Her Life in Meals: My Stepmother’s Culinary History

July 11, 2014

Author: Mireille Silcoff




About a month ago, I located a treasure trove in my stepmother’s house, a cache of leather-bound books with gilded sides and moiré endsheets, some of these journals embossed “Hostess Book,” and some with my stepmother’s initials, on the front cover. For the last four decades my stepmother — actually my ex-stepmother, but once a family reaches that title, I feel you can freely style your preferred designation — has kept a log of nearly every dinner party she has given. Until I found them, she never thought this news enough to share with anyone. There are 10 books, and they tell the story of one woman’s life in meals.

And they are fabulous meals, almost all of them, because my stepmother, an event planner with Cordon Bleu abilities in the kitchen and a real interest in style and novelty on the plate, has nearly always specialized in those — the dinner parties you leave, thinking, “wow, life can be that beautiful?”

That being said, her first dinner party, given when she was a teenager, in her rooms at Newnham College, Cambridge, features freeze-dried curry from a package. But the very fact that this young English girl, studying mathematics, thought this meal inaugural enough to require the purchase of a leather-bound hostess diary from Harrods, shows that from the first, there was aspiration in the endeavour.

In a way, aspiration is more or less the point of the dinner party. The dinner party has generous amounts of domestic show-offery embedded within its form. But there is also the possibility of art, true art: the banal corners of the home — the kitchen, the eating table — transformed into a stage, for one night only.

Originally published in The National Post.