Today, many Americans have traded flavor and dining experience for convenience. And given our hectic schedules, this is a reasonable trade to make, sometimes – but not all of the time. Many have lost or forgotten the joy of fine dining.
A dear friend and working colleague some time back began inviting selected people to her house for dinner. The first time we attended a dinner party with Ms Jackie, I was impressed with how she made such an occasion of the event. This was not an invitation to supper. In fact, the food while an event in itself was really intended to contribute to the social occasion.
We started with an aperitif of champagne in the living room. Over the next hour, as all of the guests arrived we enjoyed lighthearted conversation. Then, at our host’s invitation, we moved to the dining room to find the table formally set. Over the next four hours, we proceeded through courses consisting of appetizer, entrée, salad, cheese and dessert. All served with a well chosen wine appropriate to the course. The people, food, wine, laughter and the sheer joy created by that experience taught me the difference between eating a meal and enjoying fine dining.
In order to create a dining experience, it is essential that we begin to cook again. This learning experience becomes its own reward. Yes it takes time, but every new dish that you make is added to your repertoire and can be highlighted at the next dining experience that you create. Start with a recipe, an appetizer or entrée and create a family dinner experience. Inform the kids that this weekend, we are doing something special. As you learn and gain confidence, plan a dinner party for you and five or six others.
Setting the table formally always makes the occasion. There are several resources on table settings. Choosing wines can be intimidating but a few simple rules give us a place to start. Champagne is good to set the mood as guests arrive. Choose a red wine to accompany a beef or pasta main course and a white to accompany a chicken or fish entrée. Full bodied red wines go well with bold flavors such as a Malbec from Chile or Argentina with any beef or pork, grilled or BBQ meats. Lighter wines go better with mild flavored foods. Try a buttery Chardonnay from California with a fish or chicken entrée or a dish with a butter based sauce. A fruity Chardonnay pairs well with guacamole, salads or grilled shrimp. Generally, serve reds at room temperature and whites chilled. An exception to this rule is the red Beaujolais. This light red wine is meant to be chilled and is a good red to start on if you are not a red wine drinker. It pairs well with many foods including poultry, grilled or roasted meats, pasta and cheese. Open a bottle of this wine with Thanksgiving dinner and it will go with everything. Remember that these rules are not hard and fast. The fun is in experimenting and learning which wines you enjoy with which flavors.
Let’s bring back fine dining to the American table. Start with a recipe. Choose a date and the company. Plan your courses and choose a wine that will contribute to the occasion. The rest is simply “Changing the world one bite at a time.”
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian and Director of Clinical Nutrition and the HC Polk Education Center at Memorial Health System in Lufkin. The Polk Center provides individual and group education on diabetes, heart disease and stroke; monthly classes on healthy cooking; and monthly support groups in Lufkin and Livingston. In cooperation with Sodexo Food Service and the City of Lufkin, the Polk Center produces the nationally viewed TV series Memorial Cooking Innovations where dietitian Tim Scallon teams up with Chef Manuel Marini to demonstrate how healthy eating can taste great. The show can be seen on cable in 46 cities and on the Memorial web site at http://www.memorialhealth.org. Call 639-7585 for more information.