Come Dine with Me.

Eleanore Hutch talks about the popular show Come Dine with Me and explains how you can recreate the competition at home…

Channel 4’s Come Dine with Me (CDWM) is just genius. In each episode of this captivating cookery television, four amateur cooks each host a dinner party – serving up, often very ambitious,  three course meals –  to be rated by their competition. It’s the dinner party with a competitive twist. Add in the bitching, the backstabbing, and the kitchen chaos and you’ve got yourself one addictive half-hour of television.

In this recessionary climate where nights in the front of the sofa are replacing nights in front of the bar, do-it-yourself CDWM is becoming increasingly popular. Wanting to know what all the fuss was about, I decided to gather together a group of friends and have our own competition. Little did I know what I was getting myself into.

Contestants in the hit show have to put up with a lot by going on CDWM. They endure a week of intense filming, thus having the pressure of thousands of people watching them potentially fail. On the plus side they get their food and alcohol paid for by Channel 4, the winner gets £1,000 and they all get 15 minutes of fame. Aside from the fact that the prize money is far from generous, and the lack of narrator Dave Lamb’s brilliant witticisms, doing your own version of CDWM can be ultimately far more enjoyable the TV show.

There is no time pressure, there are no obligations or contracts to sign, and probably the best outcome is that you are not forced to dine with four strangers. Anyone who watches the show will know that rather colourful characters are selected, and there are always arguments, which – while no doubt stressful for the contestants – are pure entertainment for the viewer. The beauty of doing CDWM with your own friends is that not only do you avoid having to eat with a quartet of often tempestuous diners, but it is a great excuse to meet with friends for a sophisticated evening of food, wine and conversation – and, if you must, embarrassing party games.

DIY CDWM is fast becoming a popular evening activity. Housewives, college students and general budding food connoisseurs across Ireland are all taking part in these organised cooking competitions. Thirty-two-year-old Emma told me how she and seven other friends hold a dinner party on the last Saturday of each month. Their competition has a unique edge, says Emma: “We put eight different countries into a hat so we have each cooked exotic cuisine. We’ve had Thai, French, Chinese and Mexican food so far, and they have all been delicious. It’s food you wouldn’t eat everyday, so it’s more exciting.” Emma drew Spain out of the hat, so she will be cooking up a Spanish storm in the kitchen, making tapas and paella.

Emma and her friends are not the only group who have given their cookery contest a unique twist. Some CDWM aficionados are upping the ante of their competitions by adding a new requirement for each dinner party – entertainment. Nick, a 22-year-old business student at Trinity College, is doing CDWM with three female friends. “Ultimately the winner is the person who overall has both great food and great entertainment – the nicest food is never going to win if the evening is dull. The most enjoyable evening can be ruined by poor or unimaginative food,” he says. “It’s all about providing a good balance and making sure your guests are looked after. You will never win if you spend all the time in the kitchen attempting a masterpiece, leaving your guests ignored.”

Currently, four friends and I are doing our version of the dining competition, and the competition is fierce. Although there will be no cash prize at the end of our efforts, the winner will forever have the recognition that they were the best cook of us all. Recognition and a litre of gin to take home.

The pressure of serving a three course meal, providing a fantastic party piece and being a modern day Betty Crocker without breaking a sweat, is not easily achieved. Having spent a morning peeling so many apples and potatoes that my thumb was more swollen than Angelina Jolie’s lips was the not the best way to start my dinner party. Mashing potatoes to the right consistency is also hard – lumps are bad, but not as bad as gloopyness. Nevertheless I managed to pull myself together and become the humble hostess. My anecdotes were timed perfectly, my guest’s glasses never went empty, my Processo reception went down a treat – I could put Bree Van de Kamp to shame. Or so I thought, until my main course of thyme lemon chicken yielded plates full of leftovers. Quel dommage!

Despite this mishap, my chances of winning were not completely thwarted. My guests didn’t leave until after 1am and we did go through six bottles of wine – surely the sign of a great night!

The other dinner parties have been a hoot. At a Jersey Shore– themed bash we wore too much fake tan and ate Italian lamb, and I was the embarrassingly loud drunk after too many cocktails. Thankfully hosts cannot score their guests. At a Spice Girls-themed party, we brought out our girl power and had spicy pea soup. One of my companions even went as far as providing a full sleepover scenario, complete with dressing gowns, chocolates, and Dreamphone, the kitsch 1980s board game. It was the perfect item for giggling girls as you try to find out who your ‘secret crush’ – like Cluedo for dating.

Still to be concluded, our CDWM competition has had its shares of highs and lows. We have had sauceless curries, over-flavoured soups, cold potatoes and a distinct lack of serviettes at one party – perhaps the biggest offence for the hygienic party-goer (although that may have been at my party). Regardless, every single dinner party has been tremendous fun and the fact that there is the prize of a bottle of gin at stake has made all the contestants pull out all the stops. To avoid awkwardness, we anonymously post our scores through the crack of an old tissue box – the height of elegance. With one dinner party left before we crown our victor, tensions are running high – it could be anyone’s game.

Doing your own CDWM is hard work but fantastic fun. It is a great way to beat the recession, be creative and improve your cooking skills while spending time with friends. And even if you get scored zero by your best mate, there’s always next time – another day, another dinner party, another group of delightful (or not so much) diners.

Dos and Don’ts on how to win:

Don’t:

  • run out of alcohol. You may as well forfeit the competition.
  • plan extra courses. Giving yourself too much work could backfire terribly.
  • serve under-heated food. One word: indigestion.
  • be cocky and don’t be a wine buff. No one will thank you for it.
  • leave too little time to prepare your food. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

Do:

  • be ambitious. Fish and chips will not win.
  • serve appetizers.
  • offer tea and coffee after. It’s always appreciated and a good cheeseboard also goes down a treat.
  • be attentive to your guests. Never let their glasses go empty.


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