Manners and Multicourse Meals

Manners and Multicourse Meals

This past Friday, I was planning to attend Avery formal dinner. It turned out that the infamous Manners 101 dinner was scheduled for the same night, and since the chances of being randomly selected for such a popular event were slim, I entered the lottery. Unlike my course lotteries (sob), I was actually selected for this one. During cooking class on Thursday night, many of us were recruited to help out with the dinner. There was prep, cooking, plating, and waiting to be done in this large operation. Since I was going to participate in the dinner, I went and helped out from 5:30-6:30. I picked thyme (with three of us, it took a good half an hour to get a cup’s worth) and cut butter pats. As I went to get changed into business attire, I saw the impressive plating endeavor begin with the tomato tartare:

Appetizers were amazing, but I was warned to save my stomach for the five course meal, so I held back, sipping my sparkling cranberry apple cider and trying to have good manners. It was hard sitting there making small talk when the shrimps were calling to me:

The dinner was held at Tom Mannion’s house, and the manners part was led by Karen Blake, wife of the former Master of Student Houses (MOSH). We were handed packets that declared the purpose of the night: “Gaining the competitive edge in today’s job market: A business etiquette dinner.” Mrs. Blake told us we had passed the first test: punctuality. She went on to describe how timing applies to different situations – interviews, dinner parties, cocktail parties. She also drilled us on appropriate cocktail hour conversation topics, introductions, and business cards. After our first lesson, we headed out to the dining arena, where our assigned seats and butter pats awaited us:

I was seated next to a mix of people I knew and didn’t know, including Mrs. Blake. We discussed current events such as the controversial dress and the escapee llamas to pass the time while waiting for the first course. Mrs. Blake gave another short lesson on table setting and etiquette – put your napkin on your lap as soon as you sit down, don’t start eating until the host raises their utensil, how to give a toast, etc. When the time came, we were surprised to see eight to nine waiters surround one table at a time, placing dishes down in unison. The first course was a harvest mushroom bisque, which was the perfect balance of creamy and mushroomy:

Soon afterwards came the tomato tartare with haricot verts. I saw people preparing this during cooking class on Thursday, and carefully plating it right before the dinner, so I treasured every bite. The crispy green beans went very well with the salty tomato:

Before the next course, we learned about preparing for job interviews. Mrs. Blake told us a story about a guy who was in a rush and only ironed the front side of his shirt, and ended up very embarrassed when he was strongly urged to take off his jacket, revealing the wrinkles. She also stressed the importance of handwritten thank you cards, since they could be the only difference between you and another candidate. The next course was pan-seared duck with blueberry sauce and a rice ball:

I don’t normally eat duck, but I tried it this time. Though I’m not a duck fan, it was pretty good. Mrs. Blake was telling us about how the portion sizes at these kinds of events are usually really large, but apparently they were much improved for this dinner, because everything was reasonably portioned. Soon after the duck came another meaty dish:

This was the beef tenderloin with mashed potatoes. I finally saw and tasted the end product of my inefficient thyme-picking on the edges of the meat. It added a cool texture. Before moving on to dessert, Mrs. Blake gave us a final note on “high tech manners,” or proper email etiquette and cell phone usage. She told us that taking pictures of the food was not good manners, but the beautiful plating just drew our phones out. The dessert was particularly stunning:

This was the chocolate raspberry cake with berries. Many people were asking for to-go boxes at the mere sight of this large hunk of cake, but I was determined to finish every dish at this dinner.It was lighter than expected, and reasonably sweet. The cake’s sweetness made the berries taste neutral, but they added some texture and tang. This was probably my favorite course of the night. We also received a cheese platter for dessert:

Pretty cheese and flowers. The evening ended around 9:30 p.m., and I dashed to a cappella practice right afterwards. This was a seamless event that took many, many people and hours to execute. I’m so thankful for this opportunity! When else do you get to eat gourmet food while learning how to be a hireable human being and gracious guest?