There's a show on the Food Network in Canada called Dinner Party Wars:
Dinner Party Wars invites you to enjoy a deliciously hilarious hour of wining, dining and undermining as three couples go head to head in a ruthless, no-holds-barred dinner party competition. Hidden cameras capture every detail as testy guests come to blows and taste buds are either tickled or tortured.
A Canadian chef and a British etiquette expert serve as arbiters of taste and style by mocking, critiquing, and choosing an eventual winner from competitions like Gnocchi Knockdown and Chicken Bingo.
This is home entertaining as a full contact sport.
It's soulless competition, a manifestation of our over-heated pursuit of foodie trophies that has turned dining into an emblem of status and lifestyle. And it's a far cry from the simple pleasures of sharing a hand-crafted meal with friends.
It's easy to see where we lost our way.
It started with Martha—the one we love to hate and hate to love. Martha Stewart taught us to sweat the details with her asparagus bundles braided with strands of chive. She instilled in us her mania for perfection and armed us with stencils, X-acto knives, and a carpenter’s level to decorate cookies.
Then the foodies took over. We learned to critique every morsel, abandoning genuine gustatory pleasures as we vet the preparation and provenance of each locally-grown, artisan-crafted, bee-friendly bite. Entertaining is fraught with political correctness and one-upmanship knowing that you'll be drummed out of polite society if you serve the wrong coffee.
Dinner party perfection should be at most aspirational. We shouldn't expect to reproduce the slick pages of Bon Appetit or Martha Stewart Living any more than a reader of Playboy expects to date a Playmate.
And in any case there's always a lot of air-brushing going on.
Our current favorite antidote to dinner host anxiety is Kinfolk.
The magazine, online journal, iPad app, and monthly dinner series celebrate the soul of the dinner party. It's about artistry, yes, but it's scaled back to a simple elegance. Like the other publications, you'll find recipes, table settings, and shopping resources, but it's more inspirational than instructional. There's nothing super-human about any of it. Feet on the ground, sleeves rolled up, and you'll get there by dinner time.
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