Umm.. yeah, hosting dinner parties is what we do. It’s what we do well. Ask any of our friends. From simple pot lucks to over the top multi-course extravaganzas, we always go out of our way to put on great food (and wine) for our guests. And we love to do it (though some of us would love it more if we had a bigger kitchen and a dishwasher…).
So we applied for the show, pitching our “ultimate dinner” as an around the world themed meal, complete with wine/ beverage pairings for each course. We were selected for an in-home audition where we cooked a rocking bavette à l’échalote and home-made sweet potato frites complete with homemade mayonnaise and chatted a little about our ultimate dinner and about the premise of the show. Three couples who don’t know each other dine at each other’s houses to compete for a (then unnamed) prize. With a budget and a time limit. It would be all about the food. It was, after all, the “Ultimate Dinner Party”. We mostly wanted to make sure it wouldn’t be like Come Dine with Me, where people typically give low scores to their competition so that they themselves have a better chance of winning. Oh no, we were assured, it would be a classy affair, judged by a professional chef and an etiquette “expert” from England. The guests wouldn’t be judging the food at all. After all, this is Canada and Canadians are nice and polite. Oh-kay then…
A few weeks later we received an email that yes, Food Network Canada would love us to appear on the show and thus ensued some negotiations about when this would take place. We finally settled on a date a few weeks in the future and started to put our thinking caps on.
So we just sped up our preparations. Finalized our menu. Made it work with the $350 budget we were allocated with pennies to spare (side note: who ever heard of an “ultimate” dinner for what would be 7 people with such a low budget – including wine, I might add? Fortunately our home cellar offered both high and low end solutions but still…).
We filmed our pre-show interviews a few days before the dinner day. I was enamoured with the beautiful equipment and the gorgeous lighting we were afforded in our normally yellow kitchen. Yes, I coveted those lights…
The weekend before the filming day dawned bright and sunny. Our house was overtaken with all sorts of equipment and cameras. We tried to do a little prep in between making sure Cleo was not running out of the constantly open door and making sure our house was in good hands.
I spent a while out in the trailer looking at the camera setup. So interesting. From a production standpoint, I was fascinated. The food and the actual dinner really seemed to take a back seat and it was all about the “production”. Sounds like a given being that it’s TV but until you have seen it in action, you can’t understand how “unreal” it all is.
The day of the dinner, it seems we did everything but cook. We posed for those silly “game face” shots, we met with the judges and talked about our menu, we dodged cameramen and crew and various pieces of equipment as we precariously set up our glassware and dinner table amongst the chaos.
I don’t think we ever really had time to sit back and take stock that we were preparing 9 dishes on camera and serving 10 (the last course was a cheese plate which, curiously never made it onto the show) in a three hour period. Because when you look at what we managed to achieve, it’s pretty impressive. Especially when we managed to serve this meal to complete strangers and actually had a pretty good time in the process.
See – happy faces, broken glasses, Anthea going back for seconds and thirds of the (apparently non existent) cheese platter. All signs of a pretty fun evening. And if you judge the amount of fun by the amount of dishes, well it was most definitely the ultimate party.
The week continued with the two dinners at the other couples’ houses. Dinner 2 was much more formal in nature than ours – mostly due to the fact that their house afforded them the luxury of being able to host different parts of the meal in different rooms (side note: we actually do have a sitting room in our house, a lovely one, though you would not know it from seeing the show where people are portrayed as uncomfortably standing around during hors d’oeuvres. We were told to keep the action in the dining room and kitchen, which proved to be one of our “downfalls”. I do think if you ask the 50+ people who crowd our house for our annual holiday party if they thought having a seat would make the party even better, they would be surprised you were even bringing it up).
By the third dinner on the Friday night, we were all pretty tired. Nine hours in one week is a long time to spend with people you know, let alone complete strangers!) Our hosts did not want me to take any pictures so I just have the one. As we say on DPW (seemingly 15 000 times) “Cheers”
At the end of the week, Neil and I wondered (at length) how they would edit what were, at the end of the day, three very pleasant and fun dinner parties. Sure we had all been coaxed into giving some constructive criticism in the “Confessional” but on the whole, we all got along pretty well and had a lot of laughs.
