08 Jan // secrets and pies
Happy New Year! I love new beginnings, although I have been hit with the back to work blues hard. I had a delightful jaunt around the country over my summer break; I caught up with old friends and new ones, basked in the sun, and drank lots of rosé. Now though, I'm back at work and having to trade togs for underwire, and jandals for shoes, and eating and drinking all afternoon with actual work, has been tough. But instead of whinging about it, and instead of bitching about two of the disastrous coffees I've had since my return to Auckland, and instead of attempting to justify why I've had Thai, Chinese, and Thai again for dinner the last three nights, I'm going to tell you about a dinner party I had in December. Because, ladies and gentleman, it was spectacular.
A while back I ambitiously declared that I just wanted to throw dinner parties and bake cakes for a living. An exaggeration? Only very slightly.
I'd heard a bit about supper clubs, and pop up restaurants. People throwing dinner parties for strangers in their home, or a chef taking over a warehouse for a week or so. I liked the idea, and thought I could perhaps do something similar: bridge that gap between a dinner party at home and a restaurant outing. Back in Wellington I would find myself at endless BYOs, paying a fair amount of money for an average meal, simply so a massive group of us could get together and get boozy. Don't get me wrong - I love a good BYO and I love getting on the hammer. But after yet another email asking around for yet another suggestion of a Thai/Indian/Malaysian joint to invade and pester staff and punters at for someones birthday or farewell, I thought - man, if all my friends gave me that $30 I bet I could do something awesome.
I had my first for my farewell in Wellington in March. It was a very special evening involving a Mexican-inspired feast in the Aro Valley community hall. The amazing Lu and I transformed the room, and for $20 and it being BYO, everyone (all 64 of them) got great food (I mastered pulled pork), some photo booth pics to take home, and a damn good time. When I arrived in Auckland, friends up here wanted me to do something similar.
I welcomed myself back to the city of sails in May with a sprawling, chaotic, massive, 3-course dinner in the city. Thanks to some virality on facebook, 84 friends and friends of friends came, and I cooked all day, wangled all the help I could, and then put my parents through probably one of the most stressful nights of their year by having them execute the meal in the tiny little kitchen. Just for fun. The pea, prosciutto, and pecorino pasta entree was a highlight. Affogato for dessert in a kitchen without a freezer? Not so much.
After breaking my wrist over winter and generally being a bit miserable, it's like in late Spring I suddenly woke up. I had decided the time had come again, and, although nervous, on a Friday in December at the Minnie St Studio I had another dinner, this time with limited numbers and a refined concept.
A chance (drunken) encounter with The Grove's Ben Bayley at the Taste of Auckland launch, meant that menu collaborating for the dinner was done with him, and his 22 year old superstar commis chef Samir. I've not yet been to The Grove, but I hear nothing but excellent things. Ben is also a Good Morning cook, and he'd also recently done a promotion with the Silver Ferns, and had met my little sister. We got chatting, and he liked my idea (and, incidentally, my homemade, photocopied, extra-professional, blog business cards). An email and a phone call later, I found myself at the restaurant before their lunch service receiving an enthusiastic education on the intricacies of lamb shoulder.
Samir had the Friday of my planned dinner off from work, and he joined us on menu collaboration, and then ended up coming along and doing the food. He was amazing. It was especially great for me because it meant I could attend to the details, and play hostess, and generally sift around making sure people were happy. And they seemed to be (I had enticed people into coming on the basis that I would cook three home cooked courses. They instead got a twist on fine dining, so that was lucky for them). I threw around the idea that if people were dancing on tables at 3am then I would consider it a success. I got home at 4am.
People walked into the transformed Minnie St on this sunny Friday evening, and were welcomed with a pink g & t, and Mali Mali (so awesome!) playing live. I'd invited a mixture of people, a few good friends and some new ones too. After some requisite mingling, everyone took their seats. Bread, olive oil, and Lewis Road Creamery butter awaited them, before a plated entree, and family style large plates for the main. I can't really articulate how delicious the food was without sounding gushy. The lamb, with the couscous, and the toasted almonds, and the pomegranate seeds, and the tabbouleh and labnehand baba ghanoush - delicious. The chocolate jars were accompanied by homemade rosewater marshmallow, fresh raspberries and strawberries, freeze dried peanut butter and strawberry cream. It was just so good.
So The Grove collaborated on the food. Moa beer came to the party, and provided beer matches for each course. The pale ale and the blanc proved extremely popular. As a fervent gin and tonic lady, Alex from Quina Fina provided me with some of his excellent tonic, which, added to Tanqueray, Aperol, and a slice of orange, made for a positively delicious aperitif cocktail upon entry. And it's not a party without party straws. Eleanor, my very talented artist friend, responsible for stencilling my heartbreak pie header way back in 2010, whipped me up a menu and name tags in her handwriting (with about two days notice and in between caring for a toddler and a new born. Love you Ellie!). Emma leant me 40 of her vintage plates and cutlery and my very talented modern-day penpal Tash designed me the original email invitation, and held my hand through navigating web-based dramas, all the way from London. Alice took some photos. Ben strung fairy lights, and his girlfriend helped set the table. Olivia poured the drinks while I cut roses (I'm sure I've told you before that I used to want to be a florist).
My dear friend Olivia and I harked back to our waitressing days together by playing hostesses for the evening, and all in all we threw a bloody great dinner party for 40. Samir calmly had control of the kitchen, and my Mum and my sister were like angels at the clean up in the morning (thanks! love you!). They saved me with their assistance because I had been doing jager shots on a dance floor in town a mere 5 hours earlier (next time I'll hire a cleaner!).
One guest, a new friend, said he felt like he was in an episode of Girls. I could have melted. He also said his favourite course was the bread and butter, but I'll forgive him for that. There was dancing and singing, after eating and drinking, and laughing and yarns. Old friends had fun, new friends were made. Creative interesting people eating delicious food. Simple really.
Dinner parties are my favourite, I had an amazing night and I can't wait until the next one. I'm extremely grateful to everyone who contributed, and to everyone who simply trusted in the process and paid and came along. The challenge for me now will be to make each one completely different, and to ensure people just trust in the process that they'll have a good time. I have a sneaking suspicion that shouldn't be too much of a problem at all.