‘A 21st century guide to captivating a Dish, his friends and virtually everyone else using home cooking and a little homespun psychology’. Now, this might have been popular 50 years ago but surely it’s not going to sit well with modern day bra-burners? The authors, Penny Isaacs and Sarah Lockett – both happily married, of course – assure us that they’re not advocating a return to domestic drudgery, just a little ‘targeted cooking’ but I’m not buying it. After 16 chapters of carefully planned soirees and ‘CookSmart’ tips; it seems that ‘having it all’ just means ‘doing it all’.
There are no real recipes, just suggested dishes, conversation starters and dress codes for tricky social situations like the first date with your MOD (man of your dreams) and meeting his colleagues, friends, parents and so on. The key to success is setting a ‘culinary honey trap’ by hosting flawless dinner parties and impressing his mates with homemade burgers, but never making your own soup or jam or anything else that will make you seem like a plum bottler – i.e. his mother.
A few chapters in, having stopped worrying about the neo-feminists who will never read this book; I wondered if I should be offended on behalf of men everywhere who are perfectly capable of cooking their own dinner. While few would object to being cooked for once in a while, the new breed of ‘gastrosexuals’ might find being banished from the kitchen a little harder to stomach. There’s no indication as to what happens once you’re married either, as the book comes to an abrupt end once a sizeable rock has been secured. Will the MOD feel a bit duped if his new bride isn’t quite the Stepford wife he was promised?
That said, The Dish is an enjoyable read – if you take it all as tongue-in-cheek. The most enjoyable bits are the anecdotes, which are all genuine and sound just like the stories you might relay to friends over brunch or a glass of cheap white wine. Any woman who has ever had a run-in with a mother-in-law or made small talk over cold canapés will recognise themselves, as well as other people they adore or avoid.
It’s a guilty pleasure, like rom coms and Malibu; best enjoyed alone in bed or on holiday. (I disguised my copy with a Simone de Beauvoir dust jacket so I could read it on the tube without suffering any pitying looks). I hope the authors will agree with me when I say it’s not an ideal gift for your single friend, even if they have recently signed up to match.com or taken up knitting. No one wants to admit they need help snaring a man or that their hostessing skills aren’t up to scratch, so if you buy this and suggest both, you can kiss goodbye to your BFF.