The Christmas party: part 1

The disco shed: before

The email’s been sent. I’m officially committed to the ‘I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-Gourmet-or-MasterChef’ Christmas party. Up until this year, this salubrious event had been known as the ‘I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-Gourmet Christmas party’, due to the fact that I and some of my finest friends used to work together there during what we like to (probably mistakenly) reminisce about as a golden era in food publishing. A time, dear readers, when even our contributors – photographers, stylists, food and wine writers, recipe developers, friends and followers – were invited to our work Christmas party. Heady days, indeed.

When I tripped over and fell into Gourmet Traveller in late 1997 by way of a number of strangely un-related careers, the legendary Carolyn (Charlie) Lockhart was the editor (I always found it impossible to call her ‘Charlie’ while I was working with her; I somehow never felt quite… clean enough).

All tall, stately, quizzical elegance, Carolyn, together with her then-deputy – brilliant, funny and disarmingly frank Meg Thomasen – and fierce, fabulous food editor Kathy Snowball, had pulled the carpet out from under Lockhart’s previous charge, Vogue Entertaining + Travel, right through the 1990s.

Those Gourmet Traveller Christmas parties were held either at Charlie’s place in Woollahra or at Kathy’s in Balmain. Very grown-up houses – full of art and books and interesting kitchen equipment and expensive toiletries in the bathroom. The food team would take the day off, rack up huge bills on their food expenses budget and create epicurean extravaganzas of a magnitude and deliciousness that made grown restaurant critics weep.

I remember suckling pig sandwiches my first year. It was the first time I’d ever watched someone slice meat like they loved it. There was something about the way ‘Madame Snowball’ (as my husband used to call her) wielded that knife… Magic and faintly disturbing all at the same time.

The last Gourmet party we threw was on a rooftop in Surry Hills on a stinkingly hot December night. Publishing’s new world order soon put a stop to that sort of hedonistic nonsense – and to us, as we all fled for the hills (or Alexandria – which proved to be much the same thing). But, with a couple of lapses here and there, the tradition has been upheld, as the ranks of colleagues and ex-colleagues grow, and as magazines come and go.

Only we do it at my place.

I get the expensive toiletries in specially.

Grown-up house – maybe not quite. Instead – we have the disco shed – a usually dusty, mousey, creaky, tool-filled shambles, it’s transformed for one day a year (and for the ensuing summer holidays) into a place of wonder and light and very loud dance music (that’s dance music for old people – but not Status Quo old). At first, it was just a few drop-sheets thrown over gardening implements and hulking drop-saws. Now, it’s a hell of a lot more drop-sheets swathed, Christo-like, over walls and ceiling, plus a slap of white paint on the concrete floor, all the better to reflect the ever-spiralling pinpoints of light from the two mirror balls permanently attached to the ceiling cross-beams.

But, comrades, it would all mean nothing without the food.

Which brings me to my essential tips for throwing a great party:

Work on a food magazine.

And always say yes if your colleagues offer to bring a plate.

Unless it’s the accountant; she can bring the ice.