Friday, May 20, 2011

The Essence of Hospitality

After the 8th course was served, the host stood up to make a toast. "This is the essence of hospitality."

I want to describe two very different dinners. I want to explore what brings them together, because in there somewhere, is the meaning of hospitality.

The first dinner was an off the grid dinner hosted by me and a few industry friends at a warehouse space in the exchange. The guess were given a time and a date, but no location. On the day of the event, they received a call from someone they had never met telling them where to go that night. "look for the blue door." When the entered they were greeted with a cocktail concoction involving grapefuit, elderflower, gin and oregano. They were ushered up a rickety freight elevator to the third floor in what looked like a construction zone. Here they received two apps, one was a pice of tuna with horseradish wrapped in pickled cucumber and one was a waffle with chicken pate, coffee chipotle syrup and crispy salty quail skin.

They were led into a space which was beautifully appointed with linens, candles, flowers and silverware. At each seat was a little gift box which held an amuse bouche. Four different types of amuse gave the guests something to talk about. Then the dinner commenced.

8 1/2 courses all expertly paired with wine or other beverages followed. We had "bacon wrapped scallops" which took the form of a bacon consomme with scallop noodles, we did quail confit and quail ribbons, we made a pork cheek bolognese with a duck fat "parmesan". For dessert we messed with Thai flavours with a coconut panna cotta, a thai basil ice cream, a cream curry syrup and cashew brittle. The we finished with frothed brie, blackberries and balsamic caviar. The event was about four hours of wine and food and fun. Some of the guests said it was the best meal they had ever eaten.

The space belonged to a friend of ours. It was the third floor of a building he had bought. The space we were in was going to be turned into an apartment for him. This dinner, felt like the first dinner party in his new home. Everyone arrived to the dinner, he said, with the usual one or two degrees of separation, but now they had zero degrees of separation. People in the room started as strangers, but now they had a shared experience. My friend, the host, said that this dinner was "the essence of hospitality".

The very next day we were having a nice peaceful sunday. We had had a very long week which culminated in this fancy dinner and very late night. We were at home, trying to do as little as possible. My wife had made a big pot of soup so that whoever needed to eat, could eat whenever they needed to. If you have never had one of Danielle's soups, you need to understand that her soups are hearty. They make hearty stews look like gruel. Big chunks of potato, vegetables, kale, beans, hot sausage held together with just enough broth to allow her to call it a soup. Always delicious.

Our good friends came by to drop something off, or pick something up. They are also a family of five with kids that correspond in age to our kids. We were chatting at the door with the mom, and gradually one kid after another came in. Eventually the dad came up to see what was going on. We hadn't visited with these friends in a couple of weeks, so we wound up inviting them all to come in. We poured drinks, ladled big bowls of Danielle's soup and tore big hunks of bread. As tired as we were, we all had supper together and had a lovely time. At the time, reflecting on the night before, I thought to myself, "this is the essence of hospitality."