I love cooking for people, having friends round for supper or lunch, Sunday lunches for twelve people or one of our festivals with forty. I’m great at tastes and flavours, feeding everyone well, but presentation is not my forte. A le Creuset casserole is one of my favourite inventions, going straight from the oven on to the table. We always eat at a long table in the kitchen end of our main room, which can be extended with another table, and another when necessary. Candles will be there and usually flowers, paper napkins only if I remember and no elaborate place settings. It’s more family kitchen meal than dinner party, even when I am doing a dinner party. It’s not that I don’t like beautiful styling, it’s just that I’d rather focus on the food and it would drive me crazy doing both.
So when I was asked to review Fay Lewis’ Be My Guest, I was thrilled. A book about entertaining might give me a few tips to smarten up my table. The book duly arrived, a beautiful thick hardback with lots of glossy photography. I settled down for an evening’s read on the sofa. And my Virgoan critical facility started to niggle. At first glance it is all about styling. Various beautiful scenarios have been created, with the help of several stylists and we are invited to recreate them at home… without a stylist. The photos are beautiful but intimidating for a non-style orientated person, with a minimum of practical tips on how to create the effects, leaving me with the feeling that I’d have to go on a major shopping expedition at a hip home store to throw a dinner party ever again.
There are lots of delicious sounding menus proposed for various events: a pool party, a tea party, a cocktail party, a festive celebration and so on. The recipes look good, are well-researched and well photographed, but, here’s my Virgo niggle again, I like recipe books that write about the food with introductions that tell you how it tastes or evoke something of the crunch or gooey ooze… tactile writing. I like to read about what I’m going to cook and I’ve just realized that the words are just as important to me as photos in gauging how a recipe will taste. This is just a personal preference, but I’d like to see more writing in this book!
Having said all that, I think this book could be a great help in planning menus and finding achievable recipes, when you want to put on a special event and have everything just so. Just remember that the effects in the book were most likely achieved by several people working together and if you are cooking and styling it all yourself, it will probably take a couple of days’ solid work to achieve the same.
I’ll probably have another read through, pick out a few recipes to try and carry on throwing my food on the table with a scattering of candles and flowers and then have to use kitchen towel for napkins… but that’s just me!
If you want to have another opinion, Homemade Heaven enjoyed the book much more than I did!