One of the very first things we’re taught in life is how to share with others. It’s something that’s instilled in us when we’re still toddling around in diapers and clumsily trying to grasp the alphabet. Learning how to share can help a child make friends, deal with disappointment, and discover the value in genuine acts of human kindness. If you are generous with people – whether that’s with your crisps or your time – you’ll often find that they are generous with you in return. That’s always been my philosophy in my life and at the dinner table.
This is all is my way of saying that if we’re going out for a meal together, I am inevitably going to eat some of your food. But, hey, you’re also going to get to eat some of mine, too. Swings and roundabouts.
“What’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine” is simply the right way to approach a meal and I’ve found that the best way to get to know someone, and find out what they really think about Gemma in accounts, is often over a long lunch or dinner.
Breaking bread is a term that crops up numerous times in the Bible and – although I’m hardly what you’d call a religious man – I do agree that sharing your food and distributing it to others in need is important. According to the New Testament, Jesus would regularly break and tear apart his bread and pass out pieces to be shared among his disciples – an act of shared community and brotherhood that wasn’t a grand gesture but a small act of kindness. He seems like a sound guy, that Jesus. And it's those simple acts that can make all the difference. I’m not suggesting all the world leaders need to make a booking at The Ritz to hash things out but I do genuinely think it’s harder to remain enemies with someone (or, at the very least, harder to dehumanise or "other" them) after you’ve shared a meal together.
A meal is something that’s simply meant to be shared. A dinner plate does not ask for you to eat its bounty alone: it cries for you to share its load with everyone around you so that they, too, can enjoy its splendour. Ever since prehistoric times, we’ve been passing around spit-roasted mammoth legs and ensuring that everyone at the table (read: fire) gets their fill. I’m not saying that I want you to chew your food and mother bird it to me at a steakhouse anytime soon but I am saying that I’d like a forkful of your hake and I’d be willing to trade you a slice of my sirloin for it.
Sharing is caring and regardless of how much I dislike the American term “family-style”, I really do think that it’s the best way to eat. Having a large pot of something in the middle of the table that your guests can help themselves to at their own will is the best way to host a dinner party. No one likes meagre portions and no one likes feeling uncomfortable about asking for seconds. A big shared vessel loaded with a giant couscous salad is therefore the urtext of dinner party dishes – it’s a platter everyone can tuck into as plates, cutlery, bowls clatter happily in time with conversation.
As you’d expect from someone who’s big on sharing plates, one of my biggest pet peeves is people who refuse to part with their food. It’s selfish, covetous, and – most importantly – it stops me from seeing if someone else is a better orderer than I am.
Being a person that is far too opinionated on food, I also hate it when someone I’m eating with orders the dish that I wanted to order before I do. Why? Because it means that I’m then forced to order something different off the menu. I know that’s not, like, a rule which is enforced by the restaurant (“I’m sorry, it’s only one plate of ravioli per table, sir”) but that’s just how I’m hardwired. I simply refuse to eat the same dish as someone else on my table. It's very unchic. I want to share food with someone, not share the exact same experience as them bite-for-bite. Sitting down with two identical dishes simply feels like a wasted opportunity to me – like I’ve thrown away an opportunity to try something new and delicious.
Does that mean I've occasionally pressured an individual I’m dining with into ordering a dish that I don’t quite want a whole portion of but would like to try just so I can steal a bite? Yes, yes, I have. Am I proud of myself? No. But I’m divulging all this information to you because that’s what we should all do more often: share.