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Feeding foodies: A mediocrevore's guide

Posted by Robin Abrahams  April 10, 2013 07:48 AM

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This topic came up on last week's chat, and I wanted to pull it out for further discussion because everyone had such great ideas and insights. Chatter Not Julia wrote, 

Do you have any tips for dealing with foodies, or food snobs? I have several friends who are great, locavore, state-of-the-art cooks and I'd like to reciprocate by having them over. But I'm not as accomplished as they are. It's not that they complain, it's more my anxiety over not having the best ingredients, techniques, etc. I try to keep it simple, but then it doesn't seem like I've done enough. How can I make these evenings go more smoothly and pleasantly without getting a certificate from the Culinary Institute? 

My first response was "Wine and lots of it," and while I stand by that suggestion (which Not Julia thought was just the ticket, in fact), my more, er, sober analysis was as follows:

Figure one or two dishes that you can make well, and that people like eating. Then, when you entertain, serve those. Whether you are entertaining a king or a ... cabbage. (Wait, that's not a real phrase, is it?) Eating at some people's houses is a great culinary experience. Eating at other people's houses is a great conversational experience. If you don't have a huge amount of faith in your cooking, it only has to be good enough not to detract from the conversation. And people really don't mind knowing that an invitation to Not Julia's place means Moroccan Chicken again. (It helps them pick out a wine to bring.) Look how many people order the same entree every time they go to a restaurant, after all! Foodies also appreciate that sometimes the food is just the activity that brings people together. It doesn't have to be the star of the show. If I'm talking with old friends or exciting new ones, or listening to excellent music, or playing an engaging game ... hey, crackers and cheese are just great. 

Many chatters backed up the notion that NJ should breathe and relax, that the point is hospitality itself and even foodies enjoy a night off kitchen duty:

  • Eating and not having to do dishes, the best experience! sponica 
  • A peanut butter and jelly sandwich always tastes better when someone else makes it! Daisy  
  • What you are doing that is special is inviting them into your home -- the rest is details. Carolyn 
  • I think uber-chefs are almost more like performers -- they love an appreciative audience. So applaud their own performances, but don't feel you have to put on your own one-woman show. bubu 

Others advised keeping it simple:

  • Buy really good, high-end ingredients that they will be impressed with, but then make a really simple recipe with them. Tony 
  • Also with summer approaching you can do a lot with a nice spread of cheeses (local or not) and good breads, seasonal produce, olives, etc. Foodies appreciate good food, regardless of how much work you put into it. bubu 
  • I know this is super cliche, but if they're really friends they won't care. But, try something new to please their taste buds, and they'll be touched by the gesture. Also, it's really easy to get some nice meats and/or cheeses set up. Olives too. If you can, go to a higher end grocery store and talk to the employees about their recommendations. Elizabeth 

And a couple of folks got creative: 

  • If you have a certain ethnic heritage and related specialty, you could make that -- or even takeout from a cool local ethnic place. Foodies often are just really culinarily curious, so anything new or unusual will intrigue. Your Name 
  • Have a pasta making party - let the cooks cook. You provide ingredients and make a couple of sauces ahead of time. Serve prosecco while hanging the pasta! Daisy

What's your advice? How do you handle hospitality when your guests' cooking skills are far above your own? 
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Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at missconduct@globe.com.
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Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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