Move over Nigella, nothingÕs cooking in the kitchen. The Middle Classes are throwing in the tea towel and getting take out for their trendy dinner parties. When entertaining, everyone wants to cut straight to the last soft focus shot of interesting people slumped in cheerful intoxication round the designer dinner table, without any of the messy sweaty stuff over the hot Smeg stove earlier. After all - why put on an apron when you can pick up the telephone and have it all delivered from a restaurant of your choice from any of the hundreds of leaflets delivered through your door. Ah - low interest credit cards and low end carry out food Š you canÕt leave home without being offered either - in profusion.
Getting a take-away is the option for people with more money than scented candles Š and these party throwers have plenty of those. The hostess with the mostest will have everything including the industrial fetish kitchen, the restaurant sized Antarctic dinner plates, three sizes of jewelled glass stemware from Heals, a full range of gleaming saucepans and cutlery from David Mellor - but the only thing that performs any useful purpose, apart from the live-in fridge which is full of diet coke and Evian, is the microwave Š rapidly heating up the pre-bought food from food halls such as Selfridges, Harvey Nichols or Bluebird. Anxious guests swig down glasses of champagne whilst munching on olives costing more than the GNP of the country they were grown in, and strain their ears for the dinner bell Š the muffled ping of the microwave timer so they can sit down and eat. Alternatively if you canÕt heat and serve the food, you order in and await the fashionably late ring of the doorbell that brings Š no not drugs - but a few greasy carrier bags driven by mini cab from some far-flung, usually ethnic, restaurant. Who hasnÕt eaten a rapidly cooling meal, hastily decanted from foil containers on to square, porcelain platters, where the hot food is lukewarm and the cold food is tropical? Give-aways are limp, tepid pita bread or rigidly icy blocks of baguette, congealed lumpy rice that no amount of fluffing will resuscitate and tiny dishes that the hostess cannot pronounce, let alone cook. No self respecting Arab household would think of catering for a large gathering without having the van from Mayfair restaurants Fakhredine or Al-Hamra parked outside the Holland Park mansion three hours prior to the event. But Š believe me, somehow it doesnÕt quite work when itÕs Domino pizza or AbdulÕs Kebab House on the North Circular.
In the old days it was fashionable to pass the food off as your own - something you had whipped up earlier in ready to microwave Tupperware but, frankly, none of us were fooled. We guessed you hadnÕt stuck the chicken satay on the 300 individual cocktail sticks, baby, and we all knew the barbeque was lit five minutes ago and the pre-hickory smoked pork came straight from a prick the film plastic tray. No one cooks but everyone shops at the same supermarket. However itÕs taking things a little far when you buy the stuff in Tesco and pass it off as Harrods just as thereÕs no point in giving the au pair a crash course in Tagalong and dressing her up as a Filipina maid for evening. We know your lying. WeÕve looked in your dustbins.
Today itÕs a mark of pride that you didnÕt make it yourself Š your buying power says more about how rich you are, and your lack of time spent cooking about how busy, and therefore, self-importantly successful you are. Unless you have your own sushi chef, saying you made it yourself will guarantee that your guests disappear screaming food poisoning before theyÕve even touched the nori rolls. The true food snob will not boast about baking a cake, but which high class patisserie the dessert came from - and voila, deification for dummies. And anyway Š no one cares, because no one eats it Š everyoneÕs on a diet.
Nigella herself is reputed to be a fan of the speciality butcher Lidgates in Holland Park which produces game, cottage and retro shepherds pies in multiples to feed the chattering classes. Seduced by this knowledge I confess, I tried these myself until one dinner guest complained that he wasnÕt paying for a babysitter and a taxi to come and eat shop-bought shepherdÕs pie.
I wish I had been as indignant when at an aristocratic dinner party in an inherited country pile. The menu featured Marks and Spencer carrot and coriander soup Š plastic bag salad, and the aforementioned Lidgates chicken Kiev, all served in state on the heirloom dining table festooned with antique candelabra. But the real high spot was the pudding Š a box of Walls ice-lollies Š approximate cost £1.50 each.