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Fantasy Dinner Party

“If you could invite 3 people (living or dead) to dinner, who would you ask?”

I choose three of my favorite artists from the past to invite to my fantasy dinner party.

Okay, fine. They’re dead.

(Please indulge me, and pretend for the sake of this post, that time travel exists. Thanks.)

Okay. Are we good? Moving on.

First up. Vincent Van Gogh.

I appear one April day in 1889, in Arles, France, where Van Gogh lived at the time, and knock on the door. Van Gogh opens and I explain that I’ve traveled back from 2017. He seems cool with it. (I try not to look at what’s left of his ear. [1]) I tell him how much I love his work and invite him to dinner at my house. In 2017.

“I accept.” he says. “What time?”

Next, Gertrude Stein.

It’s April, 1936 in Paris. Paris! I’m at 27 rue de Fleurus, in the 6th arrondissement on the Left Bank. I knock on the door of the apartment and Ms. Stein’s partner, Alice B. Toklas escorts me to the salon. [2]

I can’t take my eyes off the Picassos hanging all over the place. I explain to Gertrude Stein that I’ve traveled back from 2017. She stares at me, waiting. I mention my appreciation for her unique style of writing (can you say, gigantic ego?) in her book, “Everybody’s Autobiography.” [3]  But then remember that she hasn’t written it yet. I invite her to dinner at my house. In 2017. “There is no there there.” she says. [4] “But I accept what time will be the time?”

And finally, Jean Cocteau.

It’s a dark and misty evening in April, 1948. I knock on the door of a gorgeous house in Milly-la-Forêt, France. [5] Magical. Cocteau greets me, holding a candelabra.[6] I explain that I’ve traveled back from 2017. He acts like this is normal. ­(Those creative types!)

I tell him that his film, “La Belle et la Bête” (Beauty and the Beast, 1946) [7], is my favorite movie of all time. (It really is.) I invite him to dinner at my house. In 2017. “Mon plaisir,” he says, “A quelle heure?” (My pleasure, at what time?)

fantasy dinner party

My esteemed guests — Van Gogh, circa 1889; Stein, circa 1936; and Cocteau, circa 1947.

Back home in my time, I plan a menu of all appetizers for my fantasy dinner party. Because that’s what I do best.

It will be a lovely table abundant with a variety of tasty and healthy appetizers. Guests tend to linger eating this type of meal. A bit of this, another morsel of that. Glasses replenished, absorbed in good conversation, and the evening stretches into early morning.

I plan this despite knowing that Gertrude Stein is not fond of a dinner of all appetizers.

Stein wrote in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas: [8]

“I don’t know quite what happened but Hélene [her housekeeper/cook] cooked a very bad dinner. Only twice in all her long service did Hélene fail us. This time and when about two weeks later . . . . That time too she did strange things, her dinner consisting of a series of hors d’oeuvres. . . . As I said Hélène did for the second time in her life make an extraordinarily bad dinner. For some reason best known to herself she gave us course after course of hors d’oeuvres finishing up with a sweet omelet.”

There’s no pleasing everyone.

Finally, it’s time and my guests arrive for my fantasy dinner.

Van Gogh brings me a giant sunflower.[9]

Stein hands me a red rose and says, “Good evening. A rose is a rose is a rose.” [10]

Cocteau hands me a red rose too. [11] “Enchanté,” he says.

And so, my fantasy dinner party begins. With cocktails of course.

Absinthe for all! [12]

A silvery tablecloth covers the table, set with white plates and black napkins. We’ll drink from art deco black-stemmed glasses from the 1930s.

Appetizers are ready.

There’s a white bean spread, and red pepper and walnut spreads. Fried sage leaves, chick pea fritters, zucchini fritters, and fried artichoke hearts. Bean, beet, bulgur, and Russian salads. Carrot and zucchini ribbons piled on a plate. Red lentil bites and little red roasted onions. And cauliflower purée, egg salad, and an assortment of cheeses. And olives. Never forget the olives.

The food is room temperature and pleases Stein.

From “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas:”
“Gertrude Stein never likes her food hot and I do like mine hot, we never agree about this. She admits that one can wait to cool it but one cannot heat it once it is on a plate so it is agreed that I have it served as hot as I like.”

We discuss art — landscapes, color, brushstrokes, and the crazy prices of art supplies. We talk of writing — sentences versus paragraphs, poetry, and filmmaking, and of living in Paris versus living in the countryside.

(By we, I mean they talk, while I listen, fascinated.)

Van Gogh pops a fried sage leaf in his mouth. “There are so many people, especially among our pals, who imagine that words are nothing. On the contrary, don’t you think, it’s as interesting and as difficult to say a thing well as to paint a thing. There’s the art of lines and colours, but there’s the art of words that will last just the same.” [13]

Oh, how I agree with this! Art comes to us in many forms. 

We pass around the food, and refill drinks.

My fantasy dinner party is epic!

“I have a piece of great and sad news to tell you: I am dead,” says Cocteau. [14] We stare at him and Cocteau bursts out laughing. “Je dois être mort, non?” he says. “Autrement, j’aurais 128 ans!”

Gertrude Stein adds some carrot and zucchini ribbons onto her already full plate, and calculates that she’s 143 years old.

But Van Gogh wins. He’s 164.

More absinthe, anyone?

Stein and Cocteau met in 1917 (exactly 100 years ago!) when Picasso brought him to the Rue de Fleuris and she declared Cocteau “a slim elegant youth.” They seldom saw each other after that day. Their friendship of polite correspondence tapered around 1934. Until now!

