The front of house team at Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester are running ’The Art of Fine Dining Masterclass’ to show you – or rather show your staff who can show you – just how to get a three-Michelin-starred dining room in your very own home
by Emily Rookwood
With purse strings tightening all over the city, entertaining at home is a cheaper option but there is no reason why it should be any less elegant. The front of house team at Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester are running ‘The Art of Fine Dining Masterclass’ to show you – or rather show your staff who can show you – just how to get a three-Michelin-starred dining room in your very own home.
Led by Nicolas Defremont, their charming restaurant director, the classes walk participants through the basics of entertaining from tablecloths and cutlery to the finer points of making the most of everyone’s favourite dinner party guest, the wine. For less than the price of a meal out in the restaurant you can send the butler off to learn how to create wonderful dinner parties over and over again. That is just good home economics.
Learning in the spacious, pristine surroundings of the restaurant is rather lovely, especially watching the actual front of house team go about their work in the far corners of the room, folding napkins, pressing tablecloths and generally re-doing the dreadful attempts at laying tables that attendees of the course spent so long agonizing over earlier. This should prove inspirational to your staff and also ticks the box of providing continuing professional development, which I hear is all the rage in the modern workplace.
During the two-hour class every aspect of mise en place is covered and helpful feedback on the straightness of cutlery will be given. Once the tricks of the table are learnt, participants’ attention is drawn to our old friend, the wine. Vincent Pastorello, sommelier at Alain Ducasse, leads the class in a 30-minute wine tasting session at the end of the masterclass. Working through popular myths and common mistakes he imparts his extensive knowledge on all areas from temperature to decanting and using the correct glass and leaves you with your very own in-house sommelier at the end of the half hour.
Here they have crockery designed by Hermes worth over £200,000 but even if yours is merely Thomas Goode there are ways to get the very best out of your homewear and create a wonderful table to compliment your caterers' very best cooking attempts. So what should you notice changing in your dining room?
The use of appropriate equipment
This is important for any endeavor. You should invest in a water spritzer for Jeeves. A spritz of warm water over your best table cloth will help iron out irritating creases. Insist on a double iron, once away from the table and one in situ to ensure a crisp, professional finish. Ironing should be done from the centre outwards.
Sparkling crockery and table wear
Nothing is more offputting than a blemished plate or glass. A little vinegar in the spritzer along with a clean cloth and a strong arm will ensure all traces of watermarks or other unsightly marks are removed from your porcelain. Hold plates under the light to double check how thoroughly this has been done. Insist that plates are held at the edges – or if you prefer – insist on white gloves being used to avoid replacing water marks with finger prints. A good buff should sort out the cutlery and where the glasses are concerned simply ask for them to be washed with hot water and allow to steam dry.
When putting your table together, best to keep it simple, hence elegant. Ask for your table to be laid around a central decoration – flowers, fresh fruit or vegetables or some art – and make sure all of your accoutrements are perpendicular with one another and equally spaced. You should expect plates, cutlery, glasses and napkins (preferably carefully folded into linen artichokes as taught by the Ducasse team) to be approximately a finger’s width apart, if this is not the case you should ask that the settings are readjusted. Chairs should lightly kiss the table cloth, which incidentally should be evenly draped on all sides.
Small details making all the difference
For thoughtful extra touches, buy in – or have the caterer make – a few different types of bread and provide both salted and unsalted butter for your guests. Also rather than your usual salt and pepper sellers have some good Fleur de Sel and cracked black pepper bought in. Ask the florist to spritz any flowers you have lightly with a little water (from that very useful water spritzer) to give your arrangement that fresh from the garden look.
Et voila! With in-house staff trained by the best in the business you can sit back and watch as Faye Maschler gives you five stars.