NOTE: Per the comments of a helpful reader, Alex Witchel is in fact a she. I guessed, and I guessed wrong. Please adjust pronouns as necessary below, and change ‘Unk’ to ‘Auntie.’
This weekâ€™s New York Times Dining section brought yet another who-the-hell-are-you? essay from this Witchel person.
I can only respond with contempt. The piece is about a charming hostess he knows, the type who â€œnever blink[s] when the schnauzer escapes captivity to hump the ambassadorâ€™s wifeâ€™s leg.â€ (If this were a systematic ripping-to-shreds of Witchel, a la The Bruni Digest, I would now insert a vile and funny photo as illustration, but I think this image is pretty clear and disgusting on its own, donâ€™t you?)
Witchel himself confesses that the best he can do is â€œgather 6 to 10 people, double or triple a recipe and, with the help of a lot of good wine (mostly for [him]), hope for the best.â€
Yeah, and? Thatâ€™s what youâ€™re supposed to do! Or am I missing something?
I do like how he specifies itâ€™s good wine at his otherwise crappy, pathetic and unworthy dinner soirees where his guests must just have an awful time. Because everyone knows people really hate home-cooked food if itâ€™s not served with utter aplomb.
Which brings me to the meat of the article. This charming hostess he knows, a Southern woman (of course sheâ€™s Southern) who maintains her accent despite the rigors of NYC, has been known to â€œserve meat loaf and chicken potpie in the same meal,â€ which apparently is a good thing, in Witchelâ€™s estimation. So high-low, all â€œgood wineâ€ and meat loaf.
Anyway, this hostess throws a dinner, then â€œshort-circuitsâ€ in the middle, and â€œchaos, of sorts,â€ ensues.
So I kept reading, with bated breath, to find out what the chaos would be.
Letâ€™s see, the buffet and passed hors dâ€™oeuvres went smoothly. The lasagna gets served just fine, but, heavens, with a Bordeaux! Witchel twitches: â€œI would have hyperventilated at even the thought of serving French wine with Italian food. Ten demerits!â€
I get the impression–or at least I hope, for his sake–that Witchel is playing up his finicky side, in a gambit to draw in the reader who may also hold such weird preconceptions about wine and food pairing. â€œDear reader, youâ€™re insanely uptight,â€ he seems to be saying, â€œbut, hey, so am Iâ€¦well, a little. Stick around, and maybe you can learn something from olâ€™ Unk Witchel!â€
But Iâ€™m not such a reader. As long as there is wine, and itâ€™s not Kendall-Jackson, Iâ€™m good.
But back to the impending â€œchaosâ€:
Then an odd thing happened. She signaled the waiterâ€¦. After a few whispers, he went around the table removing the silverware meant for salad and cheese, then served the salad on dinner plates.
Whoa. Crazy. Wait, the waiter? Of course your party will go swimmingly if you have a goddamn waiter.
Iâ€™m so disgusted, Iâ€™ll just skip to the chase. The hostess gets confused and serves this lemon mousse Witchel adoresâ€”after the salad and before the cheese!â€”and then, when he calls the next day begging for her secrets, she says she didnâ€™t make it herself, she bought it. And everything else she served at the dinner!
Which in itself is no crime, but she passed it all off as her own labor (â€œI just whipped this upâ€), which is ridiculous. If you can cook, cook. If you canâ€™t, order outâ€”but donâ€™t pretend you did it all yourself. It just makes life hell for quivering balls of insecurity like this hapless Witchel guy.
And your dishonesty is especially rotten in a dinner-party setting. People come to your home, for home-cooked food. And thereâ€™s nothing more satisfying than home-cooked food. But then to get served up big slabs of lasagna from the corner catererâ€”maybe it looks homey, and tastes a little homey, but guests have got to sense something is not quite right, and theyâ€™re really just getting another mass-produced meal in disguise.
But, rereading the essay, perhaps Witchel was the only sucker. He didnâ€™t guess that the hostess was â€œjokingâ€ when she said she whipped up the mousse herself. She admits she had a bit to drink, and thatâ€™s why she forgot the cheese course. Indeed, â€œthe more events had gone astrayâ€â€”if you can call any of that astrayâ€”â€œthe more lighthearted she had become.â€ Itâ€™s a hard day when I feel more sympathy for the woman with a waiter and entirely catered food than for the guy who is at least willing to cook for his guests, even if he gives himself demerits while heâ€™s doing it.
Again, open invitation to Alex Witchel to come over for Sunday dinner. Iâ€™ll show you â€œastray.â€ But weâ€™ll have good wine.