Casa Bella’s Devil’s Dinner Party 2; the gifts and the curses

So, here I am, a couple of days after the night before and what a night! I think I can safely say that Casa Bella’s Devil’s Dinner Party 2 turned out to be one of the ‘wildest’ dinner parties yet!

I dare say that much of that was not helped by the introduction of a relatively new guest who took it upon herself to secrete a bottle of tequila, complete with limes, in her bag!

What’s that all about?

Anybody would have thought that Casa Bella didn’t have a fully stocked pantry of wine, booze as well as the stocks of your average convenience store. Remember, that Casa Bella used to be a village store and what used to be the store room is now our pantry and, after two years, we’re still not quite out of the habit of keeping it fully stocked. Many would be forgiven for mistaking us for some kind of doomsday cult, stock piling for tomorrow’s Armageddon.  Add to that the fact that we’re Italian and biologically programmed with an inherent terror of a guest going home hungry and you can imagine that the aforementioned stock piling is increased exponentially just before a dinner party with that ever-present motto, “you never know.”  You never know what?  Third world war could break out tomorrow?

Anyway, I digress.

The adventure of Casa Bella’s Devil’s Dinner Party 2 started over 3 months ago when, due to the popularity of the previous dinner party, I believed it made sense to hold ‘the sequel’. I also believed, perhaps wrongly, that I’d learned much from the previous event and that I would use this knowledge to ensure that TWO ran like clockwork. To this end, I started writing my script for the evening weeks ago (yes I do write a script in advance) as I wanted it to include a series of witty, sarcastic one liners that complimented each and every one of the 20 moral questioning, thought provoking and debate igniting questions of the evening.  I further wanted each question to be wrapped in a golden envelope with a special message printed on the outside for each reader tantalising them with what lay written within. There was the ‘marked card’ round where who selected the marked card were given the option to select from a pair of envelopes each with a gift or a curse. I also upped the question count to ensuring that the prize money (£10 per correct answer) was higher than that of the previous DDP to up the anti and ignite our guest’s hunger both to work as a team and to win the ultimate prize. I further wanted the room to look ‘different’ and not just the table so I invested in some red lighting and additional accessories both for the table and to greet our guests upon their arrival, which included another set of topless butlers. Needless to say, it was all a painstaking operation but, for me, crucial to enhancing the experience for the guests.

I’m often told that the level of planning and detail that is the essence of each and every Casa Bella’s dinner party is somewhat over the top because it will undoubtedly be lost on our guests. But I’ve always ignored these patronising assessments as I simply do not agree with the perspective because whilst everything, from the food down to the symmetry in the table design, may be to accentuate the experience for our guests, the quality and pride in the ‘production’ is ultimately for my own satisfaction; I need to know that I did everything to the best of my ability. If I’m arrogant enough to start scrimping and overlooking the detail because I believe that guests may not necessarily ‘get it’ then I should stop hosting the events altogether because this would go against my own ethos as well as the desire to do the best that can be done, within a reasonable budget, to ensure that our guests go home from one of our dinner parties with the best possible experience and one that remains unique to Casa Bella.

That said, the second of Casa Bella’s Devil’s Dinner Parties was not without it challenges. These started when a specially imported black bowl, encrusted with faux diamonds, to house the specially ordered black roses for the evening kept smashing in transit; we needed 2 bowls but only ever received one as the other 3 all broke in transit! The line was then discontinued so I was unable to get the required pair and thus bowl’s use had to be re-evaluated and you’ll now see it featuring in photos as the prize bowl and not the vase to accommodate two clutches of roses. We (my sister and I) opted to have these sit in individual shot glasses instead.  The ‘curse’ of the evening then continued with a major backdrop (which you can also see in photos) being delivered to the wrong address then rerouted to the right address but not without a day’s delay. This meant we would only be able to get our hands on it today which would have been pretty pointless considering the event took place on Saturday.  Cue a series of pointless phone calls and emails. In the end, it was my brother in law who drove to my rescue and 20 miles to collect the package from the courier’s depot so that it would be available to us on the evening. And the list of calamities pretty much goes on but the worse was yet to come…

The time was 19:00, my least favourite part of the evening; 30 minutes before the guests are due to arrive. As normal, I was frantically trying to light every candle, switch on every light, put the finishing touches to the room as well as myself and try to get the family and best friend into the dining room for official pre-event photographs (yes, it’s becoming a tradition where I traditionally get stressy because one photo of the room or us appears ever to be enough!) Now, you know why most hosts appreciate you arriving for their event not early, not tardy but with punctuality.

