The biggest deterrent to home cooking, as with so many things in life, is the fear of failure. Well, get over it. You’re going to mess up, and you’re going to do it in front of people. This is what I did last weekend, P’neers. Kitchen failure can strike at any time, at anything from a major holiday to a little get together with a friend or two. While the scale of the emotion may differ, the feeling of shame and embarrassment is the same. What to do?
First off, you should avoid the rookie mistake (that I totally made) of not doing a dress rehearsal. If you’re going to make food for an audience, you should have made that dish at least once before show time. That way, any mistakes that you’re predisposed to making will have been made when you (and possibly a long-suffering SO) were the only one there to see it.
If you haven’t the time or inclination to do a dry run, then at least take a good hard look at the recipe ahead of time. Make sure you not only have all the ingredients (a no-brainer) but also have ready any tools or small appliances that you may need. You don’t want to be fumbling for your food processor or grater at the last minute while your friends/loved ones are watching. And judging.
OK, so you didn’t do the dry run, and something’s going wrong with your meal. Your next move is performing some quick first aid. I can’t tell you exactly what to do, here, since I don’t know how you’ve messed up. But there are a few standbys, like adding some flour to a too-thin sauce. Or throwing undercooked ingredients back in the pan/oven. Adding a bit of salt or seasoning can do wonders for a bland dish. Don’t make any drastic moves; any small thing you can do to put a band aid on that boo-boo would be a good idea.
Now it’s time to “˜fess up to your victims guests. The art of a good mea culpa is to just address it quickly and move on. If you dwell on it for too long, you’ll accomplish more than making yourself look desperate. You’ll also repeatedly call attention to the bad qualities of a dish that probably isn’t as dreadful as you fear. So just say once: “Sorry, the _____ is a little _______.” It’s like Bad Cook Mad Libs!
Of course, you can deflect at least some of the focus off the failed dish by making sure you have bang-up sides and dessert. In my case, I made a pasta sauce that failed mildly on multiple levels (texture, quantity, and flavor. I rock). It was unsatisfying, if inoffensive, but my friends were happy to augment the lackluster pasta dish with some caprese salad with fresh (seriously, still warm) mozzarella and just-picked basil from my windowsill basil plant. I also made some amazing cookies for dessert, so by the time the coffee came around, the meh-velous pasta was mostly forgotten.
Once you’ve had this humbling experience, you’re unlikely to suffer it again anytime soon. I for one will never again tape a magazine recipe on the kitchen wall minutes before my friends arrive. So, if we all agree to do better in the future, do any of you mind sharing your biggest kitchen mistakes with the rest of us? You can get the ball rolling by checking out Selena’s Fail Bread from January.