Now dinner parties are a bit of a fondue


Fondue parties – back in fashion?

APPARENTLY there’s a new trend in dinner parties. Instead of your host or hostess laying on a spread they expect you to do the cooking.

It’s even got a name: social dining.

If so, it’s passed me by. I only know about it because a very nice chap from BBC Radio Derby rang me up one morning and asked if I could talk about social dining on-air in half an hour.

My first thought was that Radio Derby had been let down by someone else at the last minute and they’d thought of me in desperation. My second thought was that BBC Radio Sheffield had buggered me about on the last two occasions so why not?

And my third thought was that I knew nothing about the subject but the very nice chap said he’d email me a story about it from the Daily Mail. Well, it must be true, then.

The article talked about the return of fondue, so very much Abigail’s Party, Chinese-style hot pots where you cook food in a fragrant broth, and cook-your-own-strips of meat and steaks on red hot grill plates. And I realised I had done them all while restaurant reviewing at some else’s expense.

I was on the Sally Pepper morning show and she’s a pretty lively interviewer. I knew what she wanted. It’s what any journalist or interviewer wants. She wanted the conversation heavily seasoned with anecdotes.

Well you don’t review restaurants for over 25 years without a few tales to tell but during that time we didn’t get invited to that many dinner parties. I like to think that it was more because people were frightened to invite a food critic than because they didn’t like me.

Could I count Christmas Dinners which are a big family dinner party? If so, I could tell about the time we couldn’t find the turkey giblets inside our bird before cooking but when we took it out of the oven, there was the plastic bag poking out the other end.

Would we poison anyone? Should we cancel dinner? Or say nothing? We did the latter. We watched closely but no one died.

Luckily my wife had a couple of tales from the time before me. She always helped polish my reviews with a good line and she’s still doing it.

So I told Sally about the time Sue and her ex went to dinner with a farmer’s daughter in Bamford and had rabbit. She doesn’t care much for it so picked here and there. In conversation another woman guest asked if it had come from the village’s excellent butchers shop.

“Oh no, the cat brought it in,” said the hostess, the owner of a posse of feral felines. She was ahead of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall there! Not roadkill but moggykill.

I gather there was a rush to the bathroom.

Sue was fated at dinner parties. There was the time she was invited by a couple she had never met and she still hasn’t seen the wife. There must have been a big row so the woman stayed upstairs while the husband tried to cope. The night ended early.

“So I never, ever saw her. They divorced shortly afterwards,” said Sue.

Sally did wonder aloud if the next stage on from social dining would be people bringing along their own food as well as cooking it. As long as it wasn’t rabbit, I said.

I think they liked it. The very, very nice chap from the BBC said the control room joined in the laughter. So perhaps they’ll have me back.

You can hear it here (but not if you’re overseas}from 15 minutes in.