Anyway, so it’s as I’m dealing with this particularly unpalatable side of the dinner party that our ‘naked’ butlers for the evening. Now, I wouldn’t normally be displeased about the fact that they didn’t leave enough time for a briefing because each and every butler is handpicked by me in advance and normally have worked with me before. Furthermore, the agency and the butlers are sent a lengthy brief detailing their duties and clearly setting out our expectation for the evening. So, you can imagine my horror when I walk into my room to see two complete strange faces blinking back at me! “Did you read the brief?” I asked but their rabbit-in-a-headlight blank expressions said it all.

I just swore and resigned myself to the fact that we were going to have to wing it. Oh, and the fact that we were screwed! The butlers play a crucial role at Casa Bella’s Devil’s Dinner parties. It isn’t just about ‘looking good’, clearing up, serving drinks. It’s a bit more than that. There are questions to place in the strategic place at the right time, as well as removal or questions, addition of funds to the devil’s purse and all round role playing as the devil’s pets. I mean we’re talking about an event where I specially seated my best friend in a location where I knew that we’d be able to get the best photographs of him receiving his birthday cake and blowing it out. As it turns out, he actually moved throughout the evening (as part of his networking) and actually sat in a seat that was the ‘hardest’ to take photos of. Just goes to show that even with the best plan, you can’t always legislate for human nature.

Anyway, it was 19:30; guest arrival. I took my seat at the head of the devil’s table whilst my sister and the ‘novice’ butlers for the evening served drinks to our guests and posed for pre-dinner photos in front of the controversial Casa Bella backdrop.

20:00, ShowTime. The guests made their way into the dining room. The evening started.

I and my trusty IPAD sat at the head of the table where, via a must have Autocue app, I read the previously written script in which I set out what would be taking place during the evening as well as instructions on how to play the game and how one of the guests could win a potential cash prize of £200. Now, I don’t know about you but I think that’s a pretty awesome dinner party where you not only get to be a cherished guest, get treated to a 4 course, homemade meal washed down by as much alcohol as your belly desires but you also get the opportunity to win a wad of cash! This was the evening’s objective and I explained it all via a series of previously developed one liners that appeared to go down well. The evening then started with the mystery card round; guests select from a series of cards with gothic illustrations, the person with Jack O Skeleton (the skeleton joker) gets the first challenge of the evening. This went to my good friend Tom Payne who ended up being cursed with volunteering at a single mother’s day centre.   Not necessarily one of his favourite pass times.

We then moved onto the questions for the evening, starters were served and the new ‘boys’ appeared to be doing pretty well, it was only when a new comer guest of  the evening produced a bottle of Tequila, complete with limes, from her handbag that  I started  to wonder! The first thing was, why on earth was she secreting such stuff on her person and the second was, how did she manage to get in with it, why wasn’t she frisked at the door?!

Okay, so maybe I haven’t got round to micro manage that part of the event but perhaps I should!

So, the tequila flowed, the wine flowed, the food was served. All in all, that part of the evening was a success as were the questions that sparked many debates, some of them even a tad heated and, naturally, as the devil, I enjoyed these the most because it meant that everybody was truly engaging with each other and some of the controversial subject matter, it meant that each and every one of the guests was really considering what they would do when faced with a life moral dilemma or question about themselves.   And this is precisely what the Devil Dinner Parties do; they bring out another side to guests that is often hidden.

The made for the perfect evening (albeit a somewhat raucous one) of good company, laughter, conversation, debates  and exhilaration as, one by one, guests accumulated a total prize of £80. The one thing they didn’t know at the time was who would win the total prize and how.

Nobody would get to know that until the end the evening…first…

We served the birthday cake to the birthday boy to a chorus of happy birthday.  My good friend Tom was quite choked by the surprise that featured  a white chocolate and amaretto 3 layered cake,  perfectly decorated with a picture of his favourite racing bike, some goggles, a pair of trainers, all finished nicely by a ring of red chilli peppers in honour of the evening at which the cake was presented.  All well here.