Over the summer (yes, this was filmed months ago – not so good for a worry wort like myself), articles like this one in the Globe and Mail started to come out and the true nature of the beast became more and more clear. All of a sudden, it didn’t seem like we were in a “nice Canadian” contest after all.
Which made us scratch our heads more – where would they find the drama in our fairly polite, fairly civilised week’s worth of dinner parties?
Yesterday when the episode aired for the first time at noon, I had a steady stream of emails, tweets and messages all afternoon, mostly telling me we came across as ourselves. There were however a few messages asking me why I had not mentioned I am a food blogger. Because apparently I was being berated for taking photos of the food. Ok. Deep breath.
I was on tenterhooks until later last night when I was finally able to watch our episode. On the whole, I have to say it could have been a lot worse. From the 30+ hours of footage edited into a one hour show, there are so many incidents that could have caught the editors’ attention. Apparently, the girl who wears her heart and feelings on her sleeve (me) made great tv and I received quite a bit of camera time. I mean, sure, you sign the agreement that says you may be depicted in an unflattering way (layman’s terms but you know what I mean) but I, being naive, trusting little me, believed that if I behaved myself I would be fine.
But being myself did not serve me well this time around. If you are reading this, you will know that I am a blogger. And a good one at that. So the fact that I *might* want to document this experience for my blog would seem natural, right? I am proud of my blog, I love my blog and you can bet that it was a huge part of the experience from the actual application form to the audition to the week of filming. I expected to be on the show taking photos of my food. Doing what bloggers do. And there I was. Again and again and again. With the camera. Curiously, no mention of the blog. None. The only explanation given for me taking photos was that I was doing it “for posterity”. It seems like a large piece of information to not include and (insert pouty face here) it seems like an easy way to portray me as a rude hostess and guest. Which I am not.
It also seems like an odd thing to focus on in a supposedly food-centric show. With regards to the food, I am so proud of what Neil and I pulled off. That meal was awesome. In fact, so awesome that we made it all over again, for one of the Project Food Blog Challenges. A few minor plating changes but none of the dishes changed. They were that good. I think we tackled the “ultimate” part of the challenge with great gusto and determination and given the original premise of the show, I feel we went above and beyond what was expected. Sure, I acknowledge that there are a few food-related things we could have done better (and did the second time around). But in the end, our dinner was fun and tasty and not intimidating for our new friends.
No, we didn’t win the $1000 of cookware and I am actually ok with that. In my heart, our dinner was special and if others didn’t think that, well that’s their prerogative. Though actually, we all had such a good time (at all the dinners, not just ours) that it’s hard to think that we didn’t all appreciate everyone else’s efforts. I’m more concerned that people across the country are thinking I am a rude and weird guest. Because I am not. I love dinner parties – especially if someone else is cooking. I get excited about food and am passionate about it. I hope at the end of the day, that shines through.
Coming into work today was nerve wracking – what would my colleagues have thought? A rousing cheer and many pats on the back for taking a risk answered my question.
And I leave you with this.
Student A: Mlle Michels I saw you on tv – that was so cool!
Me: Was I really awful?
Student A: No you were great and you nearly won.
Me: But I didn’t win…
Student A: But you tried really hard didn’t you?
Me: Yes I tried my best.
Student B: High five Mademoiselle!
Student C: But did you have fun? Because that’s the most important thing.
Doing your best and having fun are two qualities I try to encourage in my own students so this was absolutely what I needed to hear. It’s always good to practice what you preach, right?
Would I do it again? Probably not. Did we give it our all? Absolutely. Was it fun? At the time, yes.
* Did you see my World on a Plate, Destination: Umbria video? I would love your vote to move on to Round 8 of Project Food Blog where we have to bake with pumpkin. I have some pretty fun ideas… Voting open 6AM Pacific Time on Monday, November 15th until 6PM Pacific Time on Thursday November 18th. Simply click here (note: link no longer live) to read the post and vote. Many thanks for your continued support.
** Did you know? Jamie Oliver is speaking in Toronto on November 18th. Thanks to The Art of Cooking, I am able to offer a discount to you, my readers, of $10 per ticket (more if you purchase more than 5 tickets). Click here for the special promotion code to be applied to your ticket price. Don’t miss this event – I saw Jamie speak last year and it was inspirational to say the least. It inspired me to start Les Petits Chefs, for one…