I’m a pretty good cook.
That’s a lot more than I could say 10 years ago, when I was living in New York and eating most meals in restaurants. But about seven years ago I got curious about cooking, so I ripped a bunch of recipes out of magazines, set a vague cooking goal for myself, and went for it.
I’m going to be honest here—at first it wasn’t very fun. My sister—who makes award-winning candy for a living—was super encouraging, but even the best cheerleading wasn’t enough to get me to chop an onion any faster. (I once timed myself and it took several minutes.)
Of course, with practice I got better. During the first year, the vocabulary became more familiar—I finally knew the difference between chopping and dicing, baking and broiling. Over the next couple of years I polished my skills and even learned to improvise a bit. I was whipping up good food regularly, and I was enjoying it. I’d turn on music or a podcast and just lose myself in the process.
But there was still something that felt out of reach: Hosting a kick-ass dinner party.
That’s the whole reason I decided to learn how to cook all those years ago: Not so I could feed myself amazing food—so I could open up my home to friends and family and have them all over for a dinner to remember.
I had this vision of myself as the carefree host, dishing up second helpings while procuring the perfect playlist.
So a couple of years ago I started to invite people over. At first I was nervous about what these people—my friends!—would think about my cooking, or my playlist, or the way my placemats and my napkins didn’t quite match.
But I powered through, inviting people over more often, and in time I realized that none of those things on their own make for a memorable night. The food and the atmosphere are just the backdrop. The joy of the event come from the conversation, the laughter, and the connection.
These days I still get a little nervous before my first guest arrives. But I remind myself that I’ve spent years practicing for this, and that no one’s really there for the food anyway!
That said, I’m glad that I stuck with my cooking goal and have seen it through, even if it took the better part of a decade to get there. It’s nice to know that my kick-ass dinner parties include good food and that I can keep myself nourished and well-fed. My vision changed over time–from perfect to perfectly relaxed–but having an end accomplishment in sight really helped me stay on track, and know when I’d reached it!