There are dinner party disasters and then there are dinner party disasters. Having a guest croak before the first course is even served is a bona fide disaster.
And yet, according to Annaliese Soros’ new book “Dinner Party Disasters: True Stories of Culinary Catastrophe,” a host can recover (even if the deceased can’t). In this case, the less sensitive diners stepped over the man’s body on their way out the door (it was a heart attack, not the food), while the host and other concerned friends waited for the ambulance to arrive. Finally, at 1 a.m., the veal stew that was to be served in celebration was served in memoriam, and the dinner party turned into an impromptu wake.
The experience doesn’t belong to Soros, former wife of financier George Soros and a fine entertainer, but to one of her friends. Which one, she will not say, for all the names in her tome have been changed. They had to be, otherwise how would she have gotten any of her high-society chums to talk? “Some people just said, ‘I’ve never had a disaster,'” she says, sitting in the living room of her apartment on Central Park West.
“So you know it’s a lie,” pipes in her writing partner, Abigail Stokes, with a laugh.
Nevertheless, the duo was able to gather nearly 60 calamitous tales, which they had to whittle down to a mere 18. Many herald from Soros’ friends’ days as young brides, because, she notes, culinary catastrophes these days are much simpler to avoid. “Life has become so easy,” she says in a slight German accent. “You can call in anything. Pizza is right around the corner.”
But guessing from her old-school, yet still very relaxed demeanor, dialing up Domino’s is probably not really Soros’ style. A lover of food, she entertains often in her New York apartment, where she’s lived for 40 years (Thanksgiving Day meals with her three children and five grandchildren are big) and frequently welcomes guests to her Southampton home in the summer. “Out there it never ends,” she says of the social circuit.
After a brief tour of her dining room, which seats 12 and is decorated in a utilitarian, no-frills style, Soros ruminates on the art of entertaining today. “It’s gotten so competitive, with everything flown in and catered. People should just relax,” she suggests. Easy for her to say. What’s the trick? “Plan ahead.”
This story first appeared in the August 23, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Here, a few of Soros and Stokes’ top tips for a successful supper.
– Play background music that doesn’t have any vocals. They are a distraction from the conversation. “I want people to talk to each other,” Soros says.
– If cooking with garlic, scrub your hands with salt and lemon under cold water afterward to rid the smell before greeting your guests.
– If bees or wasps are an issue for outdoor eating, avoid serving red or yellow drinks, which attract them.
– Ricotta is not an acceptable substitute in tiramisu when mascarpone is unavailable.
– Have a sense of humor. For one soiree, Soros hired a magician who “stole,” and then returned guests’ wallets and watches.