Private chef: Hussein Bahsoun, of Sydney Personal Chef, working for Denise of Lilyfield. Photo: James Brickwood
Has the dinner party fallen victim to the pace of modern life?
Thirty-five per cent of Australians who hosted dinner parties only did so once a year, a recent survey has found. Almost half of respondents - 47 per cent - wanted to hold more dinner parties but were too busy, while more than a third of those surveyed hosted none at all.
Reality TV shows such as MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules could be hindering rather than helping; when cooks are encouraged to whip up a crustacean emulsion or a pomegranate jus, hosts can feel the pressure of raised expectations.
People's biggest fears, according to the survey, were getting stuck in the kitchen all night and guests not enjoying their food.
The survey of 1000 people was conducted for King Island Dairy before the release of its e-book, The Perfect Dinner Party. Etiquette coach and e-book contributor Nathy Gaffney said reality TV may have played a part in ''creating people's fear factor''.
''A lot of people think a dinner party has to be perfect,'' she said. ''But [guests] won't remember whether you folded the napkins correctly or had the right glassware. It's more about the overall experience. What makes it easier is being more relaxed.''
Hiring a private chef is an increasingly popular option for time-pressed entertainers. Hussein Bahsoun, founder of Sydney Personal Chef, said clients often called on him for added inspiration or when their guests had specific dietary needs. He said whether he was cooking for two or for 50, ''I'm here to take any pressure off the host''.
One client, Denise, regularly has Mr Bahsoun cook for friends at her inner-west home.
''It's a real struggle to find the time to cook for people,'' she said.
''I look at this as having a BYO restaurant in my own home; my friends can chip in … and you can completely customise the menu.''
For other hosts, keeping it casual is the key. Yasmine Loupis and her partner hold informal dinner parties once or twice a week at their Stanmore home. She jokes that with a Greek father and a mother who used to run a catering company, ''I don't know how to cook for just two people''.
''Because our lives are so busy, it's more about relaxing with friends,'' Ms Loupis, 31, said. ''I would rather spend time socialising with my guests than being frantic and stressed and shut off in the kitchen.''
Professor emeritus Barbara Santich, a food scholar and historian at the University of Adelaide, said the dinner party was not dead, it had just evolved.
Hostesses in the 1960s and '70s often launched their ''plan of attack'' the week before so it would appear effortless, she said.
But dining these days tended to be more casual, she said.
''The point of it all is the conviviality around the table and nobody stressing about whether the mayonnaise is going to split or not,'' she said.