Did You Really Like My Homemade Lasagna?

Did You Really Like My Homemade Lasagna?

Audrey wants to perfect her cooking skills for friends and family to enjoy.

Frank and I had people over for cocktails and appetizers on Friday. I’m kind of a cocktail nerd and I like to cook, so it was fun to put together, and I think a good time was had by all. I hope so. I worry, though, when I feed people that they are just being polite about the quality of the food.

My friends and I are at an age now where people have dinner parties sometimes instead of big drunken house parties, and where even the big drunken house parties usually involve a food more complicated than just oversized bags of pretzels. (Example: my friend’s birthday party last night where his wife made homemade twinkies and “hostess” cupcakes. AWESOME.)

So a lot of my friends are interested in food and cooking lately. Most of them are good. Some are great, and some drastically overestimate their own abilities.

Some are completely uninterested in cooking, though are generally great hosts and provide delicious takeout meals and fabulous company. It’s cool to see the people I like all sort of get to a point in life where they have the time and the money to do some real cooking, and I’ve never had a bad meal at any of their houses.

Like I said though, I worry when I entertain, because though I’ve never had a bad meal, I’ve certainly had ones that were sort of mediocre or boring, but that I raved over anyway. That is polite, you know? But I would really like it if people could be more honest with me about stuff. If a dish didn’t work or was not the best, it would be really cool to know it so that I can fix it for next time.

I come from a family of good cooks–my Nana is famous for her hand-stretched strudel, my mom is amazing, my sister went to culinary school, my dad is a master of all things grill. I would describe my own skill level as competent recipe follower who understands the importance of very good, very fresh ingredients. Definitely in the bottom third of Ference family cooks.

I’d like to get better, though. Before a year or two ago, I’d never really cooked anything at all or had an interest in it, though I’ve always been a more-than-avid eater. One time when Frank and I were too broke even for takeout, we started making big chilies and stews and stuff, and I realized that actually I really enjoyed cooking. Since then I’ve read a lot, tried a lot of things, watched a lot of cooking shows. I feel a little anti-feminist about liking it so much, as it usually means I do the shopping and kitchen work, but whatevs. Feminism is about choices, right?

Anyway, so my point is just that I know that I’m an okay cook, and certainly enthusiastic, but it would be really helpful to me if the rules of hospitality allowed guests to give honest critiques of the host’s work.

In my day job, I work for a poetry non-profit, and every day I hear from very nice but deluded people who think their poetry is amazing and can’t figure out why nobody wants to publish them. These are people who don’t read poetry, don’t care about contemporary poetry, and write nice rhyming greeting card verse. They think that they’re talented geniuses because everyone around them tells them so, probably out of politeness. I mean if someone’s forcing their poetry on you, and you are not a person who reads or cares about poetry, you’re going to listen and then say, “Wow, that’s amazing. You should be in the New Yorker!”

If some of these folks went to a workshop and got honest feedback about their work, along with recommendations for good poets to read and more of an education about what’s going on in the post-Frost universe of poetry, they could probably actually be amazing poets. I do not want to be the food version of that. That is my fear.

I’ve been reading this thread on egullet about people’s worst experiences eating at someone else’s house, and a big theme seems to be people who think they are gourmet cooks but are in fact completely clueless. That is my other fear.

It’s just strange to try and learn things outside of a classroom setting, I guess. My interests in food and cocktails are the first things I’ve tried to get knowledge about that I have absolutely no formal training in, and it’s oddly hard to figure out how to get better.

Maybe next time I’ll give my guests comment cards to fill out or something. I guess that makes me a selfish host, demanding that they do something for me other than just enjoying themselves and being charming. Dammit. This social grace stuff is hard.