The moment was made even more exciting when, not for the first time, the pride and joy which is my canvass of Paul Rubens ‘ Samson & Delilah was knocked crashing to the floor no less than two times.

Things got even more challenging when the main protagonists of the evening (the person who selected Jack o Skeleton second time round) informed me that she’d arranged for her boyfriend to pick her up. I understood he’d be waiting to take her home at the end of the evening but learned, soon after his arrival, that she instead ‘needed to leave early’. This threw a major spanner into the works of a carefully crafted evening for, without my main protagonist, I was unable to follow the script and the schedule as planned, forcing me into some serious improvisation. Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled since, as the devil, my role was already fairly ‘involved’, having to change the dynamics of the game only added to the challenge.  However, I (we) got through it and all of the questions were delivered and answered, albeit with some serious and unceremonious editing of the evening’s events.

Nonetheless, those that remained appeared to have a really good time with a lot of chatter, laughter and a few more drinks to wash down the good times. Indeed, such was the bountiful supply of Vino that the evening’s winner, Sandra Taylor Wix,  had to take a few minutes to absorb the fact that she’d won the grand total  over the course of the evening of £80 by being voted most ‘wicked’ person. At one point, Sandra was also voted the ‘most apathetic’ person of the group but, such was her merry state, that I don’t think she even noticed.

So, all’s well that ends well  02:30 when the last of the guests teetered their way home. Luckily, these were our dear neighbours and therefore didn’t have far to travel.

Thus it was with a weary body and mind that I made my way to my deliciously soft bed. It had been gruelling day but yet another successful Casa Bella event despite all of the challenges, friendship, the will to have a good time, forget all of the stresses of everyday life ensured that no matter what was thrown at us, our guests went home with yet another unique Casa Bella experience, and in the final analysis, this is all that matters to me.

There is one other thing that I found very interesting towards the end of the evening, that is  the conversation I had with one of the guests who suggested that we visit them for an informal event  next month. This guest quickly added that I should not expect anything on this scale.

I believe that scale is relative. How I choose to stage an event is unique to me as is any dinner party to its host; they tend to be tailored to the facilities and budget available and not to mutual reciprocity. Quality time is not always measured by the experience but merely about the time itself.  The fact that I choose to embellish some of the times I spend with my friends is something that is unique to me, it’s how I ‘like things done’ and certainly is not because I expect it in return. For me, the simple fact that a friend has taken the trouble and gone through the expense of hosting a dinner party and has seen fit to invite me is really all that matters. The size and scale of the event is secondary to my appreciation for having been considered, that somebody should have chosen to invite me to spend quality time with them is a clear enough indication to me that I matter, everything else serves only to accentuate the experience.

As I keep saying in all of my posts; life is simply too short. To me, it’s important that we spend as much time as is affordable to us sharing the best, quality rich experiences with those that matter the most because nobody knows what tomorrow may bring, and it’s for this reason that we should have both the humility and lucidity to appreciate the good experiences we set our path to, be it a holiday or other special event, or for those paths that are laid out for us.

To find out more about Casa Bella and to see the photos from Devil’s Dinner Party 2, visit our Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/CasaBellaUK

5 Comments

  1. Francesca Pratt says:

    Phew! I was worn out just reading what goes into such an event ,the stresses that inevitably come with the Territory and thought out Contingency plan for worst case scenarios .
    And as you so eloquently stated ,scale and Grandeur is not Important what is valuable is someone has taken effort to consider reciprocating whether it be Burger and Chips served on paper plates gulped down with Fizzy Cola .or Langoustine stuffed with Beluga Caviar on Limoge Dinner ware washed down with Henri Jayer Richebourg Grand Cru, Cote de Nuits.it is all relative time and effort is what is appreciated .I know all Casa Bella Guests always enjoy your Efforts and greatly appreciate spending time there .

  2. Tammy says:

    Aaw you’re so wonderful! Your write up is brilliantly witty as well as educational! I would never have known of the challenges you faced throughout the evening, such is the calm manner in which you Host – You’re simply one in a million! As for the evening itself, i’m still reeling! I haven’t laughed so much in ages! Everything was perfect as always, the meal stupendous, & the company divine! Another treasured memory that will stay with me forever! Thank you xxx

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