Hostess with the Mostess

I don’t go to the gym but have excellent biceps. My secret? I cook for people a lot. Playing host over the years has led to muscular development that I didn’t even know was possible because preparing for a dinner party is just one big work out. A gym circuit is all about interval training and so is cooking for a group of people: once it’s all done you feel great but before you get to the finish line you need to sweat it out. This is why when I start prepping for a dinner party I like think of my second favourite ‘O word’ after Oprah and get super Organised.

Step one is writing a shopping list. Immediately after I write it, I take a photo of it. Nine times out of ten lists never make it out of the house and I like to reserve my pre-dinner party tears for onion cutting not supermarket meltdowns. Arriving at the grocery store this list becomes my spiritual guide. I strictly buy what’s on it following a shameful period where I kept coming home with baby vegetables and exotic fruits I couldn’t pronounce.  

I never use a shopping trolley and carry everything from the shop to my car to my apartment. This is a great time to work on upper arm strength without even knowing you’re doing it. I thought about investing in one of those tartan shopping carts but I’m still grieving over an incident where I witnessed a stranger’s cart get caught on a tram track at the Queen Victoria Market. No oranges were spared that day.

Back at home I start chopping, sautéing and roasting depending on the meal. My favourite part of cooking is when I open the oven and get a free facial from the steam. Once the cooking is underway I must confront my number one domestic nemesis – the mop – and give the house a quick spruce. I know I’ve a done a good job cleaning the floor when I feel a burn run up my hamstring.

Now that the house is clean and food is almost done, I think about ambience (even though the word reminds me of shopping for scented candles with my mum in the 1990s). I’ll make a playlist, trim flowers, set the table and flick the switches of my apartment’s downlights until I’m happy with a lighting configuration that encourages my guests to openly gorge while feeling super graceful. I call this the warm down interval.

It’s about this time the doorbell rings. Drinks are served on arrival and dinner is dished help-your-self-style on the table. I begin the night’s festivities by carving up a Maggie Beer verjuice soaked roast chicken with my sleeves rolled up and biceps pulsating. It’s show time.

This article was originally published in print for The Design Files Open House newspaper, photo of Julia Child.

Lisa Marie Corso