Lessons from history's most famous dinner parties

Throughout history, hosts have sought to impress their guests with elaborate and unusual feasts. Although our modern dinner parties are very different from these historical ones, there are still a few things that we as modern hosts can learn from their examples. 

The Feast of Trimalchio

Roman writer Petronius Arbiter was making fun of the pretensions of the city's new rich when he described the feast of Trimalchio, a fantastic banquet which included a roast pig stuffed with sausages and a hare with birds' wings stitched to it. The centrepiece of the meal was a series of dishes themed around the signs of the Zodiac: beef for Taurus, fish for Pisces and so on. Although Petronius was mocking the meal, it still teaches us an important lesson: A strong theme can make a meal memorable. You don't have to serve your guests sea scorpion, like Trimalchio did, to create a menu of themed dishes that your guests will be talking about long after dinner is over.

Medieval Sugar Feasts

In the middle ages, sculptures made of sugar and marzipan were a way for the wealthy to demonstrate the imported delicacies they could afford. These sometimes even took the form of 'sugar feasts', in which every dish was a model made of sugar and eating was barely the point. In 1527, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey hosted a dinner for a group of French diplomats that included a chess set made entirely of sugar; the French were so impressed that they took the pieces with them when they left. Wolsey knew what all great chefs and hosts learn: The visual element of a meal is often as important as the flavour. You don't have to mould a chess set out of sugar paste to create a visually striking meal, but a little showmanship can help make a good dinner party into a great one.

Make sure you think about the presentation of all dishes and foods. A dish that looks great will likely taste better.

The Dinosaur Dinner

Visitors to London's Crystal Palace Park have always been fond of the hilariously inaccurate statues of dinosaurs that can be found in its grounds. The statues aren't just for decoration, though. On New Year's Eve in 1853, a gathering of eminent palaeontologists had a dinner party inside an incomplete model of an iguanodon. The event was a rowdy one that, according to contemporary accounts, went on well past midnight and into 1854. As strange as the story sounds, it's also an example of an important point. This ordinary meal is still talked about over a century later, not because of what was served but because of where. Even if you don't have access to the interior of a giant model dinosaur (which, sadly, most people won't), a creatively-chosen location can help make any dinner party more exciting. Just like in real estate, location means everything.