How to cook for others

by Madeleine Brown

Sadly, most of the world isn’t adventurous. While we may like to think we’re all Richard Branson’s, we’re not. We’re probably as interesting as someone who delights in watching paint dry or returning library books on time. (If this is you, I’m sincerely sorry. Whoever let you grow into such a boring person?) Thusly, I’ve come to accept when cooking for others keep it simple. Trust me. I’ve learned through experience. As a young baker, I offered to prepare dessert for my parents’ dinner parties. It was also during this time I liked hippy dippy classics such as those in The Tassajara Bread Book—but actually it’s a solid cookbook. However, I neglected to realize my guests might not be as into date ‘icing’ as I was. Even this past Christmas, I struck out on dates again with what I thought was a delicious Christmas cake recipe. Let’s just say my brother’s a traditional kind of dessert guy. So, dates aside, when cooking for others I say imagine you’re cooking for kids and you’ll be safe.

I don’t intend to insult kids—I’m still practically one myself. I suppose I’m suggesting cook as you would cook for our society’s stereotypical image of a child. We always oversimplify them. (I think it’s a tactic to ensure they never outwit us elders.) Roast chicken, potato wedges and chocolate cake? Sounds appropriate for ages nine through ninety-nine. I mean it. I like to think I’m a Richard Branson-type when it comes to food, but even I’m salivating over the thought of potato wedges. It’s amazing, isn’t it: we strive our whole lives to develop into sophisticated beings, but ultimately we never outgrow childhood classics. And, now you say, “But, Madeleine, I’m having some real highfalutin folk over for dinner. I just don’t think potato wedges will do.” And, in reply I quote to you some wise words of musical theatre, “Give ‘em the old razzle dazzle.”

Allow me to demonstrate.

Sure, roast chicken, potato wedges and chocolate cake sound simple. But, how about slow-roasted organic fowl with thick-cut oven-kissed root vegetable finished with a rich gâteau du chocolat?

How to cook for others (2)
Repeat after me: “Thick-cut oven-kissed root vegetable,”

Let me break this down for you. We love anything slow-roasted. It suggests we had to actually put work into something. (Trust me, next time you hand in a paper tell your prof that you slow roasted it and they’ll be impressed. Check out how their expression shifts when you tell them someone on the internet told you to say that.) Secondly, ‘organic’ again suggests care. And, dollar bills. So whether or not any of your ingredients are actually organic don’t hesitate to use it as a descriptor. (No one’s checking.) As far as ‘fowl’ and ‘root vegetable’ generalities allow one to engage their imagination. It adds an “ooo…ahh” factor. I can’t tell you how many times a so-so restaurant has excited me with the possibility of “seasonal vegetables” only to drop a bowl of that frozen veg medley. I feel victim to my imagination. Next up, ‘oven-kissed’. This is basically a synonym for ‘oven-roasted’. You don’t want to suggest you engaged the same cooking method twice. BORING. (And, we hate boring, right?) ‘Rich’ denotes delicious and slightly sinful without using perhaps the most evil expression in the English language: “high calorie”. And, finally, when all else fails translate the name of your dish into another language and you always win.

So, if I could sum up how to successfully cook for friends, family, lovers, enemies and strangers: make your guest feel as if they’re more exciting and entertaining than they really are. It’s not lying, it’s flattery. Try it sometime.