This is not a lesson about cooking. There will be no expert pointers from renowned chefs such as Julia Child. There will be no challenges or tantrums from someone like Gordon Ramsay. Neither will there be any exotic cuisine recommendations like those of Anthony Bourdain, nor any healthy alternative suggestions by Giada de Laurentiis. This is a simple, straight-forward approach for anyone, but especially those less gifted in the culinary arts, like myself.
“When you really want to show some love, keep the flowers and say it with spaghetti.” – Rachael Ray
The best thing about these 3 fundamentals is that they apply to any meal, any budget, any style of food, or any party size. However, you must consider that at least a modicum of planning is required. The basic planning is merely to ensure that all 3 of the keys are achieved.
“A balanced diet is a cookie in both hands.” – Paula Deen
Perhaps, you will consider these ideas to be simple common sense. Or they may be so profound, like the concept of gravity, that you may have overlooked their impact and significance. Either way, others agree they are certitudes.
“You just need a little perspective. Warmed chocolate can give you that.” – Giada De Laurentiis
Without further adieu, the 3 keys to a successful meal boil down to these:
Firstly, have someone else cook the meal. If you’re a terrible cook, this goes almost without need of saying. If you’re a mediocre cook, why add the stress to your life about getting the timing, texture, and proportions just right? Even if you’re a fantastic chef, get an even better one to cook your meal – maybe even something outside your wheelhouse. You don’t need to hire a top professional in the field – it could be a parent, grandparent, sibling, cousin, friend, or colleague that has a special dish you like. But the easiest way to accomplish this might just be placing an order with a line cook from your favorite eatery. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to be serviceable.
“I had these recipes that say do this, do that. Who MAKES these rules?” – Emeril Lagasse
Secondly, serve the meal when everyone is hungry. This will cover for a multitude of imperfections, especially if the food isn’t to everyone’s liking. When hungry enough the food selection matters less, as does the quality and presentation of the food. And since the meal was prepared by someone else, even less of the blame will be on your shoulders. However, if the food turns out to be excellent, the credit will often be given to you. Even if the food happens to be just passable under normal circumstances, it’ll automatically be graded more favorably if guests are ravenous. The worse the food is expected to be, the more starved the guests will need to be. (And vice versa, of course.)
“Do you want to make a tamale with peanut butter and jelly? Go Ahead! Somebody will eat it.” – Bobby Flay
Thirdly, serve the meal in a beautiful setting. This, too, will provide forgiveness for a number of issues with the meal, including how average tasting the food might be or how famished everyone feels. The presentation on the plate is nice and adds a smidgeon to the experience, but not nearly as important as the surroundings or view. Imagine a bowl of cereal for breakfast overlooking the beach; or a PB&J sandwich for lunch among the mountains; or tacos and box wine for dinner by candlelight at sunset. The better the food, the less impressive the environment needs to be, but it always adds to the experience. Think about one of your most memorable meals you’ve ever had and was the environment a factor?
“I enjoy cooking with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food…” – Julia Child
There are a few of other things you should do to be considerate to your guests though. Don’t make any of your guests be the one to cook the meal for you – get outside help. Be sure you take dietary restrictions into consideration – don’t serve something that you know will cause an allergic reaction. And, finally, be sure to keep the food at safe temperatures – nothing ruins a seemingly good meal like food poisoning!
“For me, I don’t expect to have a really amazing meal each time I dine out. Having a good meal with your loved ones – that’s what makes the experience.” – Wolfgang Puck
Would love to see your comments on this!