There’s something so wonderful about sit down dinners. And even more wonderful, is if the table is by a fireplace with crisp, soft snow outside the window. I was at one such dinner less than a week ago, in Kitzbuhel, a ski town in Austria. We were invited to the lovely home of our friends, the Kofflers. We sat around a gorgeous table and relished each home cooked course. Smoked trout with lemon and cranberry cream followed by the best Goulash and mash potatoes one can find in all of Austria. Dessert was homemade apple pie with layers of flaky crust that melted in our mouths, accompanied by creamy vanilla ice-cream and whipped cream. And because we just refused to leave the table, the conversation so animated, we ended with cheese, grapes and warm bread washed down with copious amounts of wine.
It was a long evening that started with champagne and pleasantries and ended with deep conversation and entertainment (Christmas carols) provided by the children on the table. This was the homemade, comfortable and intimate sit down dinner that one relishes as much as the food that is served. Low lit candles added to the ambience. And when we were asked to sign a guest book before leaving, I could have filled pages with my thoughts!
Back home in India, sit down dinners are increasing in trend. But here, they are mostly black tie events, marked by stuffy clothes, over tight dresses and earrings that hurt the ears. The warmth and intimacy supposed to be evoked by breaking bread together, is reduced by the pretentiousness that can come with these gatherings. That said, sit down dinners continue to be a personal favourite for me, and here’s why:
If well seated, you and your date will end up spending the evening with another couple — albeit on opposite ends of the table. This is a great way to meet people. You end up with a new couple friend.
One can enjoy the meal served with the savouring it deserves. Every course is eaten in a timely fashion, usually paired with the beverage it is best suited to.
If it is a celebration and there are speeches and toasts to be made, they can be done between courses, peacefully so that everyone can hear every word, appreciate it and get into the mood of the event.
Of course, the same sit down dinner can end up being a total disaster, if not done correctly. Here’s what to do..
Pre- assigned seating is most advisable. This need not be done with name cards, as long as the hosts have planned it, and can guide guests to their seats. As a guest, do follow the lead on this.
If you do have a special seating request, you may call them to discuss it in advance. Swapping seats at the event itself, is rude.
French style seating is my favourite where couples are split in exact opposite sides of the table with the hosts on either side as heads.
The golden rule at a sit down dinner, use your silverware from out to in with each progressing course. On the host’s part, it is imperative that the hostess lifts her silverware first with each course so the guests can take her lead.
The hostess should continue to eat until the very last guest has stopped. This makes the guests feel more comfortable even if the hostess is just tossing food around in her plate.
When you self serve, you must finish what’s on your plate. When pre-plated, it is okay to waste a small amount.
Where conversation is concerned, in a more formal setting or when meeting new people, certain topics are avoidable. Refrain heavy politics, medical issues (may bring up bad memories) and idle gossip – one never knows who knows whom!
PS: I hope this trend stays and grows; there is nothing more heartwarming than great friends with great food and great conversation!
Hosts: Remember to thank your guests for attending.
Guests: Be sure to graciously thank your hosts.