Personally, I want to learn how to do something more impressive than sticking a couple of tea lights on the table and serving up goat’s cheese whatsit on a ready-made puff pastry base, accompanied by mismatched wine in mismatched glasses (or tumblers, in fact, since we’ve smashed most of our wine glasses). With this in mind, Melon has brought with him another Frenchman, Mickael Weiss, who was head chef at London’s Coq d’Argent restaurant for more than 12 years.
Weiss, who is politely unfazed by the chaos of my kitchen cupboards, is going to show me how to cook a meal less beige than the usual festive fare, and which does not feature a puff pastry base: we’re doing Peruvian ceviche with leche de tigre (tiger’s milk).
Obviously my first worry is about poisoning my guests with raw fish. But Weiss has this covered. The trick, apparently, is not to buy your fish from the supermarket (which is where I buy absolutely everything), but to find a good local fishmonger, get to know and trust them, tell them in advance you’re making ceviche and ask what they can get you on the day – then pick it up on the morning of the event.
“When you have a dinner party, it’s not just a dinner party, it’s all the preparation, [during the] 24 hours before,” Weiss explains. “There’s table preparation, the theme, the wine. It’s a lot of work.”
Wait, what? I’ve never done a theme. But I sense I am about to.
“The past few years, we’ve been changing the theme [over] Christmas,” says Weiss. “A few years ago we did an Indian-themed Christmas and it’s so much more colourful.”
On this occasion, our theme is South American. Hence the ceviche – oh, and we’re also making roasted sea bass with tomatillo salsa, and a side dish of quinoa with padron peppers and okra. For dessert, we are (by which I mean Weiss is) making chocolate fondant with roasted tamarillos for a touch of celebratory colour.
It all sounds a little ambitious but the trick, I’m told, is to get as much of it ready in advance as you can. “Don’t just start cooking at midday,” says Weiss. “Erm, I usually start about six hours later than that,” I confess.