Friday, 23 October 2015

The Private Dining Club

Augustus, known to his parents as Colin, was an aspiring chef dedicated to reviving obscure and somewhat scary recipes sourced from ancient, grease-spattered cookery books. This passion was somewhat at odds with his day-job as a retail assistant in a high street book shop.  When not grappling with heavy boxes or assisting customers who could only recall vague details about the book they simply had to have,  he would be found tucked away in the Food and Drink section.  Not for him the populist writings of Nigella, Gordon and Jamie - his tastes were far more refined and esoteric. But a quick look at some food porn helped him cope with the boredom of recommending the latest Dan Brown novel.

Gus's friends loved his cooking - largely because they were mostly too lazy to cook themselves and good old Gus always over-catered.  The downside of "just passing by and we thought we would drop in" was having to try his various food experiments involving fiery spices, arcane hard-to-source herbs, ragged looking foraged flora and unyielding cuts of meat and clumps of offal.  Augustus (nee Colin) was taking his art to a wider audience through the medium of his Private Dining Club.  Having managed to persuade the local wine shop that it would be a huge benefit to their business to have eight strangers eat dinner in the rather austere surrounds of the "tasting room", his plans were accelerated.  Elaborate menus were planned and rejected; seasonal ingredients to be sourced within 5 miles were bought or foraged from secret copses or tracts of railway embankment.  The hedonistic lure of the Private Dining Club, the first of its kind in Bogborough, worked a charm on those bored with their regular haunt, The Lamb to Slaughter's, pie-based menu.  Extensive use of social media, screeds of florid prose about the menu and the promise of a "gourmet experience" was sufficient to dun eight victims into parting with "£30 per head including a drink on arrival."

Gus had promised a stylishly themed and decorated venue to complement his Blummenthalesque feast.  Thus he needed to call upon the services of Jasper, his friend and general dogsbody, to supply suitable props. Luckily, Jasper dabbled in antiques and dwelt in a converted gardener's bothy crammed with eclectic furnishings.  His haul of copper cookware, enamel pots, crazed Georgian plates, heavy crystal glasses and exquisite French napery was piled into his ancient Land Rover.  Additional props such as leather suitcases, calfskin bound books, sporting paraphenalia, old parlour games, apothecary bottles and taxidermy were added to the mix.  The desired effect was a mash-up of Old Gentlemen's Club and A Night at the Museum.

Come the night and Gus found that he had bitten off rather more than he could chew.  The very small kitchen at the venue was not conducive to producing a meal for 8 guests all at the same time.  The first course, a foraged medley of wild mushrooms served in a puff pasty Pithivier was burnt on top and rather undercooked elsewhere.  The horseradish cream proved bitter - possibly the foraged horseradish was not as fresh as it might have been.  As the food was at least 30 minutes late, the guests had staved off their hunger pangs on the delicious bread obtained at vast expense from the local deli "The Ravenous Radish".  Drink, purchased from the wine shop below, flowed freely and by the time the main course appeared, most of the eight guinea pigs were rather well-oiled.  By now Gus was sweating profusely, his hipster beard glistening with moisture as he battled to bring his meal to "The Pass".  Jasper who had been co-opted to wait tables hovered uselessly as he watched the guests become progressively drunker.

Finally, the main course was ready to serve.  Ambitiously, Gus had decided to serve orange-glazed suckling pig complete with an orange stuffed into its gaping mouth.  Vast pewter platters of wild leaf salad and gargantuan tureens of slow roasted root vegetables fought for space, whilst the perma-tanned porker took up most of the table. Carving was a dangerous experience, as the knive slipped off the glossy crackling, baked to conker-hardness.  Eventually, large slabs of pork were hewn and guests were able to begin the feast.  The saltiness of the crackling exacerbated the need for large gulps of wine - by now, all pretence of "tasting" the wine had vanished.  Bottle after bottle was ordered to sate the thirst of the diners.  Gus and Jasper had also imbibed freely, somewhat undermining their capacity to bring the meal to its expected Grand Finale.

The pudding was an interesting creation, involving wild berries marinated in a homemade rosehip liquer.  This intoxicating mixture was then cooked in a batter like substance, to create a clafoutis.  By now the diners' stomachs had exceeded their natural limit and the prospect of further carb-loading was somewhat of a challenge.  Nonetheless, they manfully forced down Gus's leaden creation, topped up with a glass of Austrian dessert wine and then a bucketful of coffee.

Somewhat exhausted by his Herculean efforts, Gus was confronted by an enormous pile of washing up.  The tiny sink in the kitchen was unequal to the task of cleansing the over-sized tableware and the dishwasher too harsh an environment for the antique plates and silver.  All the dishes were bundled back into the Land Rover to travel to the capacious butler's sink in Jasper's kitchen.  Tempers were frayed as the clearing up and packing dragged into the night.  The guests refused to leave, making their last cups of coffee and dregs of wine spin into the small hours.  Finally, Jasper persuaded them to go and the last items were stowed. 

In the cold light of the next day, Gus added up the costs of the event including buying a very expensive bottle of port as a thank you for Jasper.  And compensating the wine merchant for some missing bottles of wine that had not been accounted for on the night.  With all of that taken into consideration, Gus had made a profit of £12.50.   Guest reviews were lukewarm at best, as the party nursed heavy hangovers and rather queasy stomachs unused to such rich provender.  The dream of a Michelin Star seemed distant.  Good news, though - Gus had applied to be on The Great British Dinner Party Challenge and had just heard that he had got selected.  A perfect way to launch his career as a master chef.

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