sauce will probably go down as the least attractive pudding in history. And so to the present day. I have spent hours, days, reading cookery books and blogs, only to produce beans on toast. My head may be a noisy, bustling three Michelin-star kitchen, but the end product is more akin to the Little Chef.

Take my recent attempt at gazpacho: cold vegetable soup that is simple to make, but has a whiff of Spanish exoticism. I was determined to use our Magimix - an extortionate wedding present that had so far lain dormant on the shelf. In went the veg, on went the switch. Out poured the cold, red soup all over the floor. We chopped up a new batch and tried again, only to be doused in a second red wave.

I decided to switch vessels and use a salad bowl and my old friend the hand blender. This time, I didn't just blend the ingredients, but also the bottom of the bowl. Infused with fine shards of clear plastic, the soup was inedible, and yes, all over the floor. Despite my many flops, though, there is one dish that never goes wrong. It has saved me on several occasions and involves prawns marinated in lime and ginger, with a splash of coconut milk and fish sauce. People seem to love it. I can't reveal the details here, though, in case we have another gazpacho incident and I am forced to churn it out again.

I do actually have a plan: one that involves serving something that looks dizzyingly complicated but is in fact dead simple (not unlike gazpacho, in fact). Anything contentious - such as foie gras or veal - is to be avoided; an upset guest is unlikely to give you a decent score. And try not to spend too much time in the kitchen; guests do like to be entertained. And there's nothing like a mad-eyed, sweaty chef with a three-Michelin star menu whose wheels are coming off, for doing that.

To join the fun, contactcdwmiad@yahoo.com.