“Food for the body is not enough, there must be food for the soul.” -Dorothy Day
Tuesday 27th May 2020
Who is speaking?
Juan Tudela is Deputy Director of Conference and Banqueting Operations at The Landmark London.
His favourite meal of the day is definitely lunch, especially at the weekend, so he can dine either at home or out without any concerns about the timing.
Juan’s favourite meal to serve when he is entertaining guests at home is a Spanish tapas style meal. This way the guests enjoy different types of recipes, and you have less chance of upsetting the guests. If there are any restrictions or preferences, they all share the plates, which for him is a very deep and caring act. Juan likes to set the table in an informal way using medium cutlery and china. For service, he tries to use some marble and wood pieces that he has, or mixing the tableware colours and shapes with whites and greens.
Why sitting at the table feeds your soul?
The title may suggest to you that this is a text inspired by Paulo Coelho, but it is not. The truth is that ‘feed your soul’ is an expression as subjective as it is real, however ambiguous it may seem. But it is easy to understand. Do a quick mental exercise and recover the most important memories that you have eating at the table. These moments are deep, hard to forget and have an enormous power within us.
Why is sitting at the table such a powerful act? Some studies say that it was cooking that led us to become human and the act of eating together determined our ability to be a society. Imagine the first men around a fire pit sharing their primal meal. It is certainly a decisive act of socialisation and possibly the first social network on the planet.
This act remains as powerful as it was thousands of years ago and still very simple – after all, it’s easy to gather around the table and eat together, isn’t it? Nowadays there are so many factors that limit our “ability” to have a meal together that we simply lose the habit. Work, school, smartphone, streaming generate a permanent “lack of time” that often distances us from an act as easy as setting the table before we eat together.
Prepare the basics
Yes, setting the table makes a lot of difference! And I am not talking about luxury and hours of labour. I am talking about preparing the basics before eating: cutlery, glasses, napkin, and plates. If you can try a little harder by adding a centre piece, focusing on the details, they are the ones that matter the most. Of course, each moment calls for a different setting and it makes no sense to create extraordinary decorations for every meal of the day. But in times of lockdown you certainly have a little more time to dedicate yourself to it.
Set the rules
Create a rule at home: it is forbidden for everyone to take their own silverware, plate and glass in the cupboard, but someone will always be responsible for setting up the table. I guarantee that even the most unpretentious recipe will surprise you on a well set table, try and eat at least one meal a day on a properly prepared table. It doesn’t matter if it’s the breakfast tray, the kitchen counter or the picnic blanket.
Another good rule: no cell phones and TV on during the meal. After all, it makes no sense to waste the decoration if nobody is going to pay attention.
My final advice: use your best china more often, don’t let the cupboard enjoy it more than the ones you love.
How to place your cutlery?
Thinking about some practical tips, here a few that will help you with the basics: always fork on the left and knife on the right.
Remember that the cutting part of the knife should always “face” the fork.
For a more elegant set up, put the cutleries on each side of the plate. If you’ll serve a two course menu you should place all the cutleries on the table, a good tip is to measure two fingers distance from the edge of the table to start placing the silverware side by side.
If you have a round table, put the first course cutleries at three fingers from the edge and the main course at two fingers, this way you’ll give a flowing style to your set up much more fancy. If your first course is a soup, put the spoon on the right side of the plate.
For a more cosy and informal meal you can put the fork and knife together on the right side of the plate, on top of the napkin or even tide to it.
For dessert silverware, place it in the upper part of the plate. If you’ll use a complete dessert set the knife should be below, followed by the fork with the teeth facing right and the spoon should be on top facing the other side.
How to place your glassware and napkins?
For glassware, the rules are simple: the set up should be on the top right side off the plate or in the middle, right by the dessert cutlery. The water glass should always be on the right hand side of the setup, followed by the red and white wine. With the napkin, try to avoid origami shapes, I strongly believe that the simplest way is the best. Try to use rectangular or triangular forms placed on top of the plate.
Also, you can invest in some napkin holders with different styles so you can vary from meal to meal. These are tips and rules just to guide you according to your needs, but they can be applied in a variety of occasions, making your table much more attractive in no time at all.
When you prepare the table before the meal, you are sending a message to all those who are going to eat: you are special to me. After all, you invested in one of the most precious assets today, your time. A nice set table shows affection and dedication for those who are going to eat and certainly brings satisfaction for those who set it. If you don’t cook, surely the cook you have at home will be much happier to see that his efforts were crowned with a well-laid table. Whether with family or friends, eating together creates bonds and strengthens relations. It forces us to have that eye-to-eye moment, capable of generating a thousand subjects to discuss or even create a comfortable and pleasant silence. If you have children at home, setting the table can be a playful and engaging act that increases the child’s bond with the pleasures at the table.
The moments we spend at the table with those we like are able to nurture much more than our bodies. You can be assured that an act as generous as setting the table is capable of creating powerful affectionate memories, strong enough to satisfy your hunger at that moment and feed your soul for life.