I was watching a programme on French tele when I got home from work today. This is fairly rare, but my eldest is deprived of his Gameboy and computer at the moment, so the tele tends to go on.
We found ourselves watching "Un Diner Presque Parfait". I missed the beginning where you find out if the five people involved are friends or complete strangers, but my eldest tells me they are not known to each. They are just five people who want to be on the show.
During the week each one has to produce a dinner and invite the other four. Each evening is judged on how attractive the table is, how good the food is and what the ambiance is like - whether they have a blast or not. The five this week consisted of three women aged 40-50 and two guys, one 28, the other 59. So a fairly diverse bunch.
Today, Sophie was cooking and decided to base her meal around tomatoes, so every course had them, including dessert. She combined them with cheese, with raspberries, with red peppers, vanilla ice-cream and marinated chicken. The entertainment she provided was to identify different spices, and she had lots of little bowls with a spice in each one. This went down very well because everyone felt they'd learnt something.
What is charming about this show is that these are ordinary people who like food and cooking food. You see them going shopping for the ingredients and then putting everything together, including having kitchen crises and dish disappointments. What they produce is really pretty good, and they are judged on how imaginative the food is, how tasty and how well it's presented.
There is a Big Brother-style off-stage camera room which I think was in the loo where the guests go in and give their opinions of the meal as it's going, and then they have to give marks out of ten when they are on their way home in the taxis. That is the slightly disagreeable part, where they can slag off their host or hostess even if they've been charming and complimentary throughout the dinner. Sophie did well, she got the highest score of the week so far, with two to go.
So, what would be your perfect dinner? What would you serve up to complete strangers, and would it be any different to a meal you'd offer close pals?
I'm way out of practice in the art of dinner party meals. Not only do I have fussy boys to feed, but I don't ever have dinner parties per se. I might invite a pal round for supper, but it would be a case of joining in with the fray of family eating.
However, off the top of my head, if I had to rustle up something special, and it was winter, I'd go for something like a heady mushroom soup followed by blanquette de veau, with chocolate pots for dessert (the only dessert I know...).
Who would I invite if I could choose living people? I think Alain de Botton, the philosopher who is terribly erudite and very funny; Hugh Laurie because he's clever, funny and very easy on the eye; India Knight from The Times because I like her articles; and Emma Kirkby who could sing rugby songs (!) for us (drunkenly).
And we'd all sit around my new table, natch!