I decided to shake up my party-throwing routine, and the result was a culinary catastrophe.
I love the feeling of being a host, but perhaps it’s easier to love when you throw only one party a year. For many years, that was an annual holiday party at which I welcomed dozens of friends and family into my home to toast the season (imagining myself much like Mr.Fezziwig of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol).
One year, I decided a try something different. About a dozen friends and loved ones were celebrating various personal occasions, and I simply could not attend them all. So I decided to kill a dozen birds with one stone by fêting all my friends at one big dinner party.
I created an evite (in rhymed couplets, no less) and clicked “send.” As RSVPs poured in, I was at first elated,then afraid: not only did everyone want to come, but most wanted to bring guests! “No worries,” my brother told me on the phone, “your people [read: gay people] are great at throwing parties. It’s in your genes!”
My main worry was how to feed so many guests, all of whom would be expecting the homemade food for which my parties had become known. Then, at the farmers market, I came upon a bushel of organic potatoes and was struck by an idea: I would transform these lovely russets into a party’s worth of delectable gnocchi!
For three nights, all I did was prepare. Friends called to ask why I wasn’t out with them quaffing cocktails and checking out boys. It’s because I was mashing, mixing, rolling, cutting, and freezing! As I returned to the kitchen for the third night in a row of gnocchi-prep, I briefly entertained the thought of just buying frozen pasta and trying to pass it off as homemade instead. But I was determined not to disappoint.
The Case of the Vanishing Gnocchi
When the big day finally arrived, I greeted my first few guests and excused myself to the kitchen, where I began to drop the dumplings into a huge pot of boiling water — imagining that I would soon be ladling out fresh, delicate, al dente gnocchi. I waited by the pot for the pasta to rise. After eight minutes, the gnocchi should have been floating on top of the water, ready to be scooped up and served.When the first batch had not risen after 15 minutes, I went in after them with a ladle only to find they were gone — the gnocchi had completely disintegrated!
I decided the first batch must have been a fluke, so I added more gnocchi to the pot, poured myself some wine and left the kitchen to greet more guests. When I returned pot, what I found was more paste than pasta. I panicked, added more gnocchi, and watched as these, too, melted away.
I drank more wine. I added more gnocchi. I prayed. When guests asked if I needed help, I said no — which was true: I didn’t need help; I needed gnocchi!
When I went to check on the party again, the first thing I noticed was how hungry everyone looked (I hadn’t offered any finger foods since gnocchi is such a heavy dish). So I decided to do the only logical thing: I announced, that my guests must “leave the chef alone to work his magic,” called the local Italian bakery, asked how quickly they could have five pizzas ready, barricaded the kitchen door and climbed out the window into the alley.
By the time I reached the bakery, the pizzas were ready, and (I hoped) looked rustic enough – decorated as they were with fresh basil – to pass for homemade. I ran back home, sneaked back into the kitchen, arranged the pizza on platters, took one final gulp of wine, then marched into the dining room, shouting,”Tutti a tavola!” (“Everyone to the table!” in Italian). The guests gathered around, and I watched their looks of hungry expectation turn to confusion as they realized that what they were being served was not the promised pasta.
In that moment, I decided I couldn’t keep up the charade. I confessed to everything – from how I had slaved over my disappearing dinner to my brief designs on passing off the pizza as my own rather than disappointing them. In the end, my friends forgave both my kitchen disaster and my admittedly futile attempts to cover it up.
We ended up having a great time that evening, and I learned a few valuable lessons. One, if you don’t put enough egg in your gnocchi, they will disintegrate. Two, true friendships will not disintegrate, even if you don’t add enough gnocchi to your party. And three, I would go back to throwing one big holiday open house from then on — because when everything works out, I really do love being host… and I would like to keep it that way.
Want to read more about Sebastian’s culinary misadventures. Check out the time he went camping without cutlery.
Last modified: August 9, 2018