When you live overseas, in a country where it’s too hot to go outside most of the time, and it’s hard to find fun things to do inside, you get really creative, really quickly. I’ve talked before on here about the importance of finding like-minded people to play with when you are not working on these overseas gigs, and one thing that binds most people is food and drink. We all have to eat right? We all have to drink right? Right, so you go out for dinner, you have each other round for dinner, you hold game nights, fancy dress parties, anything to give you something to look forward to, to move the time forward, to make you feel more at home in a country that is not your home.
One show we all knew (or at least the Brits did) was Come Dine With Me, a cooking extravaganza where four individuals, who had never met, would eat round at each other’s house for four nights straight, and rate each other on the hosting/cooking etc. It’s a great show, that most people I know like. It highlights peoples’ weirdness, eccentricities and has some truly hilarious results in the cooking. When watching the show, there are definitely cries from the sofa watchers of “I could do better than that” or “why would they make that and not this?” that, as usual, make us back seat drivers in someone else’s lives.
So could I do better than that? What would I cook if I was on the show? Well, I decided to find out.
And no, I didn’t go on the show… I did way better than that; I created Come Dine With Me in Qatar. I scouted around our group of friends for likely candidates and instantly found some fellow foodies in our immediate group of friends. Now, we went against the theme of the show and did four couples instead of four individuals, and for that, I had to find a cooking mate. Step forward one fellow larger than life foodie with a certain joie de vivre, and we were ready to start cooking. We planned it out carefully, we would hold the dinner parties once a month (we needed to spread our fun out for maximum effect) and each “couple” would host at their home.
Now the other thing you may not know about Come Dine With Me is that these people would go to any lengths to win, including ridiculous entertainment and ridiculous food. Add four ambitious couples to the mix and it was GAME ON!
We hosted first. Myself and my gracious cohost did the dinner party at my apartment and I am sorry to say that we got FAR too ambitious. I have always loved French food and I can still remember most of the menu like it was yesterday. We served:
Starter: Little onion tarts on a bed of dressed rocket
Main: Lamb, with potatoes dauphinoise and braised lettuce and peas in white wine
Dessert: Homemade raspberry sorbet and apple tarte tatin
We worked on the meal all day, the ingredients were bloody expensive and we started drinking before lunchtime (it’s hot in Qatar and we were thirsty…). Big mistake. By mid-afternoon we were sozzled, by the time the guests got there, we were drunk. Never mind though, they soon caught up. But drunk hosts and fine French food are not a good mix. The pastry for the onion tarts was too thick and also overcooked. The potatoes wouldn’t cook properly, and the lamb overcooked waiting for the spuds to catch up… The raspberry sorbet was okay, but not fantastic and the tarte tatin was just alright, nothing special.
So we could see the triumph of being the best slipping away before our very eyes… except we did have GREAT entertainment. We had heard about a dinner party game, Message Under The Plate, which sounded like a good laugh and it really really was. The idea is that you put a little quote under each person’s plate and they have to say it during the course of the evening without anyone realizing that’s their quote. So of course, we made the quotes as outlandish as possible and two favorites that stick out in my mind are:
- I ate my cat and I liked it (the woman had lived in Japan, so it’s possible, right?)
- I wear my hard hat in bed (we do work in construction after all).
As you can imagine, it was actually hilarious and the game was a total success, even if the meal wasn’t. There’s nothing else to say about that night, except that it was the biggest failure I have ever had for a dinner party and I will never mock the TV contestants again… Plus, as a final aside, one of the guests was extremely sick that night… I’m just glad they didn’t sue…
For the other dinner parties, they too were a mixture of success and failure. One did a middle eastern theme and the host’s belly dancing is a moment I cannot forget. Another made some kind of pate, that was really runny and seemed a bit like something that usually comes out the other end… but the rest of theirs was great and I think they had a great game. And the final party was great, lots more lovely French style food, in a great house and atmosphere. All in all, the evenings were great. Each had their successes and disasters. But everyone tried really hard.
We scored each other too and wrote it down. We took it VERY seriously. And we never actually met up in the end to find out who really did win and who really did lose. We had our favorites and our not so favorites (I’m pretty sure ours was the worst), but it didn’t matter. For a few months, we entertained each other and were distracted by nonsense. It was high drama and high excitement. And then we were done. Onto the next big thing, big weekend away, next assignment. I don’t even have any photos of any of those nights. But weirdly, I am in touch with every person that hosted the dinner parties, except my co-host, but he left the company, so what does he expect!