“You have not written in two years,” says Stein, considering whether to have some more Russian salad.
“Actually, more,” says Cocteau, not disclosing that Stein would die in 1946. And he doesn’t mention the second world war. Why ruin this pleasant time-traveling evening? Especially while eating red lentil bites with some cheese and olives.

“Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder.” [15] Cocteau is drinking and more fond of Stein than he ever was back then.

Van Gogh is staring at the sunflower, a subject well known to him. No doubt planning yet another painting using massive amounts of yellow paint. Go for it, Vincent. We’ll thank you later.

He hasn’t sold any paintings and has no clue how famous he’ll be. Gertrude Stein never owned a Van Gogh, unfortunately, “. . . it was probably not for want of trying.” [16]

Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime. “The Red Vineyard at Arles,” sold to a friend for 400 french francs, right before he died in 1890. It’s now in Moscow’s Pushkin Museum of Fine Art. Fast forward a hundred years to 1990. His “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” sold for $82,500,000 at auction.[17]

Should I tell him? No. I can’t tamper with history. But wait. What? This is my fantasy and I can do whatever I want. No historical consequences.

Only hysterical ones.

So I tell him about the $82 million. What? He hasn’t even painted it yet. I suspect he thinks I’m nuts. (Funny he thinks I’m the nutty one.)

The unreal evening begins to fizzle, as all good fantasies must come to an end.

My gracious guests are fading. Actually fading. My fantasy dinner party is coming to its end.

Alas, it’s time to — well, time travel.

My guests thank me for the evening spent (“merci pour la soirée”), they say “farewell,” bid “adieu,” and return to their times. Poof!

And there’s good news!

Since this is a fantasy dinner party, I’m not staying up late to wash dishes.

Now I’m dying to know. Who would you invite to your own fantasy dinner party? And what would you make? Please tell me in the comments.



Recipes for this epic fantasy dinner party can be found in my cookbook.

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[1] The famous story is that in December of 1988, Van Gogh cut off part of his ear in response to his pal Gauguin leaving him. There are other theories though. One is that Gauguin sliced it in a sword fight and there was a cover-up. A pact between the two men kept the incident a secret. Another, that it had nothing to do with Gauguin, but rather was a response to his brother Theo’s marriage. No one will ever know the truth. Can you say, Soap Opera?

[2] Alice B. Toklas met Gertrude Stein in September, 1907 and they were together until Stein’s death in 1946. She was Stein’s confidante, lover, cook, secretary, muse, and editor, among other things. Wikipedia lists her occupation as “avant-garde.” Hilarious. Can that be my occupation?

[3] “Everybody’s Autobiography,” published in 1937 was Gertrude Stein’s memoir. It was a follow-up to The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.

[4] The phrase, “. . . there is no there there,” is from “Everybody’s Autobiography.” It refers to Stein’s home town of Oakland, Calfornia, meaning that the place had no substance. (So thanks a lot, Stein, for saying that about my fantasy dinner in 2017.)

[5] Cocteau bought a house here with the film actor Jean Marais (Beast in the movie) in 1947. He lived there until his death in 1963.

[6] Hands in the wall hold candelabras. They move in unison to illuminate the way, as Belle glides into the castle towards the beast. (Elegant and surreal predecessors to Disney’s Lumiere.)

[7] “La Belle et La Bête” released in 1946 after a year of production. It’s an adaptation of a story written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1757.

[8] Stein published “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” in 1933, as if authored by Alice B. Toklas herself. It became Stein’s best-selling book, making Toklas somewhat famous. And “out” from under Stein’s overpowering shadow.

[9] Vincent Van Gogh made at least seven sunflower paintings, the first in the summer of 1886. But who knows? There could be more.

[10] From “Sacred Emily,” a poem written by Stein in 2013, likely meaning, “things are what they are.”

[11] A rose is a symbol of love and of running out of time, in “La Belle et La Bête.”

[12] Absinthe was the iconic drink of the bohemians in France. Nicknamed La Fée Verte, The Green Fairy, and said to have caused halluciantions. Van Gogh over-indulged in absinthe and some say it contributed to his death. It contained a harmful chemical compound, thujone, from the wormwood plant. (That sounds so lovely. Ugh.) By 1915, La Fée Verte was banned in the United States and in much of Europe, including France. It’s back now but with only a trace of that nasty thujone.

[13] Van Gogh wrote this to his friend, Émile Bernard, a fellow artist, on Thursday, April 19, 1888

[14] From Jean Cocteu’s poem, “Visite”

[15] A famous quote. Or should I say, infamous? It’s in the book, “Back to Lilac Land: A Theatrical Novel”, published in 1905 by Cyril Arthur Edward Ranger Gull. Though it’s unproven that’s where the saying originates.

[16] From “Avant-Garde Persuasions,” an article in The New Republic, April 19, 2012. Written by Jed Perl, art critic for the magazine.

[17] In 1990, Van Gogh’s “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” sold for $82.5 million to 74-year-old Japanese businessman Ryoei Saito. He said the painting would go with him to his cremation, causing outrage. Later saying that it was a “bad joke.” Today Mr. Saito would have been over a hundred. So where is the painting? “The Wall Street Journal” reported in 2007 that Wolfgang Flöttl, an Austrian fund manager, owned it. But then sold it for $100 million. So where is it? Where in the world is Dr. Gachet?



4 thoughts on “Fantasy Dinner Party

  1. I wish I could have attended your dinner party, but gratefully, I can enjoy the tastings thanks to your recipes.

    Famous (or infamous) for my lack of culinary skill, I would invite my mother, my sister and Julia Child to my fantasy party – and ask the latter to do all the cooking!

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post.

    1. An evening with loved ones. Nothing better. And what an honor to have Julie Child do the cooking — no doubt if would be delectable!

      I’m glad you enjoyed my fantasy